Category Archives: Walking the Dog

March 1

March is here.  It looks just like February, only bleaker.  A wintry mix is coating all surfaces with ice.  The snow is topped with a clear, thick crust, and tree branches are frosted and heavy.  Walking the dog is treacherous business.  On the bright side, it’s not windy. 

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Even snowmen find the icy surface tough going: this surprised-looking one in a neighbor’s yard seems to be frozen in the midst of a topple backwards.  

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Sick of February Yet?

This month is notorious. Fortunately it’s the shortest. Here in Northern Virginia, as in much of the country, February is all about the snow, or all about the cold, or the wind. Or some uncomfortable combination of the three.  I’m trying not to complain. I know it could be worse. I could live in Boston, Buffalo or Sioux Falls. But the frigid whiteness of this mid-Atlantic winter has lost its luster. It has become tiresome. 

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Here in our area, the last half of the month is the worst. The week before and after Presidents’ Day tends to usher in our deepest snows and fiercest cold snaps.   The best-laid plans crumble. Why do we continue to make plans in February?

This year a mini-blizzard roared in on the evening of Saturday the 14th at 6:30, a dirty little trick on diligent Valentine date-nighters. Within minutes, all was white, the air and ground alike. Snow piled up and swirled wildly as the wind howled and the temperature dropped to zero.  Typically, in the face of such weather, I would happily retreat to the warmth of the sofa with a movie. But my husband was out of town (that’s another story), my daughter had two parties to attend, and I had said yes to a neighborhood gathering. All activities, unfortunately, required driving.  My focus for the evening shifted from enjoyment to getting out and back without injury or incident. When I picked up my daughter and a friend from their final party, the snow-coated roads glittered with chunks of ice resembling broken glass. When the tires lost traction at an especially slick intersection and the anti-lock brakes kicked in to no avail, luckily we were the only car around.  

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The following icy, windy Sunday morning, Kiko and I suffered through possibly the most miserable dog walk ever. (No matter how inhospitable the weather, my fastidious little dog requires three walks a day for his mental and physical health. See here.) I wondered if we should brave the roads for church.  A blinking light on the answer machine put that worry to rest: church was canceled, despite special preparations for a one-of-a-kind community children’s service.

Monday, Presidents’ Day, was a holiday and day off school. We managed to get in a dentist appointment for my daughter before more snow began falling steadily that afternoon. Storm Watch Accu-Weather-on-Your Side teams were breathless: this storm would be the Big One. No doubt there was not a gallon of milk or a loaf of bread to be had on any grocery shelf in the DC metro area.

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We got snow, perhaps six inches or so. It was too bad that H wouldn’t be around to clear our long driveway with the powerful snow blower he bought after the blizzards of 2009 and ’10. As a boy growing up in Rochester, New York, he made money shoveling driveways and the occasional roof. He dreamed of one day owning a truly prodigious snow blower. That dream had come true, but once the big red contraption took its place in our garage (alongside a variety of mowers and other items for suburban lawn and garden maintenance), the snows stopped. Last year they resumed, in a big way.  On most powdery white mornings H is out with his monster of a machine. He clears our driveway; he clears neighbors’ driveways. He’s a local Snow Day hero.

But this time he wasn’t here. I have to say it: he was in Aruba, perfecting a windsurfing move, the elusive jibe, a complicated change of direction done while continuing to skim the water. It was something he’d been wanting to do for years.  It required perfect conditions, namely strong, steady wind, which can’t be found just anywhere. We’d agreed that he should take the long Presidents’ Day weekend and just do it. But I hadn’t considered that he was leaving D and me here to face the dastardly February weather on our own.

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H suggested we FaceTime him so he could coach D on using the snow blower.  He’d shown her how to work it last winter, but the details were hazy. Numerous attempts to start it up failed.  We were about to give up when H realized that one little knob wasn’t turned in the right direction.  That done, the machine roared to life and D set off down the driveway. Thank goodness she’s her father’s daughter.

And while the accumulation wasn’t as dramatic as expected, it was more than enough to shut us down. Further cancellations rolled in. No school on Tuesday. No Fat Tuesday Pancake Supper at our church. No school Wednesday, and no Ash Wednesday service at our church and many others.

