Category Archives: Walking the Dog

Halloween 2020 with the Skeleton Crew (and bigfoot, too)

The annual Halloween joyride was on. “Come on, kids!,” beckoned Slim. Our pack is a pod, so let’s go!” This may be Kiko’s favorite event of the year. He loves nothing more than to ride shotgun with with Slim.

To Kiko this means settling in for a cozy doze in the passenger seat, the top down, the sun warm, the wind refreshing. He can count on Slim to take his time with the drive; this will be no quick there-and-back trip, but an unhurried, meandering cruise over roads hitherto unexplored.

I can rest assured that Slim and the gang will be back with plenty of time to set up for the Halloween festivities, which this year, thanks to the foresight and organization of young parents, involves a neighborhood parade and safely distanced candy give-aways.

Nearly every year the Halloween joyride yields some unexpected pleasure. This year it was the spotting of one of Slim’s more reclusive pals who happened to be walking along a woodsy section of road. “Trevor!” Slim yelled, braking so suddenly that the chihuahua twins Ruth and Rocky ended up atop Kiko in the front seat, briefly waking him from his nap. “I can’t believe it! Is it really you?,” asked Slim incredulously.

“Indeed, it is I. Trevor Wildermann, III, at your service,” replied the tall, hirsute figure, barely visible among the shadows.

“Unbelievable. I awaken to a covid pandemic and run into the true King of Social Distance, the original wild man himself!,” Slim exclaimed. “What brings you to the suburbs of Northern Virginia?”

“I just returned from early voting. It’s the last day for it locally. I’m a citizen now, of course. Have been for some time. My house is just there among the trees. Mostly quiet eccentric types in this neighborhood. They’re discreet. And they know not to refer to me as “Bigfoot.” The vulgarity of the common parlance offended Trevor to his core. His feet weren’t even especially big, considering his height. “I’m confident that the secret of my whereabouts is safe, unless perhaps you, Sir, decide to reveal it to some goofball at the Travel Channel. You wouldn’t, would you?”

After Slim pledged total silence regarding his friend’s Virginia residency, Trevor invited him to pull the car around back and join him on the open-air courtyard for drinks and snacks. While Kiko and the pack explored the artfully landscaped gardens and drowsed in the sun, the two old friends indulged in a leisurely catch-up. Luckily, Slim had planned the joyride for early in the day.

The Hotel Wilder Mann in Passau.

The two had met in Bavaria during one of Slim’s Grand Tours of Europe in an earlier century. Trevor’s family has owned and operated the historic Hotel Wilder Mann in the Danube River town of Passau since the mid-1500s. It’s his custom to spend the spring in his charming hometown, where the Easter season, very dear to his heart, is so beautifully celebrated. The covid outbreak prevented his return this year, much to his disappointment. The fortuitous encounter with his old friend offered a welcome bit of consolation.

The ornate Wilder Mann sign at the Hotel.

As the afternoon shadows lengthened and the pups began to get restless, Slim felt the tug of duty. It was time to get back to prepare. The two friends said their goodbyes with reluctance, yet rejoiced in knowing that this time next year, they would meet again.

Upon his return, Slim got to work. We had decided to greet trick-or-treaters from my mother’s house this year, as it’s more easily accessible for the parade. Slim placed two tables near the street on which to lay out a wide array of candy. He made sure to include goodies that the nut-allergic could enjoy. He set up chairs for everyone at the top of the driveway, so we could watch the festivities from a safe distance. Kiko, who didn’t know he’d be spared the constant doorbell ringing of a typical Halloween, had retreated upstairs earlier to his night-time bed.

Before long, the first vehicles of the parade began to approach from the nearby cul-de-sac. While there were plenty of walkers, other kids were conveyed in decoratively festooned golf carts, cars and SUVs. There were riding mowers and Radio Flyer wagons carrying puppies and toddlers. Parents and kids were masked and careful about maintaining distance between family groups. Most neighbors participated, with candy-laden tables set up at the base of driveways. The happy, expectant spirit of Halloween flourished, despite the unusual circumstances.

Slim was buoyed by the treat of seeing his dear friend, the elusive Wildermann. Even if that chance meeting had not occurred, he claimed, he would still have dubbed the evening a satisfying success. As he reclined again on the swooning bench, his mood was one of jubilant calm.

