OUTDOOR ADVENTURES: Finding warmth in the cold
“Fenway follows the sun like a pilgrim looking for the honeyed gold of the promised land.”
By Mitch Mode
Fenway is a warm weather dog. He’d go south for the winter if he could. He’d lie in the sun and soak up the rays like ripening fruit. He’d take the heat as sustenance and bask under the blue sky. He’d take a dip in a pool, shake off, lie in the sun until cocktail hour.
But he’s a dog, a Boston terrier. He has no frequent flier miles and spends his winters with us. He suffers in the cold like a penitent paying for some unspoken sin. He is not built for the cold (though one could ask with justification, What exactly is a Boston terrier built for?
They seem an odd mix of bug-eyed, tail-less, smush-nosed mistake in dog design).
Still, one cannot help but admire the manner in which he addresses each morning, which is to say at full bore, no matter how cold. Last weekend at minus 20, I opened the door to a knock-you-back-on-your-heels taste of the Arctic. Fenway hit the ground running at full speed back to the bare stems of lilacs where rabbits sometimes hide. If he sees one, he’ll chase it like a greyhound at a race track, though at times one has to wonder what he’d do if he caught up with one, the rabbit seemingly as big as the dog.
It is as if he has, in his third winter, learned that there is no easy way to deal with the cold in the same manner that the hardy souls who partake in the annual Arctic plunges at mid-winter realize that there is no sense in just dipping your toe in the water. No, the only way is a full, leaping cannonball launch from ice to open lake water. Fenway is like that, of a sort.
Once he makes the circuit of the back yard, he’s back at the door shivering like a leaf in a breeze. He, of the dogs we’ve had, is the one that has learned to associate the floor level heating vents with a source of warm air and after his morning plunge, he looks for a heat vent to curl up next to in the hopes of a surge of warm air. Either that or run upstairs to where Sally lies curled up in a mound of blankets, there to burrow under the blankets to press cold nose and feet to her warm skin.
We changed up the dogs’ feed this fall and the new food is apparently a bit richer than the old. So when I took Fenway in to visit the vet the vet’s first comment was, “Whoa! Look who’s gotten a bit pudgy.” My initial response was that the comment was directed at me and I got a bit defensive. Granted I’m up a few pounds, but “pudgy?”
Once that matter was clarified, we were able to find that we had been feeding the pup at roughly twice the recommended ration. Fen’s weight had a ballooned from 18 pounds to 22, a not insignificant percentage increase. Had I done the same, I’d be about 250. Fenway seemed to sense the tone of the conversation and take affront to this. He was aloof through the rest of the visit.
So at a time of the year when temperatures drop and a layer of lard might help fight the chill we put Fenway on a diet, leaving him less pudgy, perhaps, but with even less to fight the chill. Life for dog or man is not always fair.
I will give him this: Fenway has never not gone outside, no matter how cold. During the dire winter of several years ago, when minus 25 was not uncommon, he was out every day.
Twenty below, teens below, wind and deep snow, he’s game. In the heavy snow years, the snow lay deep in the backyard and we could not even see him on the packed paths that the dogs had made. Our yard was criss-crossed with pathways and looked like a deer yard for the trails the dogs had made.
I think he deals with it but does not like it much at all. In that he shares common ground with most people I know. The charm and novelty of 25 below temperatures does not last long and the bragging rights that may come by being the coldest place in the state do not burn warm for very long.
Fenway will do his turn outside, but only out of obligation. Fenway at heart is a sun dog.
On short winter days when the sun beams low, Fenway will seek out the places in the house where the sun lands. He will stake out the chair in the morning where the sun reaches early. He’ll move to the kitchen floor mid-morning and lie on the hard tile. He knows that mid-day and into the afternoon the sun warms the south-facing window upstairs and he’ll walk up the stairs with purpose, like a man going to his office. He’ll jump to the top of a two-drawer file cabinet where we leave a blanket for him and there sleep in the warm sun.
Fenway follows the sun like a pilgrim looking for the honeyed gold of the promised land. He knows in his little doggie mind where the sun will be, and when. He will seek it out, know the angles and know where the rays will reach. He moves like a seeker, viewing the house and the trees outside as if they were stones at Stonehenge; in the proper time the alignment will bring the sun to him.
So he spends his winter days. While we hunch shoulders against the cold, cursing the bitter bite of Arctic, on those days Fenway finds the sun, luxuriates in its warmth. Does he dream of summer? Or simply find treasure and hope in the times of the cold and if so, sets a model for all of us to follow?
An assortment of outdoor products is available at Mel’s Trading Post, downtown Rhinelander. Call 715-362-5800. To comment on this story, visit starjournalnow.com.