One Big Snow Cone

White. Everything is white with snow that fell during the night. Unable to drink from her frozen water bowl, Annie vacuums up the snow. Her world is one giant snow cone. As I crunch along in my slippers, I look up and see blue sky with white etchings, the top of the Sitka spruce tipped with sunlight, the leafless branches of the red alders flocked with snow.

It has been a crazy-weather weekend. Just last Friday, I sat outside in the sun reading a book while Annie chewed on a branch fallen from the last wind storm. Saturday we had light rain, but the snow predictions seemed unrealistic. Sunday, I awoke to the sound of Annie barking at the hail banging on the skylights. But that soon stopped. In church, as we stood to go to Communion, I glanced out the window and saw snow falling. So beautiful and so worrisome. We all had to drive home. But by the time Mass ended, the snow was gone, everything merely wet.

The restless dog and I went walking, she just in her collar, I so bundled up I could barely move. Tiny flecks of hail fell around us, no big deal. It wasn’t until we turned back onto our street that the serious hail came,  half-inch balls of ice pounding on our heads, gathering on my coat and Annie’s fur. “Hurry!” I urged, but the dog kept trying to dive under bushes instead of heading for the sure security of the house. When the hail stopped a few minutes later, the earth seemed to sigh as the pounding ceased.

Around 4:00, the snow finally came, thick, fluffy, some of the flakes looking like shreds of paper floating down onto deck, lawn and concrete. Staring at it made me dizzy, but I couldn’t look away. Annie stood beside me at the window, amazed. Beneath the arborvitae out front, two dark-feathered birds flittered around, pecking for bugs, undaunted.

For the rest of the night, the snow came and went, but this morning, everything was covered in smooth white, untracked until Annie started eating it. Our ratty patio furniture looked perfect, its nicks and rust-stains hidden in a coat of snow. Sunlight sparkled off the white surface, making everything glow. Ah, snow. Online, I read reports of cars sliding around, danger on the roads, homeless people gathering in a shelter at the fairgrounds, but here at home, all is safe and special today.

We first saw snow here in February 1996, when Fred and I drove up from California for the annual Newport Seafood and Wine Festival. Prepared for rain, we were surprised by the biting cold and had to go buy warmer clothing. Staying at the Ester Lee in Lincoln City, we awoke to snow on the window sills and on the beach. Does it snow here on the central Oregon coast, we wondered. We needed to know because we were already planning to move here. Oh no, people told us. This never happens. Snow on the beach? Nah.

Hah. Yes, it does. It’s the beach, but it’s also the Northwest. Nearly every year, it gets cold enough to snow, and if the rain comes at that time, it does snow right here on the beach and all around us. It’s icy, slippery, dangerous, and so pretty. Would we have moved here if we knew this? Probably. We wouldn’t have believed it. Just like Annie keeps putting her tongue on that frozen water, expecting to get a drink. 

Fighting forces stronger than we are

Walking Annie on a harness isn’t working. Yesterday she dragged me down the jetty trail. When we finally got home, she trampled me running out of the car after a cat. I’m a mess of bruises today.

It was a rare sunny day, but the tides were high and I didn’t want to risk the beach, so we went to Newport’s south jetty. It would turn out to be an ironic choice because a tragedy was unfolding as we walked.

Annie was pulling on me from the get-go. The bright blue harness did little to deter her as she splashed through puddles that reflected the blue sky and late-afternoon clouds. As we left the road to walk the Old Jetty Trail, she pulled even harder, so hard I wished I could just let her go. I didn’t know if she’d ever come back. As soon as the trail narrowed to a sandy path flanked by Scotch broom up to my shoulders, she pulled me along so hard I had no choice but to follow or let go. I outweigh her by nearly a hundred pounds, but it doesn’t matter. When she pulls, her strength is at least equal to my power.

