Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Who's in charge here anyway?

There is no good reason to be frustrated today, but I am.

It is Bear’s 11th birthday and I want to take her for a nice walk in the snowy woods. I am looking for a tranquil stroll with my dogs; a postcard moment of their black shapes weaving around tree trunks, in turns illuminated by a sinking golden sun and cast in the cool blue light of reflected white shadow.

But I feel my nerves fray with the snapping and tugging of bare branches picking at my shoulders and toque, the tips of winter-toughened twigs flicking me in the face, the cold wash of snow down the back of my neck as I duck under another beautiful tree laden in winter white finery.

The dogs have charged ahead, Murdoch leaping over downed trees and running zigzags across the trail as if he’s never seen the outdoors. Bear disappears amidst low hanging evergreens and white-blanketed saplings that swallow her up as she finds a path around obstacles. I try to keep them in my sights as I trip and stumble over deadfalls concealed beneath smooth mounds of snow.

I kind of catch up to them in the clearing at the back of our property, I can hear Murdoch crashing around somewhere in the trees. Bear has started walking up a trail that veers to the left and runs parallel to the road, eventually emerging at a sometimes-occupied house on the hill.

“Come on Bear,” I call. “We’re not going that way.” She ignores me. Her nose is stuck to the ground. I sigh. “Bear, Bear, Bear,” I say to her swaying backend as she moves slowly but deliberately away from me. She stops and looks at me. Hmmm? She seems to say, were you talking to me?

“This way Bear,” I call and wave my arm in a big arc. She turns away and continues on her original course. Murdoch appears then, flies past me as though he is being chased, and follows Bear.

“Hey,” I yell in my serious voice. “Bear, Murds, come!” They do, but in a very distracted sort of way.

I feel like I am playing catch up with the dogs as we move along the overgrown trail that runs behind our property. We are strung out like beads being slid along a wire. I find them huddled around something on the ground. They are chewing. I hope it is snow but suspect it is something left behind by a rabbit or a deer. “Come on guys. Leave it,” I yell. “That’s gross.”

They march ahead. I am invisible again. They follow trails I do not see, sparing me the odd glance as I tell them to “stick around” and “don’t go that way”. Our connection is tenuous today and it stretches and thins until we are scattered to the wind. “Come on you two,” I call into the woods, directing my words at their vague shapes poking out from behind brush and trees.

Murdoch disappears twice. I stand and listen for him, then try to hurry Bear through the trees so we can find him. She pokes along at her own pace, weaving around downed trees, distracted by smells. I stomp on dried branches in our path, splintering them under my winter boots. “This way Bear,” I say, becoming exasperated.

We step back into our own woods and I hear a faint jingle in the distance. Murdoch. I can hear him panting and then crashing and thundering. I am out of patience when we assemble again and continue on this expedition that seems to have three very distinct purposes.

Bear snuffles the ground to my left as Murdoch pounces off the trail to my right, honing in on a great big stick emerging from the snow. It is the size of a small tree limb. He swings it towards me. I put out my hands to protect my face, knock the stick away from me with my knee, but somehow my knee finds its way between Murdoch’s jaws as he clamps down a tighter grip on the stick.

“OW!!” I yell, and it echoes through the trees. He drops the stick and looks at me. Bear looks at me.

“That’s enough,” I say and dig Murdoch’s leash out of my pocket. “We’re going back to the house.” Murdoch leaps around me in a big circle at the sight of his leash as if I am taking him for a much better walk than this one.

He surges eagerly ahead on the end of his leash and I walk briskly behind him, desperate to just have a moment of calm. I look back to see Bear scooping the stick into her mouth, Wait guys! Don’t forget this! She trots down the trail to catch up to us. At the house she spits the stick at my feet with a decisive stomp. Murdoch stiffens into his ready-to-dash-in-any-direction pose.

“No,” I say and usher everyone inside.

“Why does it have to be so difficult?” I ask them as I unhook Murdoch’s leash. They have no idea what I’m talking about and as I turn to head back outside to get firewood, they clatter at my heel, determined to follow me. We knew you were only joking, they say.


  1. I'm not fond of winter or of trying to dry and clean snowy paws with lumps of ice between the claws. But that's a lovely account of a walk - I can feel the crisp air on my face and hear the crunch of the snow underfoot. The antics of the dogs must tire you out!

    I give this blog 10 out of 10 - but then that's what I give all your blogs!

  2. Aw thanks Dunkered, that's so sweet :)

    Sometimes the dogs' antics do tire me out, but when everything goes well, winter walks are the best. We are lucky to (usually) have light-fluffy snow in our dryish climate that just blows easily off of fur, and ice between claws is only an occasional problem for Murdoch who has hairy feet!

  3. This post stressed me out... I guess I identify too closely with the walks that turn out to be frustrating. But isn't it funny how the dogs seem always to have a good time, regardless?

  4. Yes, dogs can turn anything in to a good time.. for themselves. I imagine they often wonder why us humans are sometimes so edgy when clearly right now, this moment here, is the time of our lives!

  5. A nicely written article. I liked the mix of emotions. I see your frustration; I feel your frustration, but at the same time I laugh at the antics of these two rascals as they consciously play with your mood. What a pair, cheating you of your "nice walk in the snowy woods." The blog vividly zeros in on the difference between expectation and reality, a difference these dogs readily exploit. It's so easy to slide into the world you create here.