Those of you who have read The Book of Barkley will recall this chapter but I found the photos I took of Barkley back then and thought I'd share them on this day that Abby Lab was able to go roll in the snow safely after the minus 50 windchills of the last few days. - LB
From The Book of Barkley - Outskirts Press, all rights reserved.
Outside the snow starts, the door painting a path out into the white, only one lone dog brave enough to take it tonight. His paw prints leave a trail like bread crumbs, delicate and soft, disappearing even as I look for them as the snow falls down.
The cold and white is going to skirt the edge of my world tonight. I am glad to be in safe and warm, for I remember too many nights out working in the elements as winter shook its fist at the forecast. Tonight, the roads will be mostly empty, nothing else braving the space around us but some poor, cold creatures trying to seek shelter as best they could, a couple of forlorn horses of a distant neighbor, waiting to be brought back into the glow of light in the stable. If I looked out onto the snow, beyond the bounds of grass and the water and horizon, it appears to come down ever so frantic and furious. A life, these years, can seem to hurry past that way if you let the vision of it trick you, a glimpse of white, of black, then gone, when you may least expect it.
This is probably our last winter in this old ranch style house. I'd bought it with the intent of my Father living with me on the impending death of my stepmom, when he changed his mind, unable to leave the home in which he built his memories of her. It's a decent older home, better than the McMansion I'd given up a couple years prior in another city, especially with a huge fenced yard which Barkley loved. But I wanted to downsize more, not really needing the "mother in law" set up. The extra space, even if the house was modest in construction and price, with the piece of land it sat on, was still a lot to maintain as a single woman, one who really didn't have time for a young dog, let alone a house.
I did enjoy being able to watch him play though, even as today I am more happy to stay in the warmth of the house, my reflection in the mirror, flakes of snow in my hair from opening the door. How did winter get here so quickly, I think as I look in an old mirror, imagining the generations that have looked into that gleaming surface, asking themselves at least once, how did it all fly by so quickly, asking those questions across those years, time they hopefully learned didn't matter, as they savored every last remnant, there in the depths of something they had questioned too long.
I look at him, them look at the sky. Both he and I for this moment, becoming "pups" again.
As children, growing up where we did, "snow days" were infrequent. The world didn't stop for snow where snow was not uncommon. When we got one, we'd be outside the door before the breakfast dishes were even put away. Snow was not cold; it was not work or worry. It was a divine benediction which spread itself out onto the world where we waited with glee. Grabbing an inner tube to ride down the cleared foothills, shoving a couple Archway cookies in our pockets and heading out into the dazzling white, we'd heed the siren call. There I would simply wait my turn on the hill called "widowmaker", content to just sit and look up into the wonder as we waited our turn.
That tube was not my transport to the stars, it was a defiant gesture against the mortality that grew closer to the edge of our vision every year. It wasn't a simple inner tube. It was a defiant shout. It was my shield.
Then, face flushed with anticipation, I'd pat my pocket to make sure my cookie was secure and I'd trudge back up the slope again. As I peered down into the void I'd say, "I probably shouldn't do this ", as I launched myself off yet again into space, remorseless and laughing, flying down the slope, potent, strong, as free as an eagle, not knowing yet as a child, that even for the eagle, all space can still be a cage.
That's the snow I wish to remember. Looking up into the heavens trying to see where it originates, then the slow fall of it, parachutes of white dropping down, slower and slower. They fall, weightless, ethereal creations of magic and intermolecular forces, some felled by warmth, some turning to water against one's tongue, some slain by a sled. Yet tomorrow, next year, there would be another flake and yet another and another soul to hold it in the palm of their hand, if they are only there to reach out for it.
Barkley continues his play, forever a puppy, with no concept of another winter, only this one, everything just captured here now, running as hard as he can. Looking at a pile of work on the table to be completed tomorrow, I wish I could do that, could play in that slow, suspension of time and moisture, one where what you feel and seek and love builds upon itself in endless form, honed by the cold depths of the sky. You can't catch the snow, you can only watch it fall to you, grasping it briefly, stretching out your hands to clasp a wisp of air and hold it for a moment.
But I can't, I have obligations and chores and things to do that don't involve a dog. He barks with a "come follow me" note, but getting chilled just opening the door to check on him, I simply fling his favorite toy as hard and far out into space as I can before I shut the door and impatiently fetch a treat to get him back inside in a few minutes.