Before he retired for the night, our wise October companion offered these reassuring words: “Never underestimate life’s capacity to surprise you and to cheer you, especially when you least expect it. I’ll go back to sleep soon, and I’ll dream sweet dreams. Meanwhile, you’ll get through this thorny patch. I’ve got a good feeling about it. Cheers to 2021!”

Dog Days, This Summer

Who had a good summer?  Who had a good summer?  This boy! He’s such a good boy, isn’t he?  Yes, he’s a good boy.  

Imagine the above spoken in “puppy talk,”  that silly-sounding person-to-dog gibberish. The goofy cadences, the redundancy of needless repetition. I fall into it sometimes, and Kiko either turns away in embarrassment, or looks at me with an even greater degree of condescension than usual. 

But if my dog were able to answer the question, he’d probably agree that he did, in fact, have a good summer.   A very pleasant summer.  If anyone’s life was improved by the unusual circumstances of the pandemic, it’s likely the beloved companion dogs whose humans’ activities have been so drastically curtailed. 

It was Kiko’s good fortune that Covid numbers spiked here in Virginia during the final week of July, so that Massachusetts wouldn’t let us in without a negative test result or a two-week quarantine period.  Until that point, we’d been planning on our annual Cape Cod vacation, even though much of what we enjoyed most about it would no longer be possible.  Instead, at our daughter’s suggestion, we bought a ten-foot inflatable pool, set it up on our back patio and reminded ourselves of the long and painful drive we were avoiding.  With sunshine and a big pitcher of margaritas, we almost felt like we were on vacation.  

Of course, our dog doesn’t fully appreciate the unexpected blessings that came his way this summer. He doesn’t realize how narrowly he avoided the usual period of solitary confinement at the animal hospital. Instead of facing long hours in a cell and a few circumscribed outings in a featureless enclosed area, he remained free to pursue his favorite activities, without interruption, on his home turf. Kiko maintained his role as canine king of the castle grounds, languidly roaming the outdoor spaces between our house and my mother’s, napping in the sun, napping in the shade. There were so many delightful choices:  the baking heat of the deck, the coziness of dusty mulch beds, the cool flagstone beneath the hydrangeas, or the sofa on the screened porch. Occasionally he’d jump up to chase a chipmunk or squirrel.  More often, though, the little furry ones, like the mice in an old Tom & Jerry cartoon, tiptoed behind and around him as he snoozed. Sometimes he’d disappear on very hot humid afternoons. I’d find him around dinner time in a deep, coma-like sleep in his bed in the chill of my mother’s family room.  Often Mama wouldn’t even realize he was there.  Evenings were his to spend watching the fox and deer as they made their neighborhood rounds. On the rare occasions when Kiko sought company, one of his pack members was always around. Always. 

He’s clearly noticed that his people are ever-present. On a recent afternoon, Kiko was curled up on my bed.  I opened my closet door and took out a casual (a very casual) dress on a hanger. He looked at me with a sudden, heightened interest. He stretched, shook vigorously and leapt onto the floor.  Was I, perhaps, going out?  Maybe in the car?  Whoo hooo!  Count him in! One of the things we love most about dogs is that they have no fashion sense; they don’t care how, or even if, their humans dress. My husband gently suggested, the other day, that I consider wearing something a little less lived in than the extra-comfy dog-walking gear that has become my standard, all-purpose wardrobe. It’s been about six months since I’ve dressed up.  I’ve even realized, on occasion, that I’ve worn some distressed item of clothing inside out all day long.  No one has noticed.  Certainly not Kiko.  But he’s evidently observed that a change of clothes involving a search through a mound on a chair has no impact on him. But the now rare opening of the closet door followed by the emergence of a hanging garment–that offers a hint of promise. One of the drawbacks of such constant human presence is that it offers far fewer opportunities for car rides. 

Now that summer has officially ended and school has begun, the pandemic has granted Kiko yet another gift.  Because classes are being conducted exclusively online, there are no buses to roar menacingly past our windows. This time last year I wrote about my dog quaking with fear in the early mornings when the bright flashing lights atop the school buses suggested the approach of a terrible storm. See here.  Unlike the rest of us, he has one fewer trauma to grapple with.  Kiko greeted every dawn last fall as though it might be the end of the world.  Now it’s just us humans who wonder if that’s the case.