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That was just the first series of February snow cancellations. Since then, they’ve continued, requiring the ongoing reshuffling of plans. Today, for example, with snow beginning early this morning, school was first delayed, then canceled an hour later. With so many days off school, extra-curricular activities are postponed repeatedly.  Rescheduling is tricky, as events pile atop one another. During my daughter’s elementary school years, snow days for her were exactly that: unstructured free days to play in the snow. Now they involve the stress of wondering if and when the student-directed One-Acts will take place.  How will they impact previously scheduled activities? And then there’s the thorny problem of when to do AP World reading and pre-calculus problems when there’s a beautiful snow on the ground and friends who want to take the day off to meet for lunch in town.

Oh, February, aren’t you over yet?

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A Little Late, but We’ll Take it: the Snow Day Arrives


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We knew it was cold this morning when we could barely see out the frost-covered upstairs windows.

We didn’t even have to wait for more white stuff to fall for a snow day to be declared.  My daughter learned, upon waking at 7:01, that today’s two-hour school delay (due to single-digit temperatures and below zero wind chills) had been changed at the last minute to a cancellation.  She was briefly euphoric.  Then she fell back into a deep sleep for several hours.  I guess that’s part of her job as a teenager.  I would have done the same thing, had I ever had the gift of a snow day.  They were pretty rare in Atlanta when I was growing up. 

My daughter’s celebratory cheers roused Kiko, who refused to return to his bed.  We were out walking earlier than I would have preferred.  Our porch thermometer read 8 degrees.  Now that’s chilly.  Even my little snow dog got more than he bargained for.  His choice is to walk in the road if possible, but once weather-treated, the mix of salt and ice stings his paw pads.  Every few steps, he picks up a foot pitifully and attempts to limp along.  The going is particularly tough when he’s favoring two paws on the same side.  I brush the yucky stuff off with my mitten and try to steer him onto the fresh, untreated snow.  Sometimes he gives up completely and sits down, looking forlorn.  Then he stubbornly struggles his way back onto the messy road, where the process begins again.  With all these delays, my toes (and wet fingers) don’t feel so good either.  Snowy day dog walking at its least enjoyable, I must say. 

Hurry, spring! 

A White (last day of) Christmas

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The first snow of 2015 arrived here in Northern Virginia in the early hours of January 6.  This final, twelfth day of Christmas marks the visit of the Magi, who followed a star to worship and present their rare gifts to the baby King.  

You could say, then, that we had a somewhat delayed white Christmas.  

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Much to the disappointment and astonishment of my daughter and other local kids, school went on as usual, without even a delay.  After our ten snow days last year, we’ve come to associate even the slightest rumor of a snowflake with a school cancellation.  The snowfall was heavier than predicted, so our winding old roads saw many accidents and delays.  The elementary school bus in our neighborhood was so long in coming, and reports of road conditions so bad, that parents were discussing simply letting the children stay home. 

The dog walking, however, was fine.  Kiko and his friend Ziggy the ridgeback were playfully exuberant.  Kiko had to show Ziggy how fast he can run, stop and turn, repeatedly.  The temperature was in the low 20s, and the snow was the light, powdery kind that doesn’t clump and irritate furry paws.  Both dogs looked festive in their wispy Santa snow beards. 

Because of this morning’s extensive traffic problems, the kids can probably rest assured that the next time snow is forecasted in our area, it will come with a school closing.  My daughter, no doubt, is betting on it. 

Snowmelt, and Can it Be, a Hint of Spring?

I can’t be alone, among those in the snowbound sections of our country, in having recently felt lost in some permanent winter limbo.  Last Friday that sensation was particularly acute.  I was on the fifth day of a nasty cold that was keeping me exhausted, shivering, stuffy, head-achy and generally miserable.  Each day brought a new symptom.  That morning I welcomed the onset of a deep, bone-shaking, throat-searing cough.  I had hoped for a couple of hours extra sleep after H and D left for work and school.  Typically on dark, overcast mornings, I go upstairs to find Kiko curled up on the foot of my bed.  As soon as I get out, he jumps in.  But this morning he had been continually underfoot, pacing, staring expectantly, demanding to walk as soon as possible.  He was oblivious to the morning’s gray hostility.  So by 7:30, under a leaden sky, my dog and I were picking our way across piles of dirty brown snow, a biting wind whipping at our ears.  He was scampering merrily.  I was trudging grumpily.

 This cold had hit me harder than most, and I was finding it difficult to power through.  Maybe the excessive chill of the winter had sapped my strength.  That Friday I was especially gloomy, knowing I wouldn’t be able to spend the day bundled on the sofa, dozing and working through weird Tivo selections such as Hal Ashby movies from the 70s.  I had managed to do little else for four days, but my time was up.  We needed groceries and every known household paper product.  Prescriptions were awaiting pick-up.  It was the day for my allergy shots.  Kiko would need another walk.  And I should probably make dinner for a change.  Ugh.  I counted the hours until I could go back to bed.

