After nearly a month of record warmth for the month of December it is incredibly refreshing to be slipping on top of ice covered snow at the beginning of this New Year. The steep wooded slopes require that ice grippers be attached to my boots. The standard Yaktrax made of coiled wire just won’t do the trick so on this day I’m wearing heavy duty Stabilicers which resemble the studs that one might put on a snow tire. My boot grips with conviction with every step as I climb the slippery hill. The mountain is so slippery that I might have been able to go downhill skating if I’d brought that old pair of hockey skates that I haven’t worn in 20 years.
The sun is still rising on the eastern horizon. Small clam shell shaped layers of clouds that overlap much like fish scales are glowing in pink and yellow colors. From one vantage point I can see Northfield Mountain clear on the other side of the Connecticut River some 25 miles to the east. The mountain in the distance is mostly forested save an old agricultural field or two. In one field, even at this distance, I can see a very large white structure with huge windows that face west. I wonder if someone at this very moment is looking at the hill on which I am standing thinking about what might be going on in these parts.
My dog pal, James Fenimore Cooper, is by my side. Adia, our female bloodhound, started out on this walk but pulled on her leash all the way back to the house because the slippery slopes made her uncomfortable. She now is likely laying on the hearth rug and is cozy be the warm wood stove. The icy hillside has been hard on Cooper’s 10 year old body. He can only navigate the 45 degree ice rink because of the length and strength of his toe nails. If you’ve never owned a bloodhound you can’t even imagine what their claws look like. They are a nature’s cramp-ons for dogs: akin to serious ice climbing gear saved for those who chose to hang off ice cliffs with ice axes on a Sunday afternoon. On this day Cooper is glad that his claws are capable of pulling him up the hill but his aging body is telling this very large dog that he’s just had a solid work out. If you believe in this sort of thing Cooper is 70 years old in dog years while I’m a mere 64 in human years. For a moment I feel very young.
Cooper leans against me as I take in the view to the east. Clouds of billowing steam exit both his nostrils and mine. We likely look like two old locomotives that have just climbed a set of train tracks on an mountain. Our trails of steaming breath blow off to the southeast on the tail of a northwest wind. Cooper can’t see that well, he’s got the vision of Mr. Magoo, but he lifts his nose straight up into the air and takes in all of the scents. Bloodhounds can easily smell out to distances of up to (and beyond) ten miles. I wonder what that’s like….his world of scent. He can probably smell the colors that he can’t see. I like that image that I’ve put in my head and we move to the southwest where we will follow a dry rock gorge that will lead us straight down hill.
The down hill slopes are harder to navigate. I fall at least a half a dozen times and slide a distance before I can grab a small sapling to stop. Cooper at one point slides right by me, his claws carving up the hillside ice while he slides, front feet first, down the hill. His eyes are so wide open that I can see the white part that surrounds the pupil. Given that bloodhounds have enormously droopy eyes it occurs to me this might be the first time I’ve ever seen the whites of his eyes without prying them open to administer eye medicine. Cooper slams into a tree and comes to a halt. He looks back like he’s been keeping score. This is his first collision while I’ve had more than a few. I tell him that dogs are more athletically gifted than people and I can tell he’s happy to hear that. Then I fall over backwards as the result of another slippery spot and slide 20 feet down the hill where I slide into a huge patch of japanese barberries wonderfully adorned with long thorns that just love to get stuck in your eye.
I must admit that I resort to a few bad words. Words that shouldn’t be repeated. If one were to try guessing what came out of my mouth they would likely be wrong. It is way, way worse than what anyone might surmise.
Anyway, Cooper thought it was pretty funny. Yes, he actually smiles and uses an odd howl for a laugh. He likes it when I’m funny. Even when I don’t mean to be. I laugh at him laughing at me!
With the trail flattening out we know the rest of the way back to the homestead will be a breeze. About three or four hundred yards from the house Cooper runs off at full speed. He evidently has caught the scent of my wife who is doing something around the homestead. I lag behind and amble along slowly still being cautious on the snow’s icy surface.
When I get to the homestead Cooper is kissing Maureen over and over again like he hasn’t seen her in a quarter of a century. He’s full of energy and raring to to go for a walk with her which she will gladly do. Soon they’ll both be off for a 3 or 4 mile jaunt. I’m happy just to be thinking about making a cup of coffee so that I can stay awake for another couple of hours while I rest my bruised and battered body.
So much for the dog years thing.
Originally Written for the Heath Herald in January 2016