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Meandering with My Mutts: The solace of winter


Patches of snow remain in nooks and crannies and the surface of Lake Nockamixon is glazed with an opaque layer of ice. Streaks of blue and white striate the sky, but for the most part it’s overcast, the sun shrouded behind milky clouds as Jesse, Noah and I set out for our daily ramble.
Although much of nature is taking a respite, there is still beauty to be found in this stark landscape, including silvery blue berries of the eastern red cedar, flaxen grasses, burgundy-red canes of wine berry, and shiny blue-black berries of blackhaw. Blackhaw is a North American native shrub or small tree that has bark containing a number of chemical substances, including salicin, a relative of aspirin. Blackhaw has been employed as a Native American and folk remedy through the ages for a number of medical purposes, but in particular for gynecological issues including prevention of miscarriage. In addition, its berries, or drupes, are used to make jam and wine.
Jesse strolls by my side, his pace sedate. Noah accommodates Jesse’s leisurely gait, slowing down, holding up and circling back as needed. It brings to mind times when Jesse did the very same thing for an aging Buzzy. Every now and then Jesse, animated by Noah’s vitality, takes off at a jog, following Noah as if to say, “Hey, I’m right behind, now don’t go too far!”
We come upon a congregation of robins flitting from shrub to tree. One would think they’d missed the memo to fly south months ago, but the fact of the matter is that many robins don’t migrate. Instead, during the winter months they gather in large flocks (the more the merrier when it comes to detecting predators and finding food sources) and proceed to move together from place to place, seeking sustenance. It would seem that this spot holds a treasure trove of the berries that comprise their winter fare.

Noah begins rooting about in the snow, revealing a frozen patty of horse manure. He lopes along, proud of his precious find. It takes some time, but I manage to wrangle it away from him before he’s able to devour his frosty treat. Next, he finds a large hickory nut, and he prances about, playing a mirthful game of toss and retrieve with himself. His glee is contagious and makes me laugh.
While not comparable to Jesse in girth, Noah is catching up to him in height. With his long, lanky legs he doesn’t so much walk as strut. His gleaming black coat and heart-shaped brown facial markings make him a handsome devil, and in typical puppy fashion he occasionally acts the devil part as well. Jesse can attest to his mischievous pup nature, and he doesn’t hesitate to dispense discipline when needed in the form of a bark or rumbling growl to keep Noah in line. Nevertheless, a bond is growing between the two, each having a gift to bestow upon the other: Jesse the wisdom of his years, helping teach Noah how to be a good dog; Noah inspiration for Jesse to maintain his youthful spirit.
Despite the relative austerity of the season, time outdoors with my guys has been soul nurturing. It is mid-February and at this time of year, winter appears to be holding its breath, awaiting the longer days and warmth of spring, proffering hope for renewal. In the words of Hal Borland, American journalist, author, and naturalist, “No winter lasts forever; no spring skips its turn.”
Cindy Woodall resides in Upper Black Eddy.