To the beach, mid-winter

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photo-rocks-melting-ice-image29078760Hat, mitts, leash and we’re out the door into a rare and glinting winter’s day. The dog, lumbering on stiff hips, snuffles the crusted snow, his graying muzzle a study in solemnity. Slow progress until we reach the gap in sagging sagebrush where our frost-chopped trail stumbles up the hill.

The dog stops, twists away, points fixedly down to the lake.

To the lake? In winter?

His earnest face sprawls open, smiling after his runaway tongue.  To the lake in winter!

He leads the way, faster now, cutting off the steep swoop of road, unblinking windows watching, bemused, our unseasonable change in plans. Tramping over the crusted earth, the frosted leaves, cleaving the tangled brush that’s overtaken his path since autumn — my old dog strains on his lead, swivels his soft head to check on me, incredulous I’ve agreed. I unhook his leash and he’s gone.

A blur of fur zigzagging down the broken steps to the beach with a nimbleness not broached in years: he’s at the water’s edge, leaping up, onto, under, and around the ramshackle dock in search of a marmot flushed from hiding so many summers past. He’s his younger self, licensed by this sunny day of bitter cold — a departure from the script — tearing off down the stony beach propelled by a whirring tail.

Foaming waves have piled tortoise shells of ice on the rocks that dot the shoreline. The dog in the distance sprints for a moment into the blue-black ripples and turns, as if hoping for a hurled stick. Then, thinking the better of it, he swerves back up the beach, bounding towards me, ears streaming behind him, on the verge of flight.