Malingering, according to my Shorter Oxford means to pretend illness in order to escape duty, said especially of soldiers and sailors. I have a new definition: lingering in the vicinity with malicious intent, for example, this winter that is still here, lingering maliciously via a wintery mix, two days after the spring equinox.
Now, I’m a big fan of winter in general. What’s not to like? There’s the magic of snow falling, blanketing the world, forcing a slowdown, and bringing a quiet that is rare even here in the woods. I think most people who don’t care for the vagaries of winter are those who have a hard time slowing down and those who allow the weather to limit their activity. My days don’t change much through the seasons. I walk twice a day, at least, every day because I feel better for doing so and the dog requires that routine. Even though he could go for his own walks, he likes to know that I am on patrol as well. Walking in the winter is actually easier because I can add clothes layers as needed to suit the conditions and I have excellent traction devices as needed too.
Dogs stay cleaner in a cold winter. No mud. This winter could have been better with more actual snow and less wintery mix, (freezing rain and sleet ruin good snow for snowshoeing) but it was nice and cold for a prolonged time. I have a trail we walk in the afternoon up the hill. I go fast uphill and Murphy and I both love running downhill in the snow. I run no matter the footgear, snowshoes, cleats or bare boots. I run because it’s easier to get momentum and keep it and I figure if it’s slippery (which it usually is, especially where I have already compressed the snow) then the less time my feet are on the ground the less chance to slide suddenly.
The crusty conditions this winter made running downhill more of a challenge. The frozen trail was mostly a ribbon of mini moguls and stepping to the side could mean going through crust to softer deeper snow. Concentration is key, but I get laughing as I run because Murphy is often right on my heels so I can’t stop. I think he thinks it’s funny to run downhill in the snow, nearly on top of me.
This winter we had not enough snow that got crusted with freezing rain, frequently, so I walked shod with cleats mostly and finally found some kickass cleats that allow me to tap dance on icy hills like our driveway this past December. My new cleats, Katoohla Microspikes, are like tire chains for my feet. They have come in really handy when I needed to climb the icy hill no matter the conditions to retrieve Murphy from his bark about patrols.
Several times a week Murphy doesn’t come home from the walk and instead does his patrol of the ridge: ruff, ruff, ruff, pause, ruff, ruff. Repeat. He’s a Great Pyrenees by temperament and he could do this all night long. Slow to learn me, I only just realized that we have been playing a game of his devising. I call it stalking. I head up the hill and try to circle around behind and get close enough to him so that he has to acknowledge me and come. He won’t come when I call because he is on a mission, eliminating all denizens from the area. I usually fail at round one. He moves farther away or goes silent. I concede by walking back toward our dooryard. In December I would do this so as night fell I could more easily see to get back in the near dark. I have a headlamp but it is still hard to bushwhack in the dark with a small light. Easier with deep snow to follow my tracks.
Anyway, once I start walking away, I make some noise and then stop. Within a minute Murphy comes racing up to where I am, winner of the second round. Sometimes he really surprises me by leaping out from thick trees nearly in front of me. I yelp and he looks most gratified. He gets cookies and praise and leashed and we head for home. Sometimes if it’s not too close to nightfall we stop and contemplate the universe. When there is snow on the ground it’s more easy to see where Murphy sits to keep an eye on things below. I’m sure he is getting most of his information with his nose but I mostly look and listen. Crouched on the top of a frozen hill in the spooky woods in January I hear the wind waves in patterns like the ocean waves. Ah, to be a bird and be able to surf those waves.
Alas, wingless, bound by gravity, still there is fun to be had. Now that Spring is here we occasionally get a slightly warming day with some melt between the sub-zero and wintery mix days. There are patches of smooth ice on the edges of the road still frozen on the morning walks. I go cleat-less and run and slide as far as the leash will let me while Murphy checks the pee-mail. He gets to make his mark five feet up the trees courtesy of the snow banks beside the road. Later, those that can perceive it will think a giant dog lives here.
There are lacy ice-edged, frozen puddles to crunch along and later in the day, if it warms enough, slushy snow to squash beneath my feet. Running downhill then has a lot more slide to it.
While waiting for Murphy to catch me up on the trail loop I discovered a big old pine tree drum. I was breaking dead branches off the bottom and the remaining bits have several nice tones depending on my striker so I stop as I walk by and drum on the hill sometimes.
It’s all fun and mostly I’ve had a good winter, even trapped by the ice storm over the winter holidays. I got chains for my truck so I could climb the ice hill so no worries there. Still, I have about two days of wood left in the garage and I will need to move some of my last cord of wood that is stacked (and covered, luckily) outside. I had hoped that more snow would be gone but now it looks like I’ll have to hack out the pickup and clear out the back so I can load wood and move it.
So for many, maybe most, winter is lingering with malicious intent, but I’m still playing here. Yippee!