My loyal Labrador Retriever Hank loved the snow; of course, his ancestors were bred to grab fishing nets in Canada’s icy waters. On snowy days, we’d clomp through the highest piles to a nearby fenced in lot where he could run, roll and leap, making our kids giggle endlessly. Hank was raised to be a companion dog for an autistic child and my son George won the puppy lottery, having Hank as cuddly friend for so many years.
It’s hard this winter, my first without Hank here, not to tear up a little when the snow falls, the memories of his happiness rising up from barely beneath my heart center.
Three weeks after Hank died, we adopted Odin, a beautiful black Saluki with tans paws that look like socks. We knew nothing about the breed, thinking we had registered to rescue a Greyhound. Instead, we got a call that there were many Salukis — who had been abandoned in Persian Gulf countries — ready for homes here in Southeast Pennsylvania.
We got in the car as quickly as we could and met Odin.
I used to dream of going on a trip to Labrador with Hank. What would it be like for him to run and splash in the waters there? I wrote away for brochures though no one’s created a bring your Labrador to Labrador vacation (yet). I still look at the vivid photos that land in my inbox from the Newfoundland and Labrador tourist bureau and imagine Hank splashing in his ancestral shores.
We don’t know much about Odin’s history except that he is likely between 2–3 years old, was abandoned in Qatar and brought here through an international rescue. He is beautiful, loyal and loving. He becomes scared when he sees other dogs though we are training him to meet a few friends at a time; he likes that and feels safe with them. We think he was likely abused by a male because of how he initially interacted with my husband. It is so gratifying to see them together now, Odin offering up his slim tummy for endless rubs.
The snowy weather this winter has been challenging for walking a desert dog who can run up to 45 MPH. From October through January (minus one December storm), we could head outside and move our bodies in quick rhythms through the quiet, leafy streets of my neighborhood Elkins Park.
Then came the snow. Odin actually loves it — this previously unknown powdery stuff hasn’t halted his desire to be outdoors and move. But the unshoveled sidewalks, the days of freezing rain and temperatures dropping at nights have left us with labyrinths of black ice. Even with my yak trax on, walking an athletic Saluki like Odin requires strength and concentration so we don’t fall.
Fortunately, this winter I’ve been working on mindfulness practices — paying closer attention to the thoughts racing through my brain and the feelings surging in my body. Noticing. Breathing. Seeing when and how I can let my harsh inner thoughts and negative feelings go.
The black ice has been a good catalyst for walking meditation. To stay on two feet, I need to walk Odin while paying attention to the steps I’m taking.
Leash in two hands, we venture out. The sidewalks look clear today, better. We turn left. Black ice on the corner. We step onto the street. Car coming at 50 on my 15 mph street. We step back.
Odin’s learning to stay in better rhythm with me, whether we move fast or slow. He sometimes whines when he wants to pull ahead and I tell him ‘naah-naah’ and he stops. We walk ahead. Maybe a minute goes by and I catch myself in my to do list. More ice ahead. Pay attention.
Maybe two more minutes and then I’m lost in a memory…thinking about the snowy days of my childhood, the long hours outdoors sledding with the neighbor kids, realizing it was my Mom’s hidden labor that kept us safe in hats, gloves, snowpants and boots that always fit.
Ice ahead. I am here today, walking now with Odin. My job is to notice, breath, get us our walk and return us safely home. No need to be anywhere but here, now. Another car whizzes past us just before we cross. A man without a mask walking two barking dogs approaches where I want to cross.
The way home is step by step. When I open the door to our warm house and release Odin from his leash and coat, he finishes his exercise routine by racing up the stairs, leaping on my bed, jumping down, running down the hall, leaping on George’s bed, coming down the stairs, then starting the whole routine again.
I imagine him racing through the desert, in a land that I will most likely never see.
I turn on the hot water of the shower and notice my mind is calmer after our icy walk. Step by step.
How is the winter going for you? What practices — off the map — help you to stay in the present? I’d love to hear in the comments below.
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