When snow still covered the field in ragged patches we picked our way across it and over the folded bleached grasses, using the white hardened crust for pathways. Sometimes we broke through, the surface cracking in large fault lines, weakening beneath the hot sun even as the colder air struggled to keep these floating islands intact.
Our feet crunched over the white as we circled the field, crossed it, made our way to open water where channels rushed beneath ice sheets and emerged into small ponds made by divots in the earth and by beavers, where the water gathered and melted the ice from beneath so the white turned to cool blue.
We crossed the channels where they narrowed, where the ice was thickest and the snow still lay on top as though everything beneath was solid even though we could hear the water moving below our feet, trickling or rushing.
Murdoch headed into the tree line, quickly disappearing in the shadows, lost amongst the tangle of branches as the land sharply inclined at the base of the treed mountain. Molly and I followed the channel of water while I looked for animal tracks and Molly ran circles around me looking for a stick or chunks of ice that I might throw for her.
And then we were following Murdoch’s tracks because he hadn’t returned. His prints looped up into the trees and then down again in the near distance. They tracked down to the water, leapt across the open channel and seemed to go off in the opposite direction than I had thought.
Molly and I jumped the channel and followed the open water that rushed over roots and old walls of beaver-chewed sticks, until it swirled into a quiet bend and then disappeared beneath a shelf of ice. I stopped to look at the ice sculptures hanging from low branches that trailed in the water, shaped like white clouds hovering above the water’s surface, shined up in spots from having melted in the sun and frozen again in the cold air.
Murdoch’s tracks crossed the frozen-over channel just beyond the open water where I knelt. Molly pranced across the channel into the trees and then swung around and pranced back across the channel with her long, fluid strides. Each time she strode over the ice I heard a small crack and shift and I made a mental note to find a sturdier place to cross further downstream.
But then Molly swung around again and charged once more across the channel towards the trees and the ice let go beneath her, a crack and a splash and dinner-plate-sized rafts of ice floated around Molly as she scrabbled at the far bank.
The water was not deep. Molly went in up to her waist with her front legs clinging to the opposite shore but she is not a water dog and I thought, ‘she must hate this.’
“Molly,” I said calmly as she flailed about and tried in vain to haul herself up on the far shore. “Come over here, this side is easier,” as if she could understand. But she did turn, first trying to grab the ice still intact across the narrow channel and then throwing herself at the bank where I knelt reaching for her, her eyes wide and wild. The bank on my side was not so steep and she managed to get a hold of the snow. I grabbed her collar and helped haul her out as she scrambled over the edge.
“Oh Molly, it’s so cold!” I said as she ran in looping circles, her back half soaked through, her woolen-like fur swirled into tufts. “Did you see that?!” she seemed to say, skipping over the snow, ready to tell her tale of great adventure now that the harrowing bits were behind her.
I wanted to head home with her, worried about the cold even though she didn’t seem terribly put out now that she was back on dry land, but Murdoch was still missing. So, we crossed the channel down stream, both of us jumping over the divot in the snow that indicated water flowing beneath and walked back to the spot Molly went in, where Murdoch’s paw prints disappeared into the cool shadow of the woods.
We found him at the end of his winding trail in a spot where something had killed and eaten most of a deer. The snow was pink in a large area beneath the trees and there was the skull and partial spine, and Murdoch gobbling up a chunk of flesh and fur.
“Nice,” I said and then using my exasperated voice I got him to follow us out of the woods, jaw clamped tight around his find, eyes glancing suspiciously left and right.
I walked back across the blinding white of the field, managing to stay on top of the frozen patch of snow and I contemplated how I was going to get that thing from Murdoch while the dogs trotted nearby, one soaked and bedraggled looking from the waist down and the other with a rotting pelt stuffed in his mouth.