Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Unprecedented politeness

Murdoch and I clamber over downed trees covered in snow. I leap from skinny trunk to skinny trunk trying to save energy by not having to lift my knees way up past my waist and hoist my heavy, clunky winter boots over each barrier in my path. Sometimes I slip, or misjudge the shapes molded by the snow and sink in up to my knees.

The trail we take is not defined; the one we followed ran out at the far edge of our neighbours’ property. It is just a forest now, though not endless. To the left is a crowded sea of spindly new growth, pale gray stick figures that stand about twice my height. Somewhere to the right, down a gentle slope through the established trees that soar above like a cathedral, is our dead-end road.

Eventually, like all forests around here, the trees end in a straight line that is not natural and Murdoch and I tumble out onto an old trail wide enough to have once been a road. We turn left in the direction of the mountains, though we can’t see them for the other forest that marches in a straight line along the opposite side of the trail. Of course it is all the same forest, with a great gash cutting it in two.

The trail leads to a small meadow ringed by trees, sheltered by the forest. The land dips away from where we stand and above the tops of the trees on the far side of the clearing, the mountain looms up like a wall in the near distance.

I walk down the slope through knee-deep snow while Murdoch snuffles his way around the clearing on the trails of deer and rabbits. At the bottom of the incline I look up at the cotton blue sky and then behind me at the untouched, pillowy snow. It is one of those days when I feel as though I could have stayed in bed and as Murdoch stops nearby to wrap his jaws around a half-rotted tree stump about as thick as my forearm, I pull my hood up over my toque and fall backwards onto the inclining slope.

It is like falling into a cloud. The snow catches me, I can feel the coolness through my layers, but I could be convinced I am floating on nothingness. I close my eyes and my entire body sighs and relaxes further into the snow. I am weightless. A gentle breeze drifts across my face while wind roars in the trees on the mountain. It sounds like waves crashing on a shore and I could believe this is the middle of summer. Except I could never do this in the summer, lie amongst the tall waving grasses that are now bent and frozen beneath the snow, there are ticks in the summer.

I smile at this perfect, tick-free moment and listen to Murdoch snorting nearby over the tree stump. I could lie here forever, I think, floating away on this cushion of air. And then I feel a gentle knock, knock on the soul of my boot. I open one eye and peer down to see Murdoch nonchalantly twirling his new throwing stick in his mouth. I close my eye again and just know it is only a matter of time before I get a facefull of snow. But instead I feel a light weight settle on my stomach and look to see the stick lying there and Murdoch standing politely nearby, just waiting.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Giant flakes of snow poured down through the trees and pattered on the hood of my jacket. In the clearing where the trees had blown down two summers ago, I dusted away fluffy white layers of snow to find the top of the pile of wood, cut and split and left in a heap the day before. I then dug out each piece, one at a time, and tossed them, clattering, into our homemade wood sled.

The snow began to fall that morning, tiny pinpricks of glittery light sifting steadily through the air from a gray sky with creamy yellow edges. The flakes fattened by the hour and the wind swirled in from the low mountains until everything was white, even the empty spaces in between.

Through the shifting veil, I dragged the empty wood sled up the trail that had become little more than a dimple in the smooth, rolling surface of fresh snow. Bear and Murdoch cavorted through the trees, kicking up their feet, coats turning white, ears flapping wildly in the brand new, muffled, landscape.

I called their names into the calamitous silence of the falling snow so they wouldn’t get carried away and disappear into the forest with the tree trunks all plastered white on one side. They circled back to meet me as I wove around smooth white mounds that were broken and crooked tree stumps only yesterday. In their mouths they each carried a stick, Murdoch leaping and bounding his way through the deepest snow, Bear marching confidently up the path I cut with the sled, her back end swaying with each sweep of her tail.

I threw the sticks while I dug out the wood pile, sending Murdoch’s sailing as far as I could through the trees to be swallowed up by great cushions of snow, and tossing Bear’s right to her so she could snatch it triumphantly out of the air again and again.

The snow fell thick around us and I turned my attention to loading the sled before the wood I uncovered disappeared again beneath a freshly laid blanket. I tossed each piece into the plastic bin, bolted and glued to an old pair of downhill skis, and watched fat flakes shower down into the clearing.