"The Toy". It's this bone length thing covered with yellow tennis ball material to which a thick plastic cord is attached so you can really wind it up and throw it. It's THE toy. He has a half dozen different balls and toys, but once this one showed up they were ignored. He knows the word "toy" as opposed to "Ball" or "Mr. Squeeky" or "The Ropers" and will fetch it from anywhere, digging through the snow if necessary to find it.
I went into the kitchen, leaving the family room glass outer door closed, but the curtains open. Dogs can get frostbite on their paws, ears, and tail if left out in freezing temperatures for lengths of time so I would keep an eye on him.
I saw this movement in my peripheral vision, a black form jumping up into the air like a kangaroo. What the. . . . .?
The toy is stuck high up in the branches of a tree, just inside his fenced area, I threw it too far out, and too high.
He jumped and he jumped as if he could somehow magically get that high and grab it. Come on, this next time, surely I'll get it! But he is totally silent, not a bark, so intent on the capture, he is bound and gagged by his obligation.
With a heavy sigh as I'd just gotten warm again, I get bundled up in coat and boots and go out. The snow shower had passed, and I could see him out at the edge of the yard, inside the fence that blocks him from the pond. When he saw me he ceased jumping but continued to stare up. It's just a toy, I think, but he looks at it as if stuck on the edge of a vast ambiguity, a lonely figure waiting by a hopeless ocean for time and tide to change course.
I've seen a lot of expressions on this dogs face, but this was the first time I could actually detect "worry". I didn't think dogs worried. They don't have taxes, cellulite, ex's or bills and facial hair as they get older is, well, normal. But they do know hurt, they just quietly just take it in, recording it complacently in their suffering, not wishing their person to worry about them.
But today, he looked with a stillness that dropped like stone to the depths of my being, a look on his face that would have stopped even the most involved soul. Dogs can do that, those looks, that put out of mind all of the follies of dog farts, the hair that covers every surface of the house, spent dollars and the chewed shoes. It's a look that made me want to comfort him, even as he does for me with no memory of my failures or the hints of my doubts.
Mom,. Mom, my toy, she's stuck, help!
If I fall out here, and break something I'm going to freeze to death. I've got stuff to do, this can wait til it's warmer. The ladder is in the garage and the sky is getting dark. All of those thoughts run though my head as he stares up, my form the only thing between him and that gaping ocean. It's my responsibility. He's my responsibility. But there's no way I'm going to try and drag the ladder out of the garage, around the house and through the little gate. I climbed trees as a kid, I only need to get up a few feet where I can grab it or swat the toy to the ground.
Those childhood trees were stouter trees, however, and I was smaller then, and soon I am half tangled in the young tree, it's trunk bending painfully in ways I haven't seen since my first Yoga class. I thought of a trebuchet, the laws of physics and how a flung redhead taking out the kitchen window might not be something the insurance agent wanted to hear.
I went and got the ladder. The conquest of worlds, the emancipation of those sold into bondage, the pride and power of freedom's forces, those are fit materials for a courageous tale. The rescue of a fuzzy toy would hardly be accountable but for the look of this dog, for whom the act was as all important, all-consuming, as well, bacon will be tomorrow morning. This dog had his needs, and I knew that whether I was simply "what's her name with a ladder" or his instrument of documented destiny, I had a role to play here.
Barkley 1. Tree 0.
And the world began revolving again and I could go back where it is warm, even if I am met with yet another pleading look. Play with me!
Sorry buddy, Mom's busy, I say, as I head back to the garage, leaving that pleading look behind. Overhead, a flock of geese, winging through an aberration of white, a mournful honk, black and white, braving the cold, pursuing the echo of sanctuary. I hear their cry as "come follow me" But I can't. Not quite yet. The snow blooms with the insistence of Spring, and I am earthbound with things to do. I turn away from him, flakes gathered at my feet, tumbled in the wind like rose petals blown aside in a lovers haste departure.
Then there is this goofy dog outside with a fuzzy yellow toy in his mouth, covered in snow like it's some sort of Popsicle. He's simply enjoying the day for what it is. I can't help but break out in a big grin when I think of that. Perhaps, I'm not as grown up as I think I am.
I go to him with a pat and a treat, to get him back to the house, to play with me inside in the warmth, while my work waits for another time. Our feet barely touch the ground as we run towards the house, towards the gilded blaze, our future, he and I, somewhere ahead in that diffused glow. Like those horses out in the neighbor's field, we move towards the light of the door, bright as tossed coins in a collection plate, a saving, golden Grace. Home. It is benediction and absolution, even if covered in dog hair.
There is a door, and we fall in, into the embrace of warmth, flakes of cold in dark hair.