Raccoon Encounter

One recent evening, when my husband went to get our dog for his last walk of the day, he found Kiko in his bed by the window, gazing placidly at the fox that typically curls up under the maple tree around dusk.

Kiko and the fox have become accustomed to one another. Lately it’s part of their routine to stare silently at one another as the sun sets. It’s almost as though an invisible thread links each red furry pointy-eared critter to the other, one inside, one outside.

Glancing out another window, my husband spotted a less expected wild visitor. A plump and furry raccoon was intently pawing the ground beneath our bird feeder. Since we moved into our house twenty years ago, this is only our second raccoon spotting. My daughter and I dropped what we were doing and joined my husband to watch with interest as the raccoon staked out the territory around the bird feeder and explored available options. For a while, she* continued to use her little hands to sift the earth for sunflower seeds.

Clearly this method wasn’t yielding enough bounty. She ambled over to the pine tree, climbed up unhurriedly, and perched on the stump of a branch below the feeder. Last year’s dry, brown Christmas wreath, (which I hung on the stump in January when it was still green) almost caused her to lose her footing. After regaining her balance, she took her time to assess the situation. She appeared to consider a leap onto the feeder, but evidently decided against it. Another approach was in order.

Up until this point, the raccoon had appeared to be a slightly clumsy, slow-moving creature, an unlikely athlete. As she grasped the branch from which the feeder hangs, this all changed. Suddenly, she was the picture of fluffy agility, using all four feet to make her way easily, upside down, along the branch.

Once within reach of the feeder, she curled her white hind paws around the branch and suspended herself vertically, in the manner of a trapeze artist at the circus. She grasped the feeder with one front paw and used the other to fish out seed from an opening. She hung on like this for quite some time. The squirrels that routinely attempt to outsmart our supposedly squirrel-proof bird feeder are far less successful.

The raccoon then flipped gracefully and dropped lightly to the ground, where she continued feeding on the seed she’d spilled from the feeder.

And soon she began the process again. 

In our focus on the raccoon, we failed to notice that Kiko’s attention had been roused. He’d emerged from his bed and left the room. At first we thought he might have retreated upstairs for the night, as he often does just before it’s time for the last walk. But no. He’d pushed open the kitchen door to the screened porch, plunged through his doggie door and dashed out into the side yard. By the time we arrived, he was at the base of the pine tree, looking up at the raccoon high above him in the branches. See, I can still hunt, he seemed to be saying, as he looked at us, even more condescendingly than usual. And he, like the raccoon, can be surprisingly quick on his feet, should the need arise.

Seven years ago, Kiko had a brief encounter with a raccoon that also ended with the fuzzy masked visitor peering down at him from a tree. (See this post here from November 2013.) I wondered then if that would be the start of more frequent raccoon sightings. It was not. Will it be the case now? We’ve seen the memes promoting the raccoon as the perfect Covid-19 mascot: it’s a mask-wearing hand-washer, and the letters of racoon can be rearranged to spell corona. Our visitor returned the next evening, around the same time, and went through the same feeding process. We haven’t seen her since, but I’ll continue to look for her around dusk.

We could use the distraction. During the past four months, our family has rarely left the house. We’ve had no guests. No friends inside the house. (And therefore we’ve abandoned all but the most minimal efforts toward tidying up. The surrounding clutter encroaches daily. Chaos looms.) It sure would be pleasant to be able to count on visits from such a charming acquaintance. One who abides by the pandemic rules of social distancing, entertains us briefly with acrobatic feats, never expects to come in, and then quietly disappears. Unfortunately, it will be a while before we can expect to enjoy the company of any other kind of visitor.

 

*I’ve recently realized that I tend to refer to most animals I see in nature with male pronouns.  I know our most frequent fox visitor is a male because he lifts his leg to pee.  I have no evidence of gender for this raccoon, but I’ve decided to go against my instinct and refer to it as “she.” 

 

What do you know, it’s Christmas Eve!

December, always the quickest month, has flown by with even greater speed than usual this year. Suddenly, our daughter is home, half-way through her third year at the University of Virginia. We’re wrapping presents. And it’s Christmas Eve.