But Saturday was indeed a new day.  And best of all, it felt like a new, much-anticipated season.  The sun was shining with a glorious intensity, the sky was blue, and the temperature was climbing into the 60s.  The robins were feasting. The snow was melting.  Suddenly, winter was on the run. For the first time in what seemed like years, it felt like spring.


The melting snow added a sense of drama to our first spring-like day.  This was an early spring day akin to those described in The Secret Garden  and my favorite books of childhood poetry.



What do you know, there are tiny buds on the cherry trees!

This Snow Won’t Go



Last Wednesday’s snow remains very much with us. Every yard is still an expanse of white.  Our old maples appear far shorter, due to the snow banked high on their trunks.  Snow plows created towering fortresses at every intersection. Roads are bordered by messy, jagged ridges that grow more discolored every day, yet never seem to diminish in size.  Parking lots are dotted with miniature mountains.

Days of bright sunshine combined with frigid temperatures created an icy top layer that sealed in the snow below.  The squirrels, whose zest for life appears boundless, chase each other playfully across it.  Kiko is less enthusiastic.  He investigates the snow piles tentatively, placing each paw carefully to see if the surface will hold.  He is clearly irked when  a leg or two plunges through the crust and leaves him in an awkward position, his dignity compromised.  The shaded sections of our driveway are still thickly coated with ice, making a short trip to the car a dangerous business.  We weren’t able to fit in our mid-winter visit to my husband’s family in Rochester this year, but the landscape of upstate New York appears to surround us.

The predicted warming spell has arrived, yet it has had little effect on our snow cover.   Two days ago, I saw a good omen.  I watched as Kiko picked his way delicately over the mounds of deep snow on our patio to reach his favorite sunny snoozing spot, newly uncovered. That night, however, brought another two inches of fresh powder.

Today we may finally see a change.  The temperature is expected to climb into the high 50s. As we finished our morning walk, a light rain began, and I was cheered at the prospect of some of the snow washing away.  I had barely completed the thought when I heard a long, loud, slow rumble of thunder.  Kiko heard it, too.  Oh no!   That meanie’s back!  (See Evading the Terrible Thunder Monster, April 2013.)  He began to pace nervously, circling the house several times before allowing me to wrap him tightly  in his thundershirt. The daily inconvenience of the snow had me dreaming of spring.  But I’d forgotten that with it comes, for my dog, the nightmare of thunderstorms.  Maybe it would be best that the winter cold continue for a while, snow or no snow.



 Kiko reclines atop the snow, eyeing the street for approaching friends. 

Real Snow. Enough Now.


Today we have a snow day with real snow, and lots of it.  The schools here in northern Virginia used up all their snow days back in January.  Yet there’s been very little actual snow.  Certainly we’ve had our fill of frigid temperatures and diverse forms of icy accumulation.  But as for the pretty fluffy white stuff, not so much.

Until this morning, when we woke up to over a foot of the real thing.  It’s more snow than we’ve seen here in four years, when we were treated to back-to-back blizzards, pre- and post-Christmas, that paralyzed the area.  Last night’s snow was enough to shut down all runways at Reagan National and Dulles Airports, enough for the government to call a State of Emergency, enough even for my husband’s office to close.  This gave him the chance, at long last, to fire up his essentially unused snow blower, the one he bought in 2010, just after those last big storms.

The street was a smooth, untouched, snow-covered ribbon this morning when Kiko and I headed out for our walk.  We were grateful to be able to follow the parallel impressions left by a car sometime during the night.  In the tire tracks, the snow didn’t flood up and over my boots, or envelop Kiko’s entire body.  Where the snow was completely untouched, my little dog was forced to bound through it with a sort of swimming motion.  He seems to thrill at that first plunge, but his exhilaration quickly dissipates.  Following his exertions, he slept for hours on the playroom sofa.  All day long I’ve been tempted to join him.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we all could be so lucky?

My daughter, of course, was delighted by the snow, and by yet another snow day.  As for Kiko and me, we’re ready for spring.





My daughter, at home in her element.

Deck the Dog

No theological implications here.  Just a dog too sleepy to mind being wrapped in synthetic greenery.  My daughter has always found it disappointing that Kiko refuses to cooperate and wear the typical doggie costume.  No devil horns for him at Halloween, no reindeer headband for the Christmas photo.  But this year, as we were hanging the stair garland, he lacked the energy to care, or perhaps to protest, when she decided to adorn him, as well. 





