Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Work? Surely you jest

We walk down the middle of the road, the three of us, three dark figures in the blowing snow. It is not a blizzard, not quite. It would have to be far more wailing for that, more gale-like. This is just a solid fall of snow, white and perfect, erasing signs of a tired winter, turning the trees in the near distance to grey shapes, that become ever lighter as they march away until they meld seamlessly into the heavy, cotton-wool sky.

The flakes fall with weight against my face, tingle as they melt, push down my eyelashes so I have to close my eyes against the storm. And then there is the sound of snow flicking busily against my jacket, the muffled creak of boots over the white road and the shush of the wood sled dragging behind. The wind in the trees, swooping playfully across the empty road, sounds like an approaching car and my eyes blink open quickly to see, but there is nothing.

Bear trots at my side. I catch her glancing at me as I squint down at her, making sure we are actually heading back to the house, that we are going somewhere and are not just going to stop and stand around and watch Murdoch leap over the small mountains of snow lining the road, built over time by the snow plough.

“Murdoch,” I shout into the white curtain at his black shape careening across the road from snow bank to snow bank. “This is supposed to be your job.”

I say this to him at least once a week as I haul another sled load of firewood back to our house, through the woods or over the road and he cavorts along the tree line chasing ghosts.

Murdoch is streamlined for running. He can run so fast sometimes I think he could catch the wind. But somehow in that sleek physique he has the power of an ox. His shoulders are deceptively narrow, but I have been dragged behind him plenty of times to know just how strong he is.

So we thought, way in the beginning, that first year he lived with us and had energy and attitude to burn, that one day we would put his power to work. When he was well in to his second year with us we bought him a sled dog harness, which is really not the right kind of harness, we discovered, for pulling a sled of wood. But we tried anyway, and there is always the possibility that some day it will work.

Whenever I take down the harness from its hook on the wall by the door Murdoch sits up tall and polite. His brown eyes grow huge and round with excitement and he rhythmically lifts one front paw, then the other, as if to say, “Ooh, yes please, put that on me.” And I do and he leaps out the door as though he is very important. But when I clip him to the empty sled, his expression becomes dubious. He takes a few steps, but the minute there is resistance on the harness where it crisscrosses his chest, he stops, wags his tail and flattens his ears. When I start running however, he can’t help himself and he takes off, awkwardly at first, but then, for a moment, he is flying over the road pulling the sled easily behind him.

We add some weight to the sled in the form of firewood, and everything changes. He’ll do it, just, if he is attached to a leash and I run a step ahead of him with a handful of treats under his nose. It is fun once in a while but sometimes it seems like a lot more work than just pulling the sled myself. Which I imagine was his plan all along.

And so, as this March snow piles higher, as tree branches bend deeper under the weight of it, as the air thickens with it to a beautiful grey, I close my eyes and walk towards home dragging a sledful of chopped wood ready for the fire with Bear at my side, while Murdoch chases ghosts along the tree line.


  1. Murdoch is such a character! I just love your stories about him ... perhaps if you held a wooden spoon dipped in chestnut stuffing in front of his nose?

    1. Haha! Yes, perhaps chestnut stuffing would work better.

      Mudoch IS a character. He is the guy that got me writing about my dogs in the first place. He's maturing now though, so his antics have calmed down a bit which is both welcome and a tad disappointing as I have fewer stories that begin with, "You won't believe what Murdoch did now..." :) But it is less stressful.