30. Ski Season

Dear Boomer,

Here’s a philosophical question for you.  If a dog barks his head off in a forest, and no humanoid is there to hear him, is he still a bad dog?

I think that Alpha has forgotten whether or not there’s a doorbell at our house.  He certainly doesn’t need one with me around.

But I am certainly more inclined to bark when the perimeter needs to be secured against those who would cross the line-of-sight I have from the top of the stairs.  You can see the street from up there.  You can see whether people are just passing by, or whether they are turning to come to our house.  Sometimes it’s a good idea to bark at the passers-by, just to keep them honest.

But barking in the forest is another matter.  You don’t need an excuse.  Nature provides excuses a-plenty, but why not bark for the sake of barking?  If you don’t howl, how will you ever find your pack?

Alpha took me out to the hills last week.(1)  He brought along his skis but, because of some arcane rules posted by the side of the road, he was not allowed to unleash me.  What followed was an afternoon of exploring new forms of winter sport. 

We developed several new games.  In one, the challenge is to pull Alpha along on his skis, as though he were water skiing at the cottage.  You score extra points if you can pull him off balance and send him into a snow drift.

In another, the challenge is to dart across the trail as skiers approach from the opposite direction.  You score points if they trip over the leash.

And finally, my personal favourite is played when Alpha and his friends have paused to catch their breath. While they lean on their ski poles, the object is to go out on a sniffing expedition and hope they don’t notice as you mosey around someone.  At one point, you can bound back to Alpha and tie up the legs and poles of your victim with your leash.

A couple of times we were stopped by humanoids who appeared to have some kind of authority.  They told Alpha that dogs were not allowed on these trails.  So Alpha and I will likely return to our regular ski haunts along the river beside Windsor Park. (2)  I prefer this in any event.  You don’t need to stay on leash as you explore along the snow-covered ice of the river.  It leaves me free to investigate smells at my leisure, and reduces Alpha’s stress levels considerably.

The Pup does not accompany us on these expeditions, but he has acquired yet another device for going down the hill at the park.(3)  This year, he straps boots to a bright yellow board, and tries to go down the hill standing up.  The gentler slopes give him a longer ride, and on this contraption he’s able to make quite a show of carving gentle arcs for as long as there’s even a hint of a downward grade.

Meanwhile, Alpha watches him like a hawk – or like he used to watch the Pup when he first began going down the steeper hills on a sled.  He’s ready to dash off in an instant if he thinks the Pup is heading toward trouble.  This means he is paying less attention to the real purpose of the day’s adventure: to throw the tennis ball over the trees toward the hockey rink. 

I’ve heard Alpha discuss with the other humanoids how he intends to get one of these boards himself.  I’m not so sure this is a wise idea.  I remember all too well how he broke his