With approximately ten weeks left to our time in Norfolk (we’ve been given an April/May departure from our long-term housesitting job), I’ve been savoring some of my favorite activities. At the top of my list of favorites is walking Annie.
I especially enjoy walking Annie in the wintertime. Cold feels exhilarating to me and the Barbour Woods look especially magical when covered in snow. Add in a blue sky and you’ve got a winter wonderland that’s perfect for romping.
On our usual walk this past Tuesday, I didn’t want the experience to end. Annie was having a great time zooming around and I was enjoying the extra solitude that snow brings to the woods.
But, I also had other places to be that afternoon and other things to do.
So the question became: should we take a second trail for a longer walk or should we head home after our usual romp around the Swamp Trail?
Friends, we took a second trail. Annie and I headed to the Beechwood Loop for an extra romp.
I’m so glad we did.
The number of romps we have left together is finite. Even if we came back to Norfolk in January to visit, who’s to say Annie or I would be healthy enough to take a longer walk. Or maybe the ground would be too icy. Or maybe there wouldn’t be any snow.
Should I take the longer walk with Annie?
These 10 weeks are going to go by way too quickly.
I have re-discovered a new form of exhaustion! The good news is that this re-discovery means I’m sleeping well enough to notice. The bad news is that, well, I’m exhausted. I’m calling it bone-weary tired because it’s not just mental. This tiredness has seeped into my infrastructure. It comes with the territory of being a housesitter.
After fifteen consecutive months in the same housesit (phooey to you, covid), the owners finally made it home from being abroad. Fifteen months is a long time to housesit, and the effort and diligence of packing up, moving out, and making sure the house was ready to welcome their family home took several days of nonstop work. Up early. Late to bed. Oh, and also work at the library in the meantime.
Did I mention the ice storm? Yes, because there was also an ice storm that hit Norfolk on Friday, February 4. The storm itself was nothing special. Except a few tree limbs hung so low in the driveway that for three days, I couldn’t drive it.
Packing your car is not easy when you have to walk approximately an eighth of a mile one way on solid ice. Nevertheless, I did it. It helped to have the best form of motivation — mother nature in all her icy glory!
In the days following the ice storm, Norfolk turned into a sparkling ice palace thanks to the thick coating of ice everywhere and the brilliant blue skies and sunshine. I’ve never been so happy being so exhausted.
As I walked up and down the driveway over and over, I marveled at the wonder around me.
I also had my buddy Fergus as a companion, but I’m not sure he appreciated the splendor as much as I did. He likes to run, sniff, and be as cute as possible.
So even though I’m bone-weary tired, I got to spend a lot of time outside enjoying myself. I also chuckled to myself more than once to be careful what you wish for. As you may recall, in my last blog post I was craving functional fitness. I certainly got it this past week, and then some.
I’m also keeping track this year of invigorating experiences since I had one early on. The standings so far:
This winter has been nothing short of wonky for Norfolk. December ended with warmer temperatures than usual, a lot of rain, and barely a dusting of snow. January also started off the same way. The second week of January changed everything – a few inches of snow and some chilly temperatures!
Just how chilly? On Tuesday, January 11th the temperature was -8°F with the wind chill. That day also happened to be one of my scheduled walks with Annie. I asked Annie’s mom how long she thought Annie could be out in the cold. Annie’s mom said she was more worried about me.
Pish posh! I replied (though not quite in those words). I believe that because my formative years were spent on an ice-skating rink, my blood carries a small percentage of ice in it.
I was not at all worried about myself being in the chilly temperatures, especially when I wear the proper attire.
In the case of Tuesday’s temperatures, appropriate wear meant hat, gator, gloves, hand warmers, fleece-lined pants, LL Bean socks, Xero winter boots, and my Columbia Omni Heat coat that is filthy dirty but I remain steadfastly committed to because I only paid 75 cents for it while volunteering in Churchill, Manitoba.
Annie and I set off with determination to complete our full loop of the Swamp Trail in the Barbour Woods. With blue skies that stretched for miles and a glorious sun for company, I felt confident we could do it.
And I was right!
By the end of our walk, my brain was awash in all the feel-good neurotransmitters – serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins. When I returned Annie home, I reported that our walk was “the most invigorating thing I’ve done all year.”
Since the year was only 11 days old, I’m not sure I impressed anyone.
But I did come up with the idea that this walk with Annie will be the benchmark for my experiences in 2022. Anything notable that happens, I will compare it to how I felt on that cold winter’s day with Annie in the woods. By the end of 2022, I’ll have a list of my best moments.
For the last 10 years, a children’s book writer named Susanna Leonard Hill has hosted a holiday writing contest. Last year I entered a story entitled Christmas Peach Pie, and out of a few hundred submissions, I was in the final twelve. Voting ensued and I won third place! I’m now querying that story to agents and editors, so we’ll see what happens.
