It’s dawn Saturday morning. The sun is just breaking the ridge to the east. The kitchen glows with a magnificent florescent orange sunrise. Perfectly crystallized snowflakes stick to the panes, matched in color almost as if they’re air brushed. The river through my yard steams like a hot Jacuzzi. Frozen mist has painted the surrounding trees pure white. Not an ounce of air moves, except for a straight line of smoke that billows from a chimney down the valley and rests like a blanket on the horizon. The smell of freshly brewed Green Mountain Coffee fills my home. All is quiet. Vermont, and what seems like the rest of the world, is warm and asleep.
Arctic Blast, Deep Freeze, Cold Snap. Whatever you call it, it returned to the North Country like every year in New England. Buddy stands still as I fasten the Velcro strap of his fleece coat. He knows there will be little time to sniff out his preferred spot. As I open the door and usher him out, he hesitates. Years ago he would bolt across the yard with lightening speed and giant leaps, certainly too fast to feel the bite on his feet. But these days are different. I peer through the glass at Buddy limping slowly back to the barn. Despite the extra insulation he’s grown between his toes, the sting is still too much to bear. And understandably so. After all, how long would you last barefoot in your dooryard with temperatures this far below zero? Years ago, he chewed off the booties I bought and buried them when I wasn’t looking. Today, instead of making a mad dash, he gives up and waits to be rescued. I slip my bare feet into my crocks and make the run for him in my pajamas. My lungs burn as I approach my whimpering dog on three legs. With my toes already numb, I scoop him into my arms and sprint back slipping and stumbling like a fool.
On my way back to my bed, I catch a glimpse of an almost perfect black circle lying contently on his bed. With one eye hidden, the other watches my every move. He’s motionless; except for the wagging tip of his tail which asks for permission. With a quick nod of my head, he’s on his feet waiting to be lifted into my bed. First in, he takes complete ownership of an entire queen-sized i-comfort mattress, dropping like a brick where he prefers. Already knowing I lay north-south he deliberately lays east-west. Just then, he lets out the famous frustrated dog moan as I drag his hind quarters parallel with mine and cover us both with the layers. The layers, by the way, consist of two white down comforters covered in wool on top of an electric blanket and fleece sheets (Buddy prefers the red plaid brushed flannel). It’s some serious coverage, and his favorite place to nap. As always, his head steals the center of my memory foam pillow. I resort to taking what’s left on the far outer edge. Face to face we lay; his eyes already clenched shut like a newborn puppy. Instead of closing mine, I take the moment in and treasure it as if it were our last day together. Staring at his white muzzle smooshed into my pillowcase, the snoring begins. With his shiny jet black nose exhaling warm air into my face I stroke the top of his head and inner ear. His face, now more salt then pepper, is completely at peace. Drawing in deeply then opening wide, he exhales a stinky yawn just inches from my nose. A smile beams on my face as I fondly recall his puppy breath from when he was just weeks old. But today, fifteen years later, it’s rancid. With one eye half open, he repositions. After the two front leg stretch, he maintains his trademark stance: flat on his back, wrists folded, back legs open wide.
Today, like last weekend, he’s the king of kings; not to be disturbed for any reason and without care of the frigid temperature outside. Soon, I too drift off; but only for a moment. Startled, I’m awakened to capture the scene: While snoring, one leg is stretched outward with his paw planted firmly into my smile. I believe these moments will live forever in the souls of dogs and their owners. Moments when he is the luckiest dog on earth and at the same time, I’m the luckiest dog owner alive.