Thursday, February 13, 2014

On a mid-winter’s night

It is well after midnight as I walk the road beneath a giant, blinding, moon. I should be in bed, I think, silently cursing Murdoch. The snowy landscape is all silver and black and cold. My breath condenses the minute it leaves my body, collects in crystals along the edge of my scarf and on my hair where it sticks out from beneath my toque.

The world is silent on this December night, except for the swish, swish of my snow pants and my jacket, the no-nonsense squeak, crunch of my boots over packed snow in the middle of the road. To my left, Molly’s paws squeak at a different pitch as she marches beside me and we head for the black void at the end of our road. In the cold light, the forest is a solid black shape against the black sky and the snow is icy-blue, densely packed on the road and spread smooth and flawless across open spaces.

In my pocket is the flashlight I don’t need with this moon in the sky, so bright it casts shadows like the sun. But when we reach that dark space at the end of the road where the trail through the woods and into the mountains begins, where trees clamour at both edges of the path and tower overhead, gobbling up all the light, we will need help to see.

Half an hour earlier, I arrived home to a cold house, the fire having petered out to almost nothing and the frigid night air seeping in at the windows and through the walls as it squeezed the house in it’s icy grasp.

I let the dogs outside while I stirred up the coals in the wood stove and added sticks and debris to get the fire going. Then I opened the front door just a crack to keep out the wall of cold, and called for the dogs before quickly closing the door again.

Molly showed up, but Murdoch did not. I convinced myself he’d be back in a minute as I climbed the stairs to the bedroom to put on my pyjamas, I had already decided I wasn’t going out there to get him.

I returned to the entryway and sat in front of the wood stove, waiting for the fire to take off and for Murdoch to return. I called him two more times before the empty path to our door began to look lonely and then I started to worry.

I stuffed my feet into my boots and threw on my coat and, with flashlight in hand I headed out to the road. The moon swallowed up any illumination from my light, so I put it in my pocket and stood in the middle of the road and listened. The silence of that clear, cold night was so present I could almost reach out and touch it. “Murds!” I yelled, and my voice sounded alien in the stillness. The cold bit at my skin through my pyjamas and I called his name again, listened, and heard absolutely nothing, as if sound, and even time itself, were frozen.

I cast my eye way down to the end of the road then, where the trailhead disappeared into blackness. “Would he?” I asked myself. “No, he’s got to be here somewhere.” And then I hissed his name in frustration at our neighbours’ dark woods, turned and stomped back to the house before I lost feeling in my legs.

I stood in front of the wood stove to warm up and argued with myself about heading for the trail. It’s the middle of the night, I reasoned, I’m over reacting and it’s too cold. But I knew that’s where he had gone. Just a few days earlier the three of us had started out for a walk there when we came across a hunter gutting a deer on a side trail. Murdoch had dashed ahead and by the time I caught him he was already inhaling an organ. I knew that no matter how well the man had cleaned up, there was still going to be some remnants left behind and Murdoch would find them.

He’ll come back, I told myself. But I didn’t believe it. Instead I pictured him wandering further and further from home on this cold night; I pictured him getting lost, I pictured wolves waiting for him in the shadows.

“Fine,” I grumbled as I pulled on my snow pants. “You stay here Molly,” I said. She stood in front of me, bright-eyed and eager, as I was clearly getting ready for some adventure or other. Then I thought about that black smear at the end of the road where I was headed and decided I would be much braver if Molly was with me, so I grabbed her leash and we headed out the door.

At the end of the road, we step into the blackness of the trail. I shine the flashlight ahead, illuminating the snowy path. On either side there is just the dark. The woods feel heavy at night.

The side trail, where we met the hunter that day, is not too far along the main trail and we walk as quickly as we can through the soft snow, trying not to stumble over the ridges left by snow machines. At the spot where the main trail starts to track up hill, we stop and I shine the flashlight along the path where the deer had been.

Two bright points of light appear in the darkness and I can just make out Murdoch’s dark shape at the far reaches of the flashlight beam. “What are you doing?” I say to him with some exasperation and I can tell by the motion of his body that he is wagging his tail and it is just at that moment I know for sure it is him. But when I don’t say anything else and I don’t move, the motion stops and the shape of his head changes as his ears flatten down and I realize he’s suddenly not so sure that it’s me.

“Come on Murds,” I say next, and he leaps forward, pounds towards me as if he is relieved, and I wonder if perhaps that moment of uncertainty will make him think twice about taking off again. But I know better than that.
With both dogs leashed, we head back to the road and step from the heavy dark of the woods into the illuminated landscape. Partway home we stop, the sounds of our movement over the packed snow, through the cold air, cease and we stand on the road beneath the giant silver moon, surrounded by bottomless silence in a world made of ice-blue light and shadows, and I find I am not mad at Murdoch anymore.


  1. Heather, I wish you knew (well, now you do) how much I look forward to your posts. Your writing is so beautiful, you paint pictures with your words, and take the reader right into the moment with you. Thank you!

    1. Brooke, that's so sweet. What a lovely comment. Thank you. That really means a lot. :)

  2. I was right there with you too. The things we do for the love of our dogs ! Thanks for writing.

  3. I can only agree with Brooke and Susan. The sheer poetry of your language and the sharp clarity of your dogs' personalities do indeed provide immediacy for the reader. I simply leave my own skull and see and feel right along with you as you describe your life with beautiful dogs in a beautiful landscape. A wondrous piece of writing - a joy to read and experience.

  4. "by the time I caught up with him he was already inhaling an organ." LOL!! I wonder what our lives would be like without dogs like Murdoch and Lady. Boring, probably, more predictable.