Bryn and I began our walk around our snowy block at 6 a.m. last Tuesday. Soon the fearsome cold began to seep through my long underwear, snug turtleneck and thick Guernsey sweater. I wore a very long down coat, which soon began to feel inadequate. The arctic temperature was even insinuating itself into my thermal socks and fur-lined, cleat-soled snow boots!
Bryn, who is normally delighted about winter, couldn’t cope with this sort of cold- 9 degrees. Just one minute after locating the perfect spot to do her business she suddenly stopped dead in 4 inches of snow, raised one hind paw high and looked at me, confused. Then, she lifted a front paw. Curled it. Fell over. Righted herself clumsily to stand rooted to the snow-covered earth while holding that hind paw high again. My God. Bryn was beginning to freeze! We’d been outside for less than five minutes.
I strode over and removed a snowball nestled between her pads. But, ten seconds later, as she walked beside me, she was again unable to continue. The other front paw went up. She stared at it, licked it once, and waited, in obvious distress.
Paws don’t work, Boss...
This was killer weather. My dog was literally stopped cold! I quickly cleaned each paw again, shortened her leash to ‘heel’ length- and said, “let's go!” We ran the half-block back home. She stumbled once, her legs rapidly growing too cold to operate in a coordinated fashion.
Inside, I removed her thick fleece jacket and brought her into the kitchen to thaw. She collapsed into her basket by the fire and I massaged each limb until she warmed. A bit later she walked unsteadily to her bowl of water, to drink.
My nose and cheeks were really red. I couldn’t seem to stop shivering. “Well, my girl,” I mused, “you’ve been flirting with frostbite.” Jeez, Louise!
I dug out thick Velcro-strapped doggy snow boots we’d purchased last year but hadn’t used. After Bryn had rested for an hour I put them on. The boots’ undersides had raised rubber bumps to help her navigate without slipping. Understanding their function, she made no objection. Once outside she soon stopped ‘prancing’ and began to walk more normally. After a much more comfortable stroll she finished her business. I collected her donation (which, by the way, had frozen solid within seconds) and we made our way back home without incident, after perhaps ten minutes outside.
I’d worn a balaclava this time; my face was grateful.
Then Joe and I got an amazing text. Our younger daughter, Lisa, who’d been on her way to Vermont, had been forced to stop just south of Erie on Christmas Day evening, as the intense snowfall had made travel on I-90 impossible. The expressway, in fact, had vanished. Fortunately, she and BB Birdie, her budgie, secured a room at the Quality Inn. They woke to 46 inches of snow, which soon rose to over 60 + inches. Their car had nearly vanished.
No one could come (like the morning hotel shift) or go anywhere, as all travel was forbidden. The current staff was trapped at the inn. Roads and highways were completely buried, as were cars, sometimes with people still inside them who urgently needed rescuing, said authorities. (Also, abandoned, buried cars made expressway plowing very tricky.)
It could be days, they warned, before the snow stopped. Sit tight in buildings. Ration food. Wait it out. Don’t try to walk to restaurants from hotels. No one would be there. Everything was closed. Wind, intense snow and deep drifts would kill- and bury- a wandering soul in minutes.
This was the greatest amount of snow to fall in Erie in just a few hours, in recorded history.
Every two hours Lisa went out to clear snow from her car as best she could, and start it up to shift it a few feet for plows. Snow weight threatened to collapse home roofs, reported TV news. Batteries froze. But, thankfully, the hotel’s power stayed on. So BB and she were warm. Her iPhone, though, had no reception. We had to ring the hotel’s landline to be connected to her room. The 15 or so people stranded there made do with the hotel breakfast nook’s coffee, cold cereal and toast for two days. On the third morning, we rang to find she’d checked out. Hooray!
She’d been marooned for three nights. But on Thursday she woke to find the snow had paused, allowing the plows, which had worked day and night, to open up at least one lane on vital roads and highways. Lisa managed to drive, slowly, steadily to Vermont, drop off BB at a bird sitter’s home in Montpelier, then carry on to Montreal to meet a dear friend. (It’s easy to bring BB into Canada, but driving the tiny creature out again would take reams of paperwork from the U.S. and lots of challenges by Canadian authorities that might last weeks.) This approach was much more sensible for the week she’d be in Canada.
Winters require much more vigilance near lakes due to lake effect snow, caused by strong wind blowing over warmer water. But normal checks made by us didn’t predict what happened to our daughter. Even forecasters were caught off guard by the enormous snowfall amounts, and by the persistent, deadly temperature drops. And--
I got a little cocky and therefore, invited trouble here, in Traverse City. Fortunately, home and its blessed warmth, were only a few steps away.
Final thought, especially for seasoned citizens: invest in (inexpensive) snap-on boot cleats, which greatly help to keep one upright when walking pets in arctic snow and cold.
Oh- and I made a firm New Year resolution; I’ll never let Bryn outside to do her business in the back garden unless I remain right there by the window, ignoring phone calls, etc., ready to let her in promptly. It’s easy to become distracted by events and forget she's out there.
In this frightful weather, that error could be fatal.