When the sled was full, I called the dogs as I glanced up to see where they were. Bear stood amongst the trees up to her armpits in snow, while Murdoch leapt about in circles, wrestling with a stick, crashing through snowdrifts.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A day in the life

Chestnut’s life is very strenuous.

It takes much skill and persistence to find the comfiest spot in the house for a nap.. or two.. or three...

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Night symphony

I pull on my snow pants, shrug into my jacket, Morgan pokes his head in the door, “Hurry, you can hear the wolves howling and yipping all around out here.”

I stuff my feet into my boots, pull on my toque and my new gauntlet-style mitts and step out into the crisp night air.

I take a few squeaking steps across the packed snow around our low deck. The sound is amplified in the quiet of the forest at night, the sky so dark it could be right there above us, within reach just beyond the treetops.

The moon isn’t up yet, or maybe it has already set, the stars are hidden in the flat black sky. We stand in the pool of warm light gathered outside the windows of our house and listen.

It is silent. My breath puffs out in slow curling clouds in front of my face as I try to breathe quietly so it does not fill my ears. The night is still. Cold pushes against my bubble of layers but I’m warm except for the flick of winter against my face.

Morgan walks toward the tree line, boots squeaking over snow, his coat crinkles loudly, slightly brittle in the cold. He cups his hand to his face and howls at the sky, a long mournful siren filling the space between the trees. When he stops, the absence of the sound rings in my ears.

There is a moment of silence and then an answering howl, like an echo circling around a great canyon. And then another rises up from the darkness, starting in low, gaining power until it sounds as though it is coming right from the very edge of our tiny forest, though I picture them sitting atop the mountains, calling one to another. It is like we are in a domed theatre, their voices curve around and down to where we stand. I can almost see them. For a moment we can believe they are calling just for us.

I picture the giant footprints in the snow I followed a few weeks before when Murdoch and I walked the trail. “Are these yours?” I called ahead incredulously to Murdoch before realizing he had galumphed his way through the deeper snow just off the trail. These prints, unlike Murdoch’s, were set down with a purpose; the owner of this trail was going somewhere. Each print was exactly like the one before, the spacing between perfectly equal, one in line with the next and the next, economy of motion. Murdoch’s trail looped and curved like a fraying rope left in an unraveling pile on the ground.

I imagine that wolf calling out into the darkness now, his voice tumbling down from the mountain, cutting effortlessly through the clear cold night air. The voices hang above the trees for a moment, haunt the spaces in between. They begin to fade away and then they’re gone.

We stand motionless in the creaking winter silence. Inside the dogs press their faces to the window.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A stick in time

A glowing butter cream sky, lit by the late afternoon sun settling low above the mountains, peeks through the spindly canopy of bare branches and frazzled pines.

Murdoch and I play in the woods, sheltered from the slowly calming wind that shook our house the night before and whistled an angry gale all day. Above I can hear it carving gentle currents through the treetops.

Flat light illuminates the forest, defines tree trunks at a distance as clearly as those towering right beside me. I turn at the sound of voices, but it is the trees themselves, carrying on a conversation with the wind. There is the expected creaking of pliable fibers twisting in the wind and the snap of sterner wood cracking in the cold, but there is more, and I listen for a moment to the quiet babble and whispered laughter before throwing the stick again for Murdoch.

He chases it through the bluing shadows of the forest floor, leaping over snow-softened shapes of downed trees and tangled brush. The snow swallows the stick whole, leaving just a small dimple on the surface where it slipped beneath the thick blanket.

Murdoch snorfles around the spot where it vanished, his face buried in snow up to his ears, his tail pinwheels behind him as he frantically searches in widening circles. I imagine great waves of icy water rushing into his nose.

“Find it!” I say. He is getting better at this, sniffing out lost sticks. But we have been playing for a while and the stick that once stood as tall as my leg now stretches the length of my hand and is so caked with frozen slobber, it is the same colour as the snow.

In the deepening shadows Murdoch criss-crosses the same patch of ground again and again. He smells the stick, but can’t pin point it. I move to help, but the dimple where it went in is trampled away and I start digging tentatively in spots with the toe of my boot. “It’s here somewhere,” I say and we both kick up sprays of snow.

“Maybe we should find a bigger stick,” I finally say knowing that sometimes these sticks just can’t be found; sometimes they really do vanish. But then he pounces, digs frantically, his nose disappears in a mound of snow we already searched and he comes up with a face of white and the splinter of a stick clenched in his teeth.