Kiko, as usual*, has positioned himself squarely in the center of it all. (He’s the Milford Plaza of dogs.) Evidently, he suspects something very good is brewing. If only he could stay awake But the pull of sleep is strong and inviting. His head nods, and his body sways as he attempts to resist.

Sleep wins out.

Rolls of decorative paper make a comfy pillow on a sun-drenched carpet. I finish the wrapping, walking carefully around him. Soon I’ll wake him up and we’ll head over to the live nativity at our church. And that means it’s really, truly Christmas Eve.

*See the post from last December: Holiday Advice from Kiko: Just Chill

Halloween 2019 with the Skeleton Crew

Halloween dawned gray, warm and humid. Slim studied the forecast with a practiced eye.  He consulted the experts at the Capital Weather Gang.  Stepping outside, he remarked ominously, “Feels like tornado weather.”  But then, with a flippant wave of his elegantly bony hand, “I tend to exaggerate.  We’ll be fine.”  Much like my dear late father, whom he adored, Slim believes firmly in keeping on the sunny side of life.   

Yet with rain most certainly on the way, he summoned the pack for their annual Halloween joyride a bit earlier than usual. “Let’s get a move on for a morning ride, friends!  And Kiko, old man, how bout you drive?  I wanna sit up high and feel the wind in my face!” Kiko obliged and settled into the driver’s seat, where he typically feels most comfortable.

But Slim had to go back inside to search for his ball cap.  “Wish it were a red Nats cap!,” he mused.  Having stayed up late the previous night to watch the historic World Series win by the Nationals,  he was in a particularly buoyant mood.  Seated in the back of the VW, he remarked, “Hey look, we’re in the championship parade!  I’m Rendon!  No, I’m Strasburg!  No, I’m Kendrick!”  The pack looked up admiringly, delighted to bask in Slim’s glory.  Golly, they all felt like champions.  Slim has that effect on those around him.  That’s one reason we all love him so.  And why he reminds me of my father. 

But after our morning walk, Kiko was a tired champion.  He was already asleep.    

Of course, there’s no raining on Slim’s parade.  There would be a Halloween joyride.  And it would be exhilarating. 

May your Halloween be merry and bright, come rain or come shine! 

Is That the Light of the School Bus, or the Coming Apocalypse?

Another thing about the early-morning bus traffic outside our windows:  it has become a source of extreme anxiety for Kiko.  The school buses in our neighborhood have a white flashing strobe light on top.  I’m not sure if the light is new this fall, or if Kiko’s fear of it is new.  Whatever the case, the bright intermittent glare slices through the darkness, looking very much like lightning.   Kiko takes it as a sign that a monster storm is coming. 

Toward the end of the last school year, he typically snoozed soundly until well after full daylight.  It took a while to rouse him for the morning walk.  He tended to resist my various entreaties until I rattled my keys and told him, “OK.  You stay.  I’ll go on without you.”  It was only the threat of being left behind that prompted him to relinquish the warmth of his bed, stretch and amble slowly toward the stairs. 

So it surprised me, this September, to see my little dog wide awake in the pre-dawn darkness, alarmed and panting, in extreme go-time mode.  He’d pace rapidly on my bed, leap off to circle the room, stand on his back legs to peer between the curtains at the window.  Then he’d hop back atop my bed and attempt to settle in among the pillows.  During a storm, real or imagined, his usual place toward the foot of the bed offers no comfort; he has to be up near the headboard.  But even this offers no comfort, and he starts the entire process again.  Once I realized that he was seeing the lightning that presaged a powerful storm, I understood.   

At the start of the school year, Kiko’s trepidation began with the approach of the first bus and its flashes of light.  He’s come to anticipate the threat well in advance.  By 5:45 at the latest, he’s up and on the move, much the way he begins to fear a thunderstorm on a vaguely cloudy afternoon.  On weekends, when no buses are running, he’s making his anxious rounds well before 6 AM. 

It’s notable that Kiko has no fear at all of the school buses themselves.  On the contrary, he seeks them out.  For many years, our morning and afternoon walks began with time spent at the bus stop with my daughter, neighbors, and their dogs.  Still today, if given the opportunity, he settles in for a period of rest and observation near her old stop.  He seems to enjoy watching the bus doors open and the kids exit.  Many of the neighborhood children have come to expect to find Kiko waiting to be acknowledged and adored.  He’d sit directly in the path of the bus if I’d let him.  He has no dread of the thing that can actually harm him.   

