Lake Champlain is frozen over, and for all I know, frozen solid as well. But in these sub-zero mornings, if there is no wind and the sun is out, the dogs and I go for a cabin-fever abatement stroll. The walk is short, but the preparation takes forever.
First I put the invisible fence collars on Wolfie and Bisou and let them out into the back yard to relieve themselves. Because I don't completely trust the invisible fence (would the dogs stay within if, say, a catamount showed up?), and because I don't want them to bark at some hardy Wake Robin resident snow-shoeing by, I always go out with them, but not until I've put on an old parka of my husband's, and rubber boots.
Back inside, I take off the parka and the boots, and exchange the dogs' invisible fence collars for their regular collars and leashes. This causes Bisou to twirl and gyrate with glee, and to launch mock attacks at Wolfie's head, which in turn make him yodel and howl.
While this is going on, I put on an extra sweater and gather my hat, scarf, and gloves. I slather some tingly lip balm on my lips. I put on my long winter coat and reach down to start the zipper, which gets stuck. Why is it, I wonder, that we can put a man on the moon but are forced to struggle with zippers all winter long?
Next I get Bisou's little coat, and plead with her to be still so we can, sometime before the next storm hits, go for our walk. I put her legs through the arm holes and start the zipper up the back, only it too gets stuck. Why is it that we can put a man...etc.
I put on my winter boots, the made-in-China-of-man-made materials ones that I can slip into without having to tie laces, a great time-saver these days. Then I get Bisou's four little boots, and call her. But she's still leaping circles around Wolfie and now her leash has gotten tangled with his, so I go and separate them.
The sight of her boots ratchets up her excitement, and I struggle to thrust her floppy feet into the stiff, narrow boots. The boot instructions say to tie the velcro straps tightly around the leg, but I always worry about cutting off her circulation. As a result, she often casts a shoe during walks, and with the wind blowing straight off the North Pole, I have to get both dogs to STAND STILL for crying out loud, take off my gloves, and put the shoe back on.
We are now ready for our walk. But wait--are the emergency poop bags in my right pocket, the house key in the left? I should probably put on yak-traks, too, in case of ice, but I can't bear the idea of putting on one more thing, so I don't.
Outside the cold is...invigorating. The locals are calling this an "old-fashioned Vermont winter." We flatlanders console ourselves thinking what havoc it's wreaking on the tick population. The Wake Robin sugaring brigade, of which my spouse is a novice member, is gearing up for action, checking the sap lines for squirrel damage. Spring, they hope, will come again this year.
The dogs and I trudge along slowly--me, because I'm looking out for black ice; Wolfie, because of his pathetic lameness; and Bisou because of her boots, which force her to fling her legs sideways and use lots more energy than she normally would (this is a good thing). But when I take my eyes off the pavement and look up at the sky, for the first time in forever I feel the warmth of the sun on my face.