In the shady recesses of the Rochat back yard, the last holdouts of snow still linger.
For a little while each day, so does Duchess the Wonder Dog.
For those who haven’t met her yet, Duchess is our eldest dog, an 11-year-old mix of border collie and black lab who’s both too smart for her own good and too shy to be believed. A rescue dog, she latched onto my wife Heather like a furry guardian angel and still gets anxious on the rare occasions that the two of them are apart.
She’s getting a little slower these days, as older dogs do. She rests a little more, takes a little longer to hear her name, trots downstairs a little more slowly when it’s time for a run or a meal. She’s hardly on her last legs yet, but those legs have less hurry and more care than they used to.
Until the winter comes. And then something magical happens.
A sparkling fountain of youth arrives.
When the nights are cold and the ground is white, Duchess is in her glory. She crouches. Buries her nose in the snow. Takes off at top speed for the next drift. Buries her nose again. Then repeats and repeats and repeats, running an Indy 500 course through the yard, looking more like a puppy than a Grand Old Lady with every snowflake.
Like Clark Kent becoming Superman, Duchess has become Snownose the Unstoppable. No fear. Just pure unadulterated joy.
It’s worth watching. Even if it does mean opening the door … and opening the door … and opening the door again in hard-freezing temperatures just to see if she’s finished up her business yet. Not only is it fun to see the young dog I remember, but I even get a little jealous of how thoroughly she can lose herself in her wonder and exuberance.
That is, until I recognize in her joy an echo of my own.
No, I don’t spend Friday nights sticking my nose in random snowdrifts. (Well, not unless the walk is really icy.) But I have noticed that when I start to write, the rest of the world falls away for a while. Even headaches of near-migraine level will get pushed to the back as the cranial supervisor declares “Sorry, no time for that now. We’ve got a fresh shipment of words coming in and we need the space.”
Maybe it’s an extreme focus on the moment. Or the power of routine for someone who’s been putting fingers to keyboards for far too long. But at its core, I think it’s a passion, a liberation, even an embrace.
It’s knowing what you were meant to do. And then doing it.
And it’s a joy I think too many of us never discover.
That’s not a condemnation. Especially these days, many of us just try to make it from moment to moment, doing what we need to do just to keep life going. For someone burdened by the “now,” asking to reach for something more may seem frivolous, even cruel.
It’s not an easy escape. But when it happens, it can give the moments meaning.
And once reached, it’s hard to resist going back.
I know an author, Christopher Paul Curtis, who wrote his first novel on an assembly line. Literally. He’d double up on hanging car doors to give a friend a break, then take a few minutes to write here and there when his buddy did the same for him.
He reached for his joy. Even in the middle of a car factory.
And it changed his world.
Maybe it’s a battle to find even five minutes. Maybe those five minutes won’t produce the next hit song, or the recipe of the year, or the business that lets you lean back and retire.
But if the effort takes you out of yourself – no, takes you more thoroughly into yourself – that’s the real prize. And the more it happens, the more you want it to happen. Even if it means fighting for that five minutes again.
When you get there, it won’t matter.
All that will matter is the chill of the night. And the waiting dance of the snow.