Chapter 2: A Polish Year (continued from A First in My Life)
It was the first week in December when the Baltic rains were transformed into the first snow. Ben always became a bit crazy in the rain, just like he did coming out of the bath. But the first snow of Ben’s life was like bundling the spirits of an entire kindergarten class, giving them a snow day, and making that day the first snow of the season. There is only one other first that I recall which bested this experience and I’ll come to that soon enough.
That afternoon, Ben bounded down the stairs of the apartment and, with a rush, darted through the building’s utilitarian, almost institutional, front door and was making a bee line for “his” tree when his feet felt it first ….
Ben could have been a Bedouin direct from the Sahara and the surprise and shock wouldn’t have been greater. Describe it how you will, the wonder of it all was complete and total … his paws were not expecting what they discovered when they left the predictability of the foyer’s concrete. At first, Ben responded with his version of a high-stepped gait, like he was preparing for a highland dance competition or, as I more often saw, like he was wearing four converse sneakers and strutting his stuff while off to his first sock hop.
In a word, it was adorable.
I couldn’t resist this any longer, so I let him off leash, and watched the show unfold….
It wasn’t long before he realized the futility of dancing his way out of the snow and his curiosity took over and, before I knew it, he stopped, planted all four feet, and buried his snout headlong into the snow. If there ever was any doubt that this dog was 100% terrier, this should have erased it entirely. When he emerged with the suddenness of pulling a plunger out of toilet, he looked like the Max he was almost named: the snow provided this puppy the cutest of beards which then almost immediately disappeared with a full-body shake. Ben gave me a look, I smiled, and, with a head deke, he was off doing doughnuts in the snow, plunging his nose in every so often when he smelled something ‘good,’ and leaving a trail of yellow with which anyone could track him.
Ben was in heaven and for 20 minutes, I was transported back to my elementary school and the days when the snow still excited me and life was as simple as “liking” girls and trading paperbag lunches for a juicebox.
Winter with Ben brought pleasures to my life I hadn’t known in years. Don’t get me wrong, it also brought days that I rued and days that I asked why he couldn’t use a toilet like any other two-year-old “kid.” I never saw so much sleet, blizzards, windchills, and -50°C freezes as I have with Ben, indeed, as I likely ever will. Even as a Canadian, I would never have seen winter like I have if I didn’t have a dog that demanded walks two, three, four times a day. Walking Ben in winter required that I prepare for the worst mother nature could offer as I embraced a daily routine of exercise and “waste management.” And as Ottawa survives a freak late-winter/early-spring storm today, this post concludes 16 winters with Ben and a whole lot of walks that, while crazy and at times miserable, I would never give back.
Ben and I have seen winter from all vantage points, sure, but we’ve had tremendous fun in the process too. Winter is a very close second to fall in Ben’s love of seasons. Why? Because the weather is conducive to unbridled play. Ben could and would run for hours over the soft play of the snow. In the cool weather, there was no worry of him overheating. He could play fetch for an hour at a time and whenever he got “hot,” he just lay down, stretched out like a Sphinx in the snow, and quickly brought his body temperature back to norm while catching his breath. And then he’d suddenly prance to me, drop the ball, bark, and run again….
It wasn’t long before we discovered “ice” and if snow made me laugh, ice was a Robin Williams sketch on in the inanity of golf.
Ben has always been a hard runner – and he’s never had any hesitation to extend his practically retractable claws to grab and shred the terrain he’s flying over. Were he a giant dog in native mythology, he’d have been the beast that carved out the rivers and streams of the world. Giant or not, he’s still a beast that has left his mark upon this earth.
When he hit ice for the first time, he made Bambi look like a surefooted Sherpa.
I’d say he was ass over tea kettle but that sounds coordinated – Ben was shoulder over ass over ear over foot over tail. Lying on his back in snowbank he was a shock to snowflakes and an ice dancer needing skates.
And as I looked around at the babuszkas that made scant eye contact with us but whose stern faces nonetheless broke into smile, I shrugged my shoulders and laughed.
My dog ….
One of Ben’s favourite winter activities was an invention of ours that I’ll call snowball-catch. When the snow was perfect for balling, or even not perfect, but crusty enough to create “pieces,” I’d dig my hands into the drifts and scallop out handfuls that I’d quickly ball and then toss underhanded away from Ben. It didn’t matter to Ben that these were non-permanent balls – he still galloped at that them in a dedicated attempt to snatch them from the air. They would either disintegrate in his mouth or he’d chomp them to nothing, but before he could file a grievance, I’d be tossing another in the opposite direction, and he’d spring like I had just thrown chopped liver into the air. This would continue until either he had the ice cream headache of an overheated child diving into a sundae or until my own hands grew frozen and numb from balling the snow … either way, it would end with flat and panting in the snow looking like he had found his raison d’être.
What could make this more fun? Playing snowball catch on a sheet of ice, of course!
This fact probably doesn’t cast me in the best of lights; some might even say it verged on cruel as I took our game onto stretches of ice and watched Ben reach for a snowball while he tried to apply the brakes … only to skid past and crash into a pile of snow. But truly, no one got hurt, no one lost an eye, and no animals were harmed in the filming of this hilarity. .
There was no stopping Ben from the joys of winter.
Continued next … Chapter 2: A Polish Year – A New Year (part one)