Sleep in heavenly peace. 

A Masked Visitor

Until today, we had never spotted a raccoon in our yard, or even in our immediate neighborhood.  Deer and squirrels are routine. Foxes are frequent. Once, when my daughter was very young, she alerted me to the presence of two animal control officers walking across our front yard:  There are two people with big guns, Mama!  Turns out they were in search of the infamous rabid skunk that had been roaming the area.  But the raccoons, they had stayed away. 

I was eating breakfast when I heard Kiko bark from the yard. Of course, he rarely makes a sound. And this was a different kind of bark: a single woof, with an excited edge to it. I ran out to the porch to see my little dog face to face in the grass with a raccoon. Of course, I feared he would get bitten or scratched. I was afraid the raccoon might be rabid. Nearly every week, there’s at least one account in the Public Safety notes of the local newspaper of a dog quarantined after tussling with a sick raccoon.

Kiko was keeping some distance between him and the interloper, while backing it toward the fence. I clapped my hands loudly and yelled repeatedly, “Go Away!,” Get outta here!” The raccoon got the message, hastened its retreat, and squeezed through the bars of the fence. Once on the other side, it clambered up a Leyland Cypress in our neighbor’s yard. From a perch in the branches it peered down at us, composed, charming, and terribly cute. Kiko sat below at rapt attention, expectant, itching for another chance to show this foreign visitor what’s what.

We kept watch for a while. I wanted to make sure the raccoon wasn’t behaving erratically or showing signs of illness. As far as I could tell, it appeared to be a perfectly healthy specimen, handsome, well-fed and fuzzy. With an enviable sense of self-possession, it seemed content to observe us calmly and wait it out in the tree. After a while, and with much effort, I dragged Kiko away and onto the porch, where we watched as the raccoon carefully, unhurriedly, climbed down from the tree and disappeared into the bushes beside our neighbor’s deck.

Is this the first of many more such masked visitors to come? Or simply the appearance of a rebellious loner who got off track? While it’s hard to imagine a more cuddly-looking creature, for Kiko’s sake, I hope it spreads the word that inside our fence no warm welcome awaits. I hope it tells friends and family of its close brush with a fierce, red, fox-like monster.

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Underfoot, and Easily Overlooked, the Circle of Life


Yesterday, my daughter called my attention to an elaborate lichen formation on one of the decaying tree stumps in our front yard.  Although I walk past it nearly every day with Kiko, I hadn’t noticed it.  Amazing, the strange beauty we can so easily overlook.  Our lawn repeatedly offers such spectacles.  Yet I still forget.  Oblivious, I walk right by.

I’ve written about the attachment our family feels toward our old trees.  (See The Silver Maples Say Welcome Home, April 2012, and  Barred Owl Update, June 2013.) The two immense maples that survive from the original six, planted the year our house was built, are ninety-three years old.  Broad stumps serve as place markers, memorials for the trees that had to be removed.  The  life, so strikingly peculiar, that emerges from these dead stumps is further justification for our not having them ground down.

Lichen is one of earth’s oldest life forms. Very slowly, but with exceptional persistence, it emerges in unlikely, inhospitable spots, nearly impervious to extreme conditions and temperatures.  In the crowded busyness of our twenty-first century world, it keeps a low profile and may go unnoticed.  Lichen is not a single organism, but a complex partnership between fungi and algae.  Lichen may grow from bare rock or wood.  As it grows, it breaks down the substance from which it emerges, helping to create soil.

The lichen on our tree stump is a cascade of flower-like growths.  Depending on your point of view, it resembles part of an exuberantly ruffled blouse, rippling water flowing over rocks, the feathered plumage of a giant bird,  the petals of cabbage roses deconstructed and rearranged, or even the scales of a fantastic crocodilian creature.

I’m so glad we let nature take its course.  Had we not said “no,” over and over, to unbeatable stump grinding prices (offered eagerly by every tree company that drives past the house), we would have no stage for this riot of oddly lovely new life.  How satisfying, how hope-inspiring, it is that from the last vestiges of this maple tree springs an ancient vitality.  Decay and growth, hand in hand, rather like the lichen partnership itself.  The circle of life, circling on and on, underfoot.  While the tree stump remains, we’ll be observers at the quietly fabulous end-time celebration it’s hosting.



Party on, lichen.