February 18, 2020

Cold? This aint cold! Come on, old man!

Many human beings say that they enjoy the winter, but what they really enjoy is feeling proof against it.

-Richard Adams


It’s about two degrees, with wind chill, on the rail-trail. I’m dressed in gloves with liners and down parka, with hood up, overlying a fleece jacket. I’m even wearing a balaclava to protect my face. Waldo is dressed in his sable-fur birthday suit. A storm visited us a couple of days ago and the ground is crunchy with an icy sheet of snow, even where the path has been plowed.

Gusty winds of up to twenty miles an hour play havoc with my temperature regulation, particularly in my fingers. I keep one gloved hand warm in a pocket while holding the leash handle with the other. When the fingers start hurting too much in the gloved hand out in the arctic air, I switch them up. This lasts about twenty minutes, then I have to switch hands again. After an hour or so, just about the time we get to our turnaround point, I’ve worked up enough body-heat that the circulation is bounding in my fingers and they no longer get cold.

The balaclava is a sheet of neoprene with a large hole for the eyes and a smaller one for the nostrils so I can breathe through my nose. Even smaller holes over my lips allow me to breathe through from my mouth. It puts pressure on my glasses and isn’t really very comfortable. When I exhale, my steamy breath is redirected, if I’m not careful, up under my ice-cold glasses, causing them to fog up so I can’t see a thing. I can pull the lower part down so it’s crumpled under my chin, leaving a large hole that exposes my entire face, but if I do, it’s not long before my misty breath grows icicles on my mustache. All that ice on my upper lip hurts — a lot. It’s not long before I’m trying to figure out how to get rid of body heat as my armpits get damp from sweat. I’m constantly making tweaks here and there, trying to adjust to my varying temperature needs.

Waldo, he just goes on down the trail, bounding in the snow, even rolling in it, tail switching back and forth, not bothered by the cold at all. He doesn’t slow down, he doesn’t shiver, he doesn’t limp. Sometimes he’ll stop and bury his nose in a snowbank as if he’s found a rabbit hole. He loves the stuff. Thank God. I would have some real trouble getting a cold, anxious, fifty-five pound dog back to our car when we’re three miles away. But, unlike this wimpy old man, the young pup doesn’t seem to need any protection from the cold, other than what he was born with.

It strikes me that there is something of a metaphor here. It doesn’t take too much of a stretch in the imagination to see old age and retirement as a kind of wintering. Just as I dress warmly before I go out into the elements in the winter, I braced for my retirement with a warm puppy. Living with a young dog has its difficult times, just like walking in the winter wonderland has its slippery, windy, and freezing moments. But Waldo makes all of it bearable. He gives me an inner warmth that flows from my heart and spills out over my life. I have family and friends that I love dearly as well, but Waldo is here twenty-four/seven. He protects me from the cold reality of the approaching end of life (something that is still far off, but inevitable) with his puppy antics and joyful heart.

In return, I provide him with a security blanket of support and safety. I feed and house him, exercise him, engage in play with him and keep him out of trouble that could easily do him serious harm.   I don’t think he thinks he needs all that I do for him, but I also think he is very grateful for what he’s got. Waldo is a happy, playful, sweet and loving dog.

And Waldo is catching up. In about ten years, I figure we will be at about the same equivalent age. Then I can provide for him the same protection against the cold winter of his life as he does for me now.

Side by side, Waldo and I walk life’s trail, to its inescapable end.

Definition of hubris.
No, you cannot take that home!

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