I find it sad that my twelve-year old dog is discovering new causes for anxiety.  Shouldn’t he be growing wiser with age and experience?  As I considered this question, I found myself contemplating various scenarios in my life and that of my family:  what if this happens?  Or that?  Or, more ominously yet realistically, what will I do when this or that happens?  

And just like that, I knew the feeling.  My dog has outgrown the false invincibility of youth.  He’s grown into the vulnerability of age.  And so, I realized, have I.  A wave of pessimism swept over me.  Kiko is lucky, at least, I thought, in his faith that if he keeps searching, he can find a place of absolute safety.  He need never face the stark truth that there’s no hiding from many of life’s storms. 

In the last week or so, though, it seems Kiko has been a bit less worried in the mornings.  He continues to leave his spot near the foot of my bed well before daylight, whether it’s a school day or not.  But the pacing and jumping have lessened.  This morning, I awoke to feel his warm little form nestled in the curve behind my knees.  From my perspective, he was an image of perfect, cozy tranquility, curled up like a  fox.  Maybe his fear has vanished, I hoped.  Then suddenly, as the first bus of the day rounded the corner, the room was suffused with white flashes.  Kiko sprang to his feet, bounded off the bed and galloped from the room.

But he didn’t rush back in.  When I got up a while later, he was lying at the top of the stairs.  He didn’t appear to be alarmed.  He ran past me back into my room, where he found an overlooked mini-treat from the night before.  He gobbled it up, then looked at me expectantly, as if to say, “Got any more?”  He ran back to the top of the stairs in the way he does when he’s happy and frisky, anticipating the upcoming walk. 

At least today, my silent little dog, the four-legged reflection of my hopes, dreams and fears, is not gripped by terror of an unknown Apocalypse.  He’s just excited about the promise of a new day.  Suddenly, I felt the same way.  And from the window, I glimpsed a beautiful sunrise. 

Kiko does his power napping in the mid-day sun these days since he’s become such an early riser.

For the Hometown Heroes on Memorial Day

Over Memorial Day weekend we visited my husband’s family in New York state.  Early on Saturday morning, when we woke up in Spencerport, a picturesque village on the Eerie Canal, Kiko and I headed out for our first walk.  My little dog was even more headstrong than usual.  If I attempted to turn left, he was determined to go right.  When I preferred right, he insisted on left.  Occasionally his obstinance resulted in a dead stop, as he splayed his legs and I tugged, to no avail, on the leash.  Our progress was slow and laborious.  The constant battle of wills made it difficult to properly appreciate the gracious old homes of Spencerport.  I was annoyed with Kiko, who clearly cares nothing for architecture, or for beauty in general.  How disappointing.  I tend, however irrationally, to expect more from him.  And because I’d given in to his choices, we were heading in a direction that I didn’t intend.  But up ahead, on South Union Street, I began to see the entrance to Fairfield Cemetery.  We’d passed it yesterday driving in.  To me, it looked inviting.  Kiko evidently felt the same way.  For the first time that morning, we were in agreement.    

Except for the exuberant chirping of a great variety of birds, all was quiet.  No sounds of mowing, cutting or leaf-blowing disturbed the serenity.  

Many of the graves were marked with small American flags.  I realized, with some chagrin, that I’d almost forgotten, at least momentarily, the significance of the long holiday weekend. 

As Kiko and I wandered the shaded, grassy pathways between the rows of gravestones, I noticed that we now walked together in easy step.  My stubborn dog had managed to bring me here, against my will, to this peaceful spot, to contemplate the cost of peace.  I thought of the old poem of achingly sad remembrance, of poppies waving in Flanders fields, between the crosses, row on row.  And of the vast and ever-growing expanse of white markers in Arlington Cemetery.  Not long ago, passing by that hallowed ground on the way to Reagan Airport, we saw the solemn spectacle of a horse-drawn caisson bearing a flag-draped coffin. 

