I don’t like dogs. If you know me personally, this is something that you probably already know about me. I’m a cat person through and through. It’s just their constant need for attention, their constant need to eat, their constant need to smell you in places you’d typically not like to welcome a sniffing snout that annoys me to the nth degree. And it’s not so much that I have no patience for all dogs, I just have zero patience for badly trained dogs which, in my opinion, are the vast majority of dogs I’ve come across. But that being said, once in a while, a perfectly trained dog enters my peaceful realm of feline loving existence and breaks though my barriers. Namely, a spry one year old german shepherd named Thor has made it onto the elite list of “Dogs Bekka Likes”(this is a list that fluctuates and typically doesn’t exceed the amount of fingers on one hand).
We are staying at a friend’s cabin in the Adirondack mountains leaving gale-force, below-zero winds in Rochester to enter into more below-zero, gale-force winds in a different location with more trees and hibernating wilderness. If I needed a reminder, like someone removing their leather gloves and slapping me right in the kisser, that I am no longer living in the warm climate of Panama, then this is it. The snowshoeing I eagerly anticipated doing cannot be done. The wind chill is at a balmy -30 degrees. I learn that within twenty minutes of exposure to this, you’d be well on your way to some serious frostbite. I feel a little disappointed but at the same time I’m not too upset to settle next to the wood burning stove and while away the cozy hours reading.
But this dog. He’s captured my attention. In fact, all I want is for him to sit next to me on the couch so we can have a cuddle fest. He’s wary though, not knowing me and being a bit attached at the hip to his owner. The second morning here, I wake up before anyone else and decide to go outside for a few minutes as the sun is shining, the sky is blue and I want to conquer my fear of walking on frozen water. I also want Thor to like me so I get him riled up as I tantalizingly suggest I throw his ball for him. Seeking a dogs attention is a strange concept for me to grapple with. Usually, I’m on the opposite end, hiding out in corners hoping to remain invisible to dogs so they will leave me alone.
I layer up, it is freezing, not -30 below wind chill freezing, but treacherous nonetheless. We walk outside around the cabin and down to the lake, I in thirty layers and Thor bouncing and jumping in eager anticipation for some fetch. I tentatively step onto shore taking a deep breath to steady my nerves, the cold air flicking my lungs without apology. I chuck the ball with all my might, which for Thor isn’t very far. I walk farther out. Where in the summertime snakes are my biggest fear, in the wintertime it’s walking on frozen water. Granted there is a pretty solid foot frozen here but you just never know. Although I hear death by drowning is a peaceful way to go, I’d prefer to keep it to something I hear rather than experience. I suppose I take the opportunity to quell the fear as Thor’s owner is an EMT and my friend who owns the cabin is in nursing school. I’d be in good hands should the ice fall through.
I hurl the ball repeatedly for Thor with his unbridled enthusiasm and wagging tail. In between each throw I scan the horizon line, studying the glaze of winter, blue against white, the designs that the blowing wind creates with the slight layer of weightless snow over the ice, the soft shape of objects buried under the settled flurries. I observe the vast openness of the lake and then the shoreline of pines enclosing it, the lake a castle, the pines a mighty fortress of protection. Tropical beaches might have a special place in my heart but so does this frozen barren landscape. This is where I come from, this is what I know very well, it’s engrained like a tattoo of cold embossed in my memory since the day I was born. In the same way that I went from the warmth of my mother’s womb to that shock of being on the chilly outside, I have spent a year in tropical climates and now I am standing on a frozen lake, burying my head in my scarf to shield it from the wind, avoiding frostbite as much as I can. I feel like a completely different person than I was a year ago. “Same same, but different,” as they say in Thailand. Look at me. Really, look at me. I’m not standing on the edge of the Caribbean sea anymore, I’m standing on the edge of the life I have tried so hard to get to. I open my arms to the raw icy air and say out loud, “Thank you.” I turn around and walk up the embankment back to the cabin. The dog, the wind and a better version of me.