Traverse Classics: Season's Belle—The Yellow Lab Retriever

I consider myself a winter person. But Belle’s first year found me lusting for signs of spring. The season never kicks off precisely on the day the ?calendar says it should. In fact, most of April allowed little satisfaction. No showers. No flowers. Gray skies and every day more snow blowing down from the North, over the big water.

As I had with Harper, I shoveled out a toilet space in the backyard and borrowed a phrase from one of my training books. “Hurry up. Hurry up,” became the mantra for Belle doing her thing. Beyond these potty breaks and intervals of playtime throughout the day, Belle spent most of her time in the kennel. Accidents in the house were rare, and when they happened, simply catching her in the act and firmly chiding her was enough to bring on the most defeated, sad-eyed look she could muster.

Unlike Harper, who initially abhorred “the box,” loathed it as if the crate were some canine-torture apparatus, Belle first took to the crate training with complete indifference.

But her tolerance for it wasted away with the snow, which by month’s end was lying in dirty piles, rotting in the shade. Belle’s world grew larger by the day. The wind shifted from north to south, and with it came a warm breeze that smelled of mud and earth. Like cathedral light through stained glass, shafts of orange pierced the gray snow clouds and ran the guts of winter through.

Winter holds on so long here, you can forget what the world looks like without snow. You think you remember, but the memory is dull—and just how fuzzy the vision is becomes clear when you finally see bare earth again. Green grass! It tickles your insides, makes you giddy. Makes you smile.

To a puppy born in winter, the smells that come up from the ground must simply overwhelm. To my crippled senses, spring air is simply dank and fog-heavy, thick and sometimes hard to breathe. With the land and water and everything that crawls and swims so long frozen beneath the ice and snow, oxygen deprived, it’s as if they are gasping for air all at once. Even with that feeling, which to me is distinctly spring, I was waiting for something more definitive.

Again, always looking for a sign.

After weeks of blessed silence and uninterrupted sleep, Belle became fed up with the kennel one night, waking on a half-dozen occasions, yipping and yowling to escape her confines. A sucker for the ruse, I rose every time.

But in the backyard, her business was fast forgotten. I stood there groggy, stiff-legged, and sore-backed while she snorkeled around my feet. More new smells. Night smells. Another dog barked as I tried hurrying the process along.

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