Memorial Day reminds us to remember and honor the many lives lost in service to our country.  Consider the teenagers, who, like my Uncle Bill, traded the drudgery of 1940s farm work for the unknown adventure of World War II. My Uncle returned from the war.  Too many others did not.  Think of the young people who drew a final breath in the swampy fields of Vietnam.  Be grateful to those whose civic duty cost them their lives in the Gulf War, in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as in exotic locales most Americans would be hard-pressed to pronounce or locate on a map.  Acknowledge the sacrifice of those who died fighting a shape-shifting,  ill-defined enemy in our war on terror.   

And may we give some thought to those who managed to evade death on far-flung battlefields, only to return home to find the challenge of readapting to civilian life unsurmountable.  The deep wounds of war, mental, emotional, and physical, are near-impossible to comprehend for those who haven’t served.  Some who fought in Vietnam returned to a society that seemed to regard them as the enemy.   Let’s pray for those who survived the war but could not survive the trials of day-to-day life in the very towns they had once called home.   

As Kiko and I walked back from the cemetery, we were reminded that the service and the sacrifice continue today.  Along Union Street, every lamp post was decorated with a banner bearing the image and name of a current member of our armed forces.  Let us not forget the dedication and bravery of such hometown heroes, whether we know them personally, or not.  Every day, our brothers and sisters risk their lives in harsh conditions so that we may enjoy the day-to-day comforts of home and the fundamental, essential freedoms we often take for granted.  May we recognize the human cost of war and elect representatives who truly comprehend it, as well.  May our military men and women feel strongly supported during their deployment. 

That morning, I imagined the military men and women of Spencerport engaged in difficult, dangerous, uncomfortable work in a hostile environment.  I wondered if their families would gather soon in nearby back yards on this holiday weekend, keenly missing a son, a daughter, a father, mother, brother or sister.  I pray that our hometown heroes will be warmly welcomed back again in the near future, by a country that respects their service and provides the restorative care they need.  May we honor in memory those who paid the ultimate price in battle, and may we treat with compassion and dignity our soldiers who make it home. 

. . . Long may our land be bright with freedom’s holy light;

Protect us by thy might, great God, our King. 

America, words:  Samuel F. Smith, 1832; Music: Thesaurus Musicus, 1744

Shelter from the Storm

Among my list of life’s greatest luxuries is this:  a stormy day with no appointments, no commitments, a bad-weather day that offers the chance for an extended snuggle with my sweet, sleeping dog.  The rain arrived last night, just as predicted.  After a short morning walk and a largely futile attempt to dry his wet fur, Kiko was curled on our favorite sofa, heading off contentedly to doggie dreamland. 

Before long, I crawled in, around and sort of under him.  Carefully, so as not to disturb.  As I’ve said before, Kiko, by nature, is more aloof than affectionate.  No lap dog, this stately Prince of Cool, he’s reserved and prefers his own space.  Unless there is thunder, or the suggestion of it.  Then he can’t get close enough.  See here.  But as he’s aged, he’s become increasingly amenable to human contact.  More and more frequently, he tolerates, and occasionally even seems to enjoy, my close presence as he sleeps.  Sometimes he even rests his head on my leg.  I consider this gesture to be his highest compliment.  Despite today’s rain, Kiko doesn’t seem anxious about the possibility of thunder.  Yet he very nearly welcomes me.  He does love me.  On this rainy day, I’m sure of it.  What a comfort it is to join my little dog in dreamland for a while.  What sweet spot for shelter in the storm.    

Snow Day at The University of Virginia

This February here in Northern Virginia has conformed to its traditional designation as the month of snow.  Unfortunately, if appropriately, the full February super Snow Moon on the 19th was just a lighter smudge in the snow-making clouds.  On Wednesday, as predicted, the white stuff began falling steadily in the pre-dawn hours and continued throughout the day. 

The snow was beautiful, of course.  I loved seeing how my elderly Kiko, energized by the fluffy cleanness that blanketed the grass, gave in to periodic bursts of joyous puppy play during our morning walk.  But I’ve written about our local February snows for years now.  See  Blasts from a Past February: The Blizzard of 2003,  and Sick of February Yet ?, both from 2015.  And from 2014,  My Favorite View: At Home, with Moonlight on the Snow, as well as This Snow Won’t Go, and Real Snow. Enough Now.  And still another from that year: Early Morning Irritability.  What else is there to say?

