The snow came in time for Christmas; a great walloping deluge of heavy wet snow created by too-warm temperatures. It bent pliable trees in half, sent them arching across the trail caked with snow to become white impassable walls. It snapped the less pliable off near their roots. Trees toppled into other trees, exposing splintered interiors, a shock of clean, blond wood against a black and white world.
I spent half a day shaking snow from trees. But the great heavy clumps had frozen in dropping temperatures and they did not tumble easily from branches and the trees did not spring back to their rightful places. Our trail slowly altered as we picked our way around and over the new landscape.
But there is snow and the grassy, swampy field that runs widely and invitingly from the tree line where we usually walk to the base of the mountain in the near distance has filled in and frozen over and we hike a zig-zagging, looping trail across it following the carved tracks of a snow machine ghosted over by blowing snow.
Murdoch barks in the middle of the white expanse where we stand exposed between mountain and forest. He barks in Molly’s face, ice clinging to his beard, ringing his eyes. He throws his whole body behind his big voice, his ears flap forward and then back. Molly just stares at him, bunched up inside herself, frozen to the spot. He wants to play but he does not ask nicely.
Oftentimes he runs up behind Molly, pokes her hard in the hip with his nose, jumps back on splayed toes, barks antagonizingly. Sometimes Molly obliges, leaps forward, swipes at him with her paw. But Murdoch does not want to lose, refuses to lose, so he throws himself wildly into the game, snapping out short staccato barks, teeth flashing, full-body contact, tail crooked down at a serious angle. It is too much for most dogs.
And so, as we stand in the middle of the field and Murdoch barks in Molly’s face, his voice coming from somewhere deep and rumbling in his chest, rolling at speed up his throat, ricocheting off his voice box and exploding from his mouth like a solid thing of great weight, Molly freezes, unsure of what else to do, stares at him with a look of startled panic.
I encourage her to run with him. “Get him Molly,” I say and am about to start running with him myself, he is so desperate to play, when in the split second of silence following his latest booming entreaty, Murdoch’s voice bounces off the treeline to our left, travels across the expanse of the flat open space and a beat later bounces off the mountain to our right.
A double echo and Murdoch stands at attention, tail curled high behind him. He turns his head first to the wall of trees and then to the mountain, ears pulled back, listening, eyes scanning the landscape for that other dog. He barks again, then listens and again and again as snow quietly drifts down from the textured grey sky.
“Who’s that?” I ask with a smirk and he flicks a glance at me before resuming his search. Molly still does not move even though his attention has shifted from her to the mystery dog. I stand quietly and watch them as snowflakes begin to settle on their black fur, perfectly formed six-pointed stars of shimmering lace.
After a while I start walking across the squeaking snow. The dogs fall in step with me and we saunter towards the woods in our usual way, separate but together, the outburst of a moment ago completely forgotten, the mystery dog deemed insignificant.
But this is how it goes, one moment it is all terribly urgent, earthshatteringly important, and then it is not. The silence does not miss Murdoch’s booming voice as the air fills up instead with drifting snowflakes, those cold and perfect little white stars that alight on trees without maiming them, stack gently atop one another with air pockets in between and do not completely erase our tracks in the snow.