I started my last blog with the words “well winter is back.” I was wrong and I’m sorry. Winter wasn’t back at all. It was 45 degrees when I wrote that, a full climate warmer than the 25 degrees which are presently struggling to sustain life and happiness. I’m afraid I offended Boreas Greek god of the cold north wind with my hasty talk, and he has descended like a chunk of ice upon our blissfully bare heads. I’m sorry Boreas. I’d sacrifice a goat or something, but you’ve already frozen them solid.
Excuse me if I’m being a bit dramatic. I don’t actually hate winter; in fact, I’ve come to see it as a season much worth having. It makes spring sweeter, summer richer, provides time for intimate indoors time, yadayadayada. But really. In California, where I grew up, and where I went home for the holidays, we whine about the drizzly 50 degree winters. Folks love to gripe, especially about the weather, especially about winter, and though this is true all over the world, I think it’s no where more true than in Chicago. With one Midwest winter under my belt (not a great place for it actually) I could hardly restrain my smugness when one of my fellow spoiled west-coasters bemoaned the temporary absence of gorgeous weather. For I know what cold is. I have encountered the infamous “snow.” I have experienced the amazing phenomenon known as “icy streets,” and driven disconcertingly in a direction quite distinct from than the one I’d intended. I’ve walked through air so despotic and cruel that it convinces liquid to just stop mid-drip and turn itself into a deadly dagger–whole buildings into terrifying arsenals–to frighten anyone brash enough to defy its rule. I have not bothered to bring in groceries from the car on occasion because, somehow, they’re already in the fridge. I know that “winter weight” refers to a layer of insulation necessary for survival, or in my case, to a sudden loss in weight because I just can’t seem to take in enough calories to fuel four months of constant shivering. I’m growing a beard (or trying–hurry up!) not because it makes me look deep and sophisticated (it makes me look stupid and crazy) but because it counts as an extra layer in a place where one counts layers, and that extra wool helps keep my jaw from falling off. And if my jaw falls off, how will I complain about the weather?
My dogs, on the other hand, don’t seem to mind. Take Charlie, a King Charles/Cocker Spaniel mix. He is small, wiggly, cuddly, dome-headed and dumbo eared. In other words, he’s a lap and sofa critter, practically the opposite of what you’d picture when you thought of a robust and outdoorsy kind of pup. As such, I didn’t think below freezing temperatures and snow drifts higher than his head would much appeal to him, and I expected to have to insist that he leave the house with me at all. Charlie has surprised me though, and charges around the street with his usual happy energy, as if the frigid lifeless tundra was actually a winter wonderland. His huge paws keep him from sinking in the snow, and his enormous ears work like a built-in scarf.
I think the winter smells are just as interesting for dogs as any other season’s, since what smells that are there to be smelled smell quite distinct from the bland smell-less snow. Judging from Charlie’s reaction, the yellow snow probably stands out to the dogs even more than it does to us humans.
Down the street is Roxie the Newfoundland Poodle (Newfidoodle?) When I first met her back when the weather was nice (remember?) something told me she would love the snow. Maybe it was the fact that she resembles a yeti (which everyone knows is a snow sasquash), or maybe it was because she always prances, leaps and bounds as if through deep drifts everywhere always. I was right, and she has been truly in her element. She looks adorable with snow covering her snout and seems to know it. She looks at me every five seconds as if to say “can you believe it? this is great!” We play a game where I pick up a clump of snow and she freezes and says (with her eyes) “oh my gosh! You wouldn’t…” and then I toss it high in the air and she either leaps to meet it (and looks so dashing midst the shower of glittering crystals) or she lets it crash to the sidewalk and then pounces on all the debris. We dash around so much that I sometimes break a sweat. She has so much fun, in fact, that she tries to bring all the snow back in the house with her. I swear, it would take a large comb, a blow dryer and an hour to actually dry that big shaggy beast. Fortunately her owners know how it is. How could they not.
This is the biggest problem with winter. It takes extra time to put on and take off doggie boots and sweaters, clean snow-packed paws and noses, and avoid or clean up after bringing the elements back inside with us. All this means less time for walking, but then again unless you’re Roxie, less time in the cold is just fine. The winter routine seems to work out well in fact, because dogs do their business quicker, it’s easier to pick up after (because it’s instantly frozen and also removable with just a quick scoop of the underlying snow) and cold dogs are usually all too happy to get rubbed down with a warm towel. On the other hand, all the salt in the roads really seems to hurt doggy paws, and not a day goes by that some poor pooch doesn’t limp pathetically. I’ve come to hate the salt for this reason, and because despite all the hundreds of trillions of tons that Chicago and Chicagoans dump during the winter, it only works up to (or down to) a point. If it gets too cold, the streets are still covered in extra-salty ice.
I’ve made it my goal to not slip on the ice even once this year. This is quite a challenge, and there have already been some close calls. I slipped three times last winter, and each case was a painful embarrassment. One second you’re walking and smiling, and the next you’re about four feet shorter in the middle of the sidewalk where you find surprising pain (in whatever parts of your body took the brunt of the fall–you fall so suddenly that you don’t have time to choose), public humiliation (and everyone acts as if they’ve never slipped and you are the world’s biggest jerk) complete disorientation and paranoia (how did I get here? can I trust anything anymore?) and a big nose in your face because evidently, it’s playtime. Three slips isn’t that bad, I tell myself, seeing as I’m walking large and lunging beasts who have four-wheel drive and an inability to fathom the effects of their winter glee on the large animal perched so oddly upright, precariously balanced on just two paws. That, and ice is really slippery. If you know what I’m saying than you know what I’m saying, and if you don’t, then trust me. And keep it in mind if you ever visit a place that has a real, honest to Boreas nose-burning spine-stiffening poop-freezing winter. It can be rough, but at least I have Roxie and Charlie et all to cheer and warm me up.