A Walk in the Snow Turns Old Dog into Pup

by Kara Holsopple

January 4, 2013

Nothing brings back the puppy in my senior dog like a walk in the snow.  He skitters off the sidewalk and into the banks of plowed snow until you can no longer see the black spots on his legs.  The dog that wearily lifts his head each morning and decides to drift back to sleep is now moving through ice crusted mounds like a bulldozer. Four paws, full speed ahead. Two boots treading more cautiously behind him.

When I walk my dog in the winter, it seems like everyone is on their way somewhere.  Cars slosh by us on city streets. Pedestrians  push against the wind as they traipse towards warm homes and offices ..  Even the dog is focused on the next big tree.  But I’m just along for the ride. So I may as well enjoy it. 

I gauge the quality of the ice I’m treading on-- each portion of sidewalk is new territory under my feet, waiting to be explored. Gritty salt over cracking ice.  Lush virgin snow. Grey slush. A dusting of snow over concrete that feels like walking over spilled sugar. 

We travel up and down residential side streets to get to a small parklet that is my dog’s not-so-secret destination.  I look up from my snow musings just in time to notice half a dozen white roses impossibly still in bloom at the edge of a yard.  It was warmer last week. They are holding on.  I take off my headphones and take a break from podcasts, paying tribute to these delicate survivors in silence. 

But the wonder is broken by sidewalk shovelling. Someone in a nearby house is burning toast.  And the leash is suddenly taut, again. 

A sign is posted in the park reading: No dogs permitted.  No one obeys. In every season there are dogs here, and today, hundreds of white paw prints in all directions.  Last year I noticed another posting tacked onto an oak tree: “This gentle giant is retiring.”  It and others were marked with red bands and cut down in the following weeks--part of the city’s urban forest plan.  Grateful for the warning, but sad to see them go. This year I can’t remember where they stood. 

On our way home, wet, droopy ears stand up. Winter reveals the architecture of a hedge-only a few coppery leaves and dark berries left.  Within it, fat brown birds move fast from twig to tiny twig.  They make a ruckus.  Finally my dog and I are interested in the same bit of nature.  On some signal that neither of us hears, the birds take off into the skyline with a sound like the opening of a paper fan.  Are they sparrows? Juncos? I’ll never know, because my dog’s attention span matches the winter birds’ hasty departure.. 

His eyes are already farther down the street, staring with suspicion at a tree stump, three feet tall.  Someone has dressed it up like a winter sprite.  Or maybe an elf.  Nature undercover.  It’s green costume is the brightest thing on this street where there is considerably less flora and  fauna than other roads we’ve travelled today.  But he isn’t fooled--he gingerly steps around it.  He doesn’t even bother bringing his nose down to its level.  Because that is his nature. To sniff out what is real for him.  And to turn my daily chore into an opportunity.  To appreciate what’s under the ice, and around the corner.