I post this winter tale when the snow decides to storm and the wind shakes the trees and there in nary a bird to see. It happened a few years ago, and hints at the rougher side of Nature, which is so often just around the corner in Canada.
Some years in the past, I looked after a dog whilst her owners went out of town.
Tibbit is a big, friendly dawg who likes inspecting piles of leaves. She has a long lead which her benevolent human allows to go as far as possible. She knows (better than her accompanying human) that there are treats at the end of each walk.
On Saturday I didn’t get Tibbit out until after dark. We skirted the university (where her masters work) and went up a street bordering the campus. We both liked the Christmas lights. Near the top of the street we met an inebriated gentleman warning us of a bear in the surrounding woods.
“Flush him out,” said he, “And I’ll get my 3 aught 3.”
“Get the rifle first,” I replied, and we went our respective ways.
Now Tibbit and I doubted the veracity of the gentleman, so when we came to a trail through the woods, we took it. I will admit I did peer more intently into the gloom than usual, but one trail led to a larger trail which led back to the university. We advanced without incident.
On Sunday I again walked Tibbit toward the university, though from a different direction. It was a crisp, clear day and she gamboled (as much as the leash allowed ) through the new fallen snow. Sunshine gleamed. This time we were on the other side of the campus, but our walk eventually led to a position about half a mile away from where we were the previous evening.
We followed another trail into the woods and admired the sun through the fir trees. The path was wide and sloped. It came to turn some distance away which would lead us even closer to where we were the day before.
At the top of the slope Tibbit stopped dead in her tracks. She stared and stared. She glanced briefly into the woods but mainly kept staring along the trail. I saw nothing nor heard anything (and I was intent upon both).
Tibbit did not move and made not a sound. She just kept staring.
After a solid two minutes of this I started to backtrack and she made no complaint.
You betcha she got her dog treats.
In my novel, Kafka In The Castle, I fill in the missing entries of his actual diaries. There are many days to fill, as he either did not write during these days, or he destroyed the record. This is how I imagined he spent the beginning of Spring a hundred years ago. He was staying with his sister on a farm in a small village a train trip from Prague
20 March 1918
Tomorrow is the first day of spring. But today it is cold, and raining in torrents. “Welcome to a Bohemian spring.” was the greeting – and the sympathy – of the hired hand. “You may wish you were back in Prague, Herr Doktor.” But then, he doesn’t know Prague.
As usual, Ottla saw to it that her ill and elderly brother was taken care of as much as possible. She encountered me in the shed with an armful of paraphernalia. The winds preclude the use of an umbrella (which sight might be too strange for Zurau anyway), so I was offered either a cape to put over my winter coat, or a long, seemingly oiled garment, to replace the coat. An odd, peaked cap was affixed to my head, which supposedly channelled the water to fall behind me. There was a walking stick (which I rather fancied) to help me probe the depth of puddles and streams. And finally a pair of thick and uncomfortable boots, which came to just below my knees. Into which I had to carefully tuck my trousers. After all this was accomplished, Ottla pointed to my person and said “But I’ve forgotten to get … ” However, I did not wait for further entanglement. Prepared, as even Noah was for his own deluge, I fled into the afternoon.
21 March 1918
Colder than it has been for the past couple of weeks. Around here called a “cold snap”. Enough to return ice to the puddles. Otherwise it is a glorious and sunny day. When it is said that someone can change their mind like the weather, this is what they must mean. It was joy to go into it (no hour of preparation from Ottla), and I went for a longer than usual walk. The warmth of the sun upon my face. The wind – fortunately – at my back when I returned. Content as the dumbest of animals.
I follow Kafka in my Kafka In The Castle, filling in his lost diary entries. I have him only where he really was, imagining his days. For a number of months he lived, with his sister, Ottla, in the village of Zürau, a couple of hours by train (in those days) outside of Prague. So, he had some taste of what happens outside my windows right now.
Excerpt from Kafka In The Castle:
05 March 1918
Ice storms the last two days.
It clatters into the chimney, which is quite a startling noise if one happens to be up the stairs, and going about ones usual business. The rattle and ruckus of the ice is an abrasive encounter. More so even than when it beats upon your face as you go along the road. At least there it is expected, and you can be muffled against its intrusion.
Ottla saw to my protective gear, although she did not want me to go out.
Procured, from somewhere, a wide-brimmed hat. Swathed me in scarves up to the eyes. Insisted I put on an outer leather jacket, from which the ice drops merrily bounced. But, she had nothing to offer to assist in the walking. It was, as far as I can compare, like walking through a field of fine salt.
It is not even accurate to say that I slide, for it was actually the ice underfoot which did the sliding. I would find my foot being grabbed and held. I’m sure it was what walking through purgatory would be like.