This year the theme was “Holiday Helper.” The stories are always judged on : 1) kid appeal; 2) adherence to theme; 3) quality of story; 4) quality of writing; 5) originality and creativity; and 6) following directions, including the strict word limit of 250 words).
I hadn’t planned on entering this year. But, the prizes seemed pretty good, and a story popped into my mind. I cranked it out in one sitting, made some minor edits and submitted it to the contest.
I didn’t win. Not in the top 12 and not even an honorable mention or special shoutout.
What a holiday bummer.
I really love the story I wrote (scroll down to the bottom of the post to read it). It features my favorite children’s story elements: talking animals being silly. I especially love a good dog story, and this one features my buddy, Smudge. Not a day goes by that I don’t miss this guy.
This week was especially hard for me because we got almost 14 inches of snow and there was no moment of joy as I opened the door for the dogs to run outside and witness their snow-fall antics.
Heath and I laugh often over the time we got so much snow, there was no distinction between the porch and the sidewalk. Smudge tore out the door, promptly belly flopped off the front porch and then swam a small circle before coming back inside, very upset at how the whole situation went down.
The absence of these moments in my life is one of the hardest adjustments with losing our Norfolk family pack.
We did, however, get to romp with Annie for a bit in the snow.
Doesn’t she look cute? I think she might have part Sasquatch in her, the way the snow freezes on her in such a becoming manner.
For those of you who celebrate, I wish you all a Merry Christmas! For all of us who are missing loved ones this Christmas, I’m holding you especially tight in my heart.
Now, without further ado, I give you:
SMUDGE AND TWIGGLES SAVE CHRISTMAS
Smudge patrolled the yard for the tenth time that night.
“Anything yet?” Twiggles the squirrel hopped from branch to branch as she shadowed the black Lab.
“Noth – hold on!” Smudge sniffed the air. Reindeer! Wrapping paper! Coal!
“He’s here,” howled Smudge. “Let’s go.”
Smudge and Twiggles scampered to the house. Three years of Christmas Eve patrolling and so far, they had only spotted the backsides of nine reindeer and a bumper sticker that read I brake for elves.
In his excitement, Smudge started barking. “SANTA! HEY SANTA!”
“HO, HO, OOOOOOOOH!”
Smudge and Twiggles stared at the lump of red and white velvet in front of them.
“What do we do now?” Twiggles poked the lump. Nothing happened.
“I think we’re supposed to put on the suit. I saw it on TV once with the humans.”
Twiggles and Smudge looked at each other. “Dibs,” called Smudge.
“Nuts,” said Twiggles “How about we split it? You take the pants. I’ll take the shirt. Then we can deliver presents together!”
They burrowed their way into the mounds of velvet. A wind began to whirl, magic began to twirl and …
Smudge and Twiggles found themselves on the roof sitting in Santa’s sleigh.
“What are you supposed to be?” asked Rudolph.
“Santa’s best helpers ever!” yipped Smudge.
“Oh, boy,” said Dasher. “This is going to be some night.”
“Merry Christmas to all,” howled Smudge as the sleigh took off.
“And to all a good night,” squeaked Twiggles. “Which way do we go?
Our daylight hours are dwindling. With the shortest day of the year only two weeks away, here in Norfolk we’re down to about 9 hours of daylight each day.
That’s a lot of darkness we’re up against.
On the other hand, it means that when I walk Dodger on Sundays, I get to see some spectacular light displays shining through the tree branches in the Barbour Woods.
I know winter is not the favorite season for most people. I think I’m in the minority as it’s my favorite season.
At least, I’m pretty sure it’s my favorite season. I do enjoy the leaves changing in fall and the promise of new life and growth in spring. And then we have those long summer days.
Maybe my favorite season is the one I’m currently experiencing?
Anyway, I do love winter. I especially love being outside when it’s sunny and cold. With the proper equipment and clothes, the experience can be wonderful.
On my walk with Dodger this afternoon, the light cast a gentle blue tint over the woods.
It’s magical, don’t you think?
And let’s be honest — Dodger is once handsome devil!
Feeling grateful to have this experience with one of my favorite dogs! At the same time, the experience is blue in other ways. Much like I wrote about when the leaves were changing color a few weeks ago, I can’t help but think of my Dad and how he didn’t know it was his last fall in 2019, just like he didn’t know it would be his last chance to see snow fall last winter. I suppose this cycle of “lasts” will continue as I work through my grief.
The only way forward is through. It’s not easy. It’s certainly not quick. But it is good. I think I’m starting to understand the expression good grief.
Thank goodness I have such a wonderful support system in place, with includes Heath, and Cecily and Dodger here in Norfolk.
Speaking of them, I managed to coax Heath and Cecily into participating in an Advent wreath lighting for UCC Norfolk’s online service this Sunday. You can catch us around the 11-minute mark. Here’s the link: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=1308360392861281
I hope you all have a wonderful week. Maybe it be blue in the very best ways!