However, it also snowed in Charlottesville.  Snowfall rarely prompts The University of Virginia to cancel classes, but it happened this week.  Wild Trumpet Vine has never before featured photos of the gracious old UVA grounds covered in snow.  That’s now possible thanks to my student contact.  So, from my daughter, who assured me that she wouldn’t miss a moment of study time for her thermodynamics test, here are some images of the Rotunda and the Lawn.

The Bichon Frise of Snows: Enjoy, then Beware!

Three days ago we had more snow in Northern Virginia.  We were treated to the Bichon Frise of snowfalls:  pretty, petite, very fluffy, and generally non-threatening.

It frosted tree branches and fence railings with crystals of sparkly white.

Accumulation was minimal, only about two inches, so clearing walkways was an easy task.  No snow blowers required.

At my mother’s house, the fluffy white of the tree branches anticipates the cherry blossoms that should bloom in a few months.

When I walked Kiko on Tuesday evening, the snow had ceased and the temperature remained pleasantly frosty.

But the bitter cold was on its way.  The polar vortex, which has relentlessly gripped the middle of the country in its icy iron fists, has extended its reach to the east coast.  On Wednesday, temperatures were falling.  The TV weather people talked breathlessly about the extreme “feels like” temperatures we were to expect, due to wind chill.  And sure enough, the wind was soon rattling the windows of our old house and making ghost-like moans, such as can be heard in Scooby-Doo episodes.  As Kiko and I walked that afternoon, the wind caught up the fine dry snow and tossed it along the road, looking like white sand whipping across a Florida Panhandle boardwalk before a thunderstorm.

Even on grassy areas, the snow looked like beach sand carved by a fierce wind.

Kiko glanced up anxiously each time a car passed, slowly negotiating the frozen surface.  The sounds made by tires shattering glass-like ice chunks were improbably loud, akin to fireworks or gunshots.  The sweet little Bichon that appeared on Tuesday is turning mean.  Seeking revenge for being left out in the cold, maybe?

Wednesday morning, when we walked around 8 AM, the wind had died down, but the temperature was 3.  Of course, that’s balmy compared to the sub-zero deep freeze that the mid-west has been experiencing.  (No need here yet to set the train tracks on fire as they’ve been doing in Chicago.)  I wore my dog-walking layers and several creatively tied wool scarves.  (My hair actively rebels against every cold-weather hat I’ve ever tried.)  Kiko’s lush, cashmere-like undercoat has grown back after his summer molt.  This year my senior dog has become content with a shorter walk when the weather is less comfortable.  On days like today I’m grateful that he is no longer compelled to traverse the entire neighborhood on frigid mornings.  Until recently, we put in at least a couple of miles no matter what the weather.  (See Baby, It’s Cold Outside! from January 7, 2014.)

This morning, a light snow is falling again.  The temperature has warmed up considerably, to 17.  I let Kiko persuade me to venture out of our immediate neighborhood to the stretch of old country road where we begin our usual walks with the pack in decent weather (when schools aren’t delayed or canceled, as they’ve been much of this week.)  The roads didn’t look particularly threatening, and there would be less traffic with no school.  But before long, I realized our error.  Kiko slipped on an icy patch hidden by new snow.  He recovered quickly and didn’t appear to be hurt.  His preference is to walk in the street, and it’s always a struggle to keep him safely on the grassy shoulder.  Today it was an absolute necessity.  Several times I almost went down.  Kiko knows what it means when I yell “Slow! Slow!” in my most authoritative pack leader voice.  He doesn’t like it, but he understands, and he even obeys.  He lives in the moment, so I kept up the commands each time we were forced to cross a street or driveway.  Under great emotional duress, we made it to Kiko’s favorite nearby park and back without physical mishap.  It was, to say the least, not an enjoyable outing for either of us.  It’s also an understatement to say that I had dressed far too warmly.

A reminder to everyone this winter:  beware the worst threat of the cold:  ice lurking beneath fresh powder.  The lesson of the Bichon Frise of snows is this:  enjoy its congenial, lap-dog charm.  Bask in its pure white fluffiness.  But don’t be surprised when, a few days later, it turns nasty.  It will still look beautiful and easy-going.  You’ll think it’s your old familiar friend.  But without warning, it may have unleashed the ice-veined coyote-hyena hybrid that dwells within.

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For an earlier post about adventures on snow-covered ice, see Before the Blizzard, A Treacherous Drive, February 4, 2016.