Saturday, December 17, 2005

Why I got a puppy

The old boys are old, it is true, but even at age nine dogyears, Toby is strong and energetic. He has slowed down a little, but he still enjoys a run and a romp as much as anyone. Max cannot keep up, but Max is smart and self-reliant. Either he stays close to me when we are out, or he lies down in a spot where he can keep watch over his little flock of Toby and me and—most recently—the baby Cassandra. We like to go out together, at least we do when the four-legged ones can coax the two-legged one off the couch and out into the cold.

One of my personal goals is to get outdoors more and enjoy this magical place where I live. It is an irony of rural life that tied as we are to automobile transport, unless we plan for foot travel, it does not naturally happen as daily life grinds relentlessly forward. And it is a reality of life in Vermont that we must have different schedules, adapt to different rhythms as the seasons change. Walking is a delight in summer and fall, but the cold and snow of winter bring a halt to that activity.

Snowshoeing is a wonderful replacement for walking, but some adaptations are required. Compared to even the most brisk autumn hike, walking on snowshoes is hard work, although far easier than slogging through the snow would be without this inventive footgear. People from around here recommend ramping up on snowshoes, starting with the first snowfall of two or three inches so that when the snow is really deep, leg muscles are accustomed to the work and feet no longer cramp in protest at peculiar angles. Well, I forgot to do that.

Still, this morning was the right time to head out on snowshoes. The puppy has gone into a bratty phase that clearly calls for a couple of good runs a day to flatten her out. I am reminded of a year-old German Shepherd pup named Xena that Max and Toby used to play with in Prospect Park. It took Xena’s owners a good hour of hard running twice a day to turn her into a well-behaved dog appropriate for apartment life. I thought a lot about Xena when I was thinking about bringing Miss Cassandra home. A lot.

So after this morning’s antics, which I will spare you, but they involved two pairs of shoes, both old dogs’ breakfasts, my breakfast, the garbage, the clothes I wore yesterday, and the garbage again, not to mention an unauthorized flat out run all the way around the house and across the road, we went up the hill, me with my snowshoes and my dogs.

The snow is beautiful. There is no adjective that conveys what it is like. This particular storm left us with six inches of grainy, but fluffy, pure white stuff on top of another three or so inches, so the dogs are sinking in to elbow and chest. They don’t care, they just love it. Even with snowshoes, the snow is so fluffy that I sink in about six inches, so it is a serious cardio workout to get up the hill into the sugarbush.

Cassie covers four or five times the distance that Max and I do, and she is in heaven. She is covered in snow. She jumps and runs and dives, skidding along like a sea otter. She chases Toby, and he chases her, but old-dog-canny, he mostly lets her run circles around him. The two of them break trail for me, and Max follows, taking the easiest route for weary old legs. Later, he sticks close behind, sometimes walking on the backs of my snowshoes, his breath warming the backs of my knees.

Just up to the top of the hill and back, then across to the garden to throw a few snowballs, and baby Cassandra is ready for a nap. It is a great workout, with incomparable beauty and the simple joy of dogs enjoying snow. To get me out more to experience this kind of thing—that’s why I got a puppy.

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