The dogs seemed to be putting in extra effort, too. If our conversations started to veer toward the negative some mornings (it’s cold, it’s dark, we have no mental or physical energy, Woodstock has no decent coffee), the dogs would increase the intensity of their play. They’d position themselves right in front of us and take turns spinning, biting, chasing, pouncing and wrastling. (I know wrastling is not an actual word, but it should be). Usually, Chloe was on the bottom of the play-pile, pushing the male dogs off with her hind legs. As she twisted her body to the right to get in a defensive leg-nip, Rainbow would leap over her head, Sparky, as if choreographed, would circle around them and then swoop in for another chomp on her neck. It was kind of like a canine Cirque du Soleil. After several minutes of dramatic play, they’d pause, gulp some snow and then smile at us, as though expecting applause. Which they always got.
Prescription 3: Laugh. On weekends, Greg’s wife Mindy joined us, along with their seven-year-old son, Clayton. Clayton was the instigator of many a dog game. In fact, he played as exuberantly as the dogs: he’d dive, tackle, roll and had no problem falling face-first into the snow. He would insist that we bury him neck-deep in the higher drifts so that the dogs could play “find the avalanche victim.” Clayton insisted on riding his toboggan down the hill by himself, so the dogs could follow along, like a great team of bodyguards, and pig-pile on him en masse at the bottom of the hill. Once, Clayton somehow wrangled Rainbow onto the toboggan, wrapping his legs around the dog to keep him in place. Rainbow looked positively miserable, his tail curled underneath him as we pushed them down the hill, but still, he submitted because he loved his family. Dogs will do any-thing for love.
Prescription 4: Establish a routine. We met at the park at 8:28 am exactly. Greg had to drop Clayton off at his school bus at 8:17, and it took him 11 minutes to reach Comeau. This meant I had to leave my house at 8:21, and also that around six, Chloe would be at the door with her nose pressed to the crack, tail wagging, dancing up and down with excitement. Our small foyer was narrow, and it was difficult to open the door with an exuberant, 60-pound dancing dog trying to wedge her way through. Her enthusiasm made me smile. And smiling is a nice way to start a day.
It took me seven minutes to drive to Comeau, and in those seven minutes I always tuned in to Writer’s Almanac on NPR. I loved listening to Garrison Keillor recite poetry in his smooth, soothing voice. (Poetry: another wonderful antidote to SAD.) Meanwhile, in the back seat, Chloe would be pressing her body forward with a serious and focused look on her face, as if she alone was responsible for guiding us.
When we arrived, Chloe leapt out of the car and ran in circles, looking for her friends. Lilly, Greg and I usually arrived at the same time. Lilly drove a Jeep. Greg drove an old but elegant Mercedes wagon, which, being a Mercedes, ran quietly. But if Greg was late, we could hear Rainbow yowling in excitement from a quarter-mile away. Rainbow, the most vocal of our dogs, greeted Sparky with a chummy grunt and a body slam; his girlfriend Chloe got a more emotional “a-woo-woo-woo.” Chloe — not much of a barker — whimpered in a cute, coquettish way, and Sparky would just do a little leap and then stand calmly by Lilly again. Sparky kept his real thoughts to himself.
After this brief canine greeting, the dogs greeted the humans with kisses, tail wags, crotch-poking and figure eights. Then, led by Rainbow, they tore off into the fields, bounding through the snow. Next, we humans would walk to our spot in the sunshine, drink our coffee, complain about the cold, absorb our daily dose of vitamin D. After the prescribed 40 minutes of sunshine, we would start the official walk.