We were blinded by the sun for a long way, but I had seen police cars and an ambulance near the end of the jetty. A red Coast Guard helicopter circled overhead. I wondered what was going on, but Annie was pulling so hard we never got to the beach. Later I learned that they were looking for a man and woman who had been washed off the jetty. They had parked their bikes on the sand and walked out to the end of the jetty to see the high waves, which I’ve heard estimated everywhere from 20 to 40 feet high. A man at the Yaquina Bay lighthouse saw them go out. Then a huge wave engulfed them. When it receded, they were gone. That was about 1 p.m. The woman’s body was found at 1:13, but at sunset, they were still looking for the man. According to news reports, they were from Portland, visiting the coast to celebrate their wedding anniversary. One minute of foolishness, and they lost their lives, as so many have here in our wild ocean.

We all do foolish things that can change—or end—our lives in a moment.

It doesn’t compare to what happened to that couple, but I was engaged in my own foolishness with a dog I couldn’t control.

Annie knew nothing of what was happening on the jetty. She was hearing sea lions, their barks somehow funneled from the bay down the trail so that they sounded as if they were nearby. She pulled and pulled, trying to escape the unseen enemy.

When we finally got back on the paved road, she pulled even harder, tail between her legs, trying to get away from the water. As I struggled to hold her and make progress toward where I had left the car, I started to worry because I couldn’t see my car. I became more and more afraid that my silver box of a Honda, which had just been serviced and washed that morning, was gone, along with my wallet, GPS, various other electronic devices, CDs, books, and yoga gear. There I was in my old shoes with just my cell phone, keys, poop bag, used Kleenex, and my freaked-out dog. What would I do if my only vehicle was gone? Meanwhile, Annie was trying to pull me back toward the trail, and it was getting dark.

At last my car appeared far in the distance behind a pole. Thank God. I had underestimated how far we had walked. When we got to it, I opened the back and sat on the tailgate dangling my legs. Annie, feeling braver now, wanted to go exploring. Not a chance. We weren’t walking another step. But our adventure was not over yet.

Back at home, as I was opening my car door, I saw the neighbor’s gray tabby cat in the blackberries three feet away, staring at me. I should have just let it be. Maybe Annie wouldn’t have seen it, but no. I yelled, “Get out of here, cat.” He ran, and the dog saw him. I had the leash in my left hand and tried to hold her back in the car with my whole body, but she was stronger. She trampled over me and streaked across the driveway, pulling me hard to the left while I screamed, “No!” I considered letting her go, but didn’t want her to hurt the neighbor’s cat. In retrospect, she probably wouldn’t have caught it, but at the time I felt I had no choice. I stopped her, but just barely. Afterward, there I was hanging off the edge of the driver’s seat, hurting all over, my back feeling as if it had been twisted like a wad of aluminum foil. For a nanosecond, I considered getting rid of my dog. But of course, I was soon petting her and telling her I loved her again.

Clearly the harness is not working. We have tried a three-point harness, then a four-point, and a variety of collars in our effort to transform Annie into an official therapy dog. I hate to go back to the pronged collar because it’s tight and rusty, and therapy dogs aren’t allowed to wear them. Nor can they wear choke chains. So what do I do now?

Another person in the therapy dog group had told me about a book called My Dog Pulls by Turid Rugaas. It worked with her golden retriever. Rugaas preaches a system of rewards and training by stopping every time the dog pulls. I have already discovered that screaming “No!” “Stop!” “Don’t pull!” and “Damn it!” doesn’t work. In a tug of war with Annie, it’s a tie at best. I have ordered the book. We’re going to try a new system. Stay tuned to see how it works.

Meanwhile, we’re not walking today. Blame it on the rain. I can’t let 74 pounds of muscle and fur put me in the hospital. I just got back from the chiropractor, and my body needs a break. We have six months until the next therapy dog evaluation. We can do all the other requirements. We can do this. Your advice is welcome.

And dear God, please take care of those people who died on the jetty today. The waves don’t kid around. You can’t fight a force that is bigger than you, whether it’s the sea or a stubborn dog. Please, if you want to watch the waves, do it from somewhere safe. My bruises will heal, but those people are gone.

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