Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Bright Morning

It was only four degrees at nine a.m. today, but the sun was out and the wind was still, so I grabbed the chance to ensure my mental health for the next few days and took Wolfie out.

Lexi didn't come with us. She's getting old. Despite chiropractic and acupuncture treatments and expensive supplements and home-cooked food, she's not the dog she used to be. Two years ago she would have been making a nuisance of herself in her eagerness to go out. Today she looked at me from her bed by the hearth, crossed her front paws neatly and said, “No, thanks.” I showed her the cheese that I take on our outings, but she didn't move. This is a dog who loves to bury her head in the snow, who is forever hungry, who gets easily bored. But she's getting old.

The chickens were standing on their top step, soaking up rays and digesting their a breakfast of hot gruel with milk and molasses, and their second mouse in as many days. But they were silent—no cackles, no gurgles, no clucks. There were no other sounds coming from the woods or the field, either. All the creatures who spend the night commuting across our land were hunkered down somewhere, finally getting some sleep. Wolfie checked out the fox's tracks.

I'm very proud of our fox, even though he killed one of our hens last spring. He's bright orange, and has a 15” stride, which is as big as it gets for a North American red fox. I've never seen his family, but last summer I heard some unearthly sounds coming from the woods. I checked on the web and found an exact match—the cries of a baby fox in distress. I hope whatever had that baby fox in its jaws or claws let it go. And I hope that some spring I will see a litter of cubs playing in the grass.

On this walk Wolfie seemed more subdued than usual, perhaps because he didn't have Lexi to annoy, or was feeling the cold. He was trotting along when, near the bottom of the driveway, he suddenly turned into an arrow—ears and nose forward, weight on forelegs, tail out—poised to shoot into its target. Out on the road, the mailman's car had stopped at our mailbox. And Wolfie took off.

It was my fault. I'm a lot more observant than I used to be, but I don't have Cesar Millan's preternatural ability to predict what a dog will do next. You have to practically turn into a dog to be that good.

In two more bounds Wolfie would have been on the road. But Artemis was merciful, and when I yelled Wolfie turned around and came to me. Whereupon he got three pieces of slightly hardened mozzarella.

Back at the top of the hill I got the ball thrower from the garage. In the last week the snow has developed a crust, which is great for wearing out a dog in record time. A ball won't bounce on soft snow, but on crusty snow a ball can go for a long time, jumping at crazy angles when it hits bits of ice. Wolfie weighs enough to break the crust, which means he has to work much harder to get the ball. Watching him gallop towards the rolling ball, trying to overcome the drag of the snow, I was reminded of those TV programs that show wolves chasing elk through a snow field.

Now he's stretched out, eyes half closed, on the rug in the sun porch. Outside, there are five chickadees, two gold finches and a titmouse at the feeder. The sun is pouring through the glass, and the rosemary, the lavender, and the scented geraniums in their pots are drinking it in. Is it me, or are those finches starting to get a bit of their spring color?


9 comments :

  1. I'm with Lexi. Paws crossed by the fire.

    Our giolfinches still look wintry to me--and the juncos are still residing in the magnolia tree.

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  2. I think juncos are such elegant little birds--all that gray and bluish white and those bright yellow beaks.

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  3. I think my favorite thing about winter in Vermont was hearing chickadees. Their "chick-a-dee-dee-dee" was so happy, and their two-note hollow whistle, like a depressed cuckoo, was so sad. Surely they were used for different things, but I never learned what.

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  4. Believe what you need to about the goldfinches.

    (I am soooo far behind in my blog reading. And I need to get back to work, but...)

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  5. Craig, I don't know what those chickadee calls mean either, but there's a call they start making around March that brings on mud season.

    Indigo, yes, isn't hope the thing with feathers...?

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  6. I'm hopelessly ignorant about birds (my grandfather would be ashamed!), so I don't know what a junco is or what color a goldfinches winter feathers are. But, there's a lone robin outside my window right now braving the 20 degree weather. I'd like to think of him as a harbinger of spring, but I'm pretty sure there are stubborn robins around here who never, ever fly south for winter.

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  7. Junco was the first bird I identified with a field guide--I'd been calling them sparrows. That was 6 years ago. Totally hooked.

    We have stubborn robins, too. Or maybe they're visiting from Canada.

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  8. Joya, Indigo would say, believe what you need to about robins.

    Bridgett, but can you tell the dozens of different sparrows apart? I sure can't. They all look like little brown birds to me.

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