The January thaw slides in on the heels of glacial cold fronts like a reprieve from a long sleep. A glimpse of God's promise not to abandon us in our darkest hour.
It is this time that the more adventurous of us pull on Carhartt coats and leather gloves, take up the dog if he is willing, and see what peeks out from beneath the melting snow.
Out to the curb we stroll–for the dog is, indeed, willing. He sniffs the new cracks in the driveway. Perhaps something new is leaking from the earth below. He must detect it, catalogue it in his knowledge of all that lies within his realm. To bark at something that has been there all the while is an embarrassment. But the snow still hides much. My short memory reaches to envision the landscape of autumn. The dog's shorter memory has never known anything but the snow and ice. He must think it an unusual world we've chosen to inhabit.
We pass the mailbox.
On by the stop sign at the end of our court (the township put up a sign for three houses?).
Down the street, past neighbors whom we haven't seen since Halloween. Indeed, they'll not show their faces today.
The air hints of ice water, decay where the thaw has laid bare the remnants of summer, perhaps the lingering odor of a skunk woken from his hibernation by a stray beam of sun that has found his nest. I've never spotted one in the winter. How odd they must look, half asleep, waddling through snow to their bellies, wondering where the flowers went.
Down to the dirt road. We pause here. For it, too has thawed. We dare to tread. My shoes are as old as his feet, so neither cares.
I envy my dog. His nose captures more than my eyes. I wonder how many mice and birds he has catalogued along with the scents of his yard. Perhaps in heaven we'll compare notes.
We muck our way down the dirt road, toward the ten acre plots with their horses and chickens. Backyard pioneers. Small rivers flow down either side of the road, cascading over rocks, beer bottles, and tree limbs fallen since the last storm. We walk into the shadows. I tuck my chin into my coat. He looks up at me as if to say "It's warm at home."
So we turn. We muck our way back past the horse and chicken farms. The wind in our face now. We've strayed too far. Walking is easier with the cold wind at your back.
Past the corner to the paved road, where my companion must stop–as is our habit–to check his "pee-mail" at the road sign. He sniffs, leaves his reply, and scratches icy snow over it to seal it. Postage applied.
Toward home. Empty brown-white yards. Empty windows. Perhaps a knock to ensure we're not the sole survivors. Around the corner to our court. A small white mountain sits in the middle. The kids no longer climb it. We're almost alone.
Up the driveway–more crack inspections–and into the garage. The warmth flows out when we open the door. We stop in the mudroom for the removal of shoes–now hopelessly muddied–and wiping of paws.
She smiles at us when we walk in, inquires of the thaw, the neighbors (we tell her they are no more), the ruined shoes. Her embrace is spring. Her smile summer. The dog waits for his greeting. We agree that this is home.