Days of spring
Easter Sunday, and above Conception Bay North, the ice is on everything.
The trees glisten in the windless morning, every branch caught inside a tube of bright ice, tubes you can slide off some branches and blow through, like melting straws.
It was still enough that I could hear crows croaking on treetops far enough away for the birds themselves to be out of sight without binoculars. The day before, with the wind still high, four or five of the birds had been ghosting over the big spruces, flying straight up into the wind and then throwing their wings out to fall into a full stall, then grabbing the very tops of the trees for purchase.
The snow was covered so thickly with ice that, for long stretches, I was magically track- less. Walk through sunlit and warming ice and then into shade, and your boots freeze to the surface for the next few steps, the shadows still that cold, despite the morning sun. The birds know it’s spring, even if the weather doesn’t: there are robins calling, and pitch-perfect chickadees, direction-shifting flocks of siskins breaking like waves into the leafless birches.
Feet occasionally overloud on breaking ice, and the trees are shedding their brittle and musical ice sleeves, and I’m alone on the trail except for the corduroy frozen tracks of an ATV, stamped in quickly when the snow was slushy and wet and then frozen.
And then, around the corner, a big man with a small beige dog on a leash, a sight that just doesn’t belong in this image staged perfectly enough to be the picture on a puzzle, 1,000 tightly interlocking pieces marking the exact depiction of storybook winter.
Bulbous eyes and a small muzzle, and this tiny dog - I mean, scarcely the size and weight of a large rabbit, even a healthy cat would be boxing at least two weight classes higher - is wearing a sky-blue dog jacket that proclaims “#1 Stud.”
Sometimes, it’s as if your brain can’t even comprehend what you’re seeing, as if the pieces are all there, but the context makes no sense whatsoever.
So I bend down to greet this out-of-place little hound, and it bares its teeth and growls a little.
Leave aside that I outweigh him a hundred-fold at least. I’m carrying my woods saw, a wicked old two-and-a-half foot bow bucksaw that I’ve had and used for so long, always righthanded, that the arc of the saw has turned gently inwards towards the cut.
It’s on its fifth replacement blade or so, a mangle of shining sharp steel teeth, an even zipper of unforgiving carbide points. The frame may bow two ways, but the saw cuts just fine. I’m in steel-toed boots, wearing a stocking cap that came out of a case of Alexander Keith’s beer a decade or so ago.
And this dog, this tiny little nerves-aquiver shivering wants to start a fight. I straighten up. We go our separate ways after that, but as soon as the #1 Stud is out of boot range, he utters a triumphant half-snort, bittenback bark, as if to emphasize how tough he is.
And this postage-stamp-sized dog, I realize, is like me. Is like so many people I’ve interviewed over the years.
Believing our own hype. That’s what gets us all in trouble. Every time. And the still-falling ice? In the background, the falling ice sounds a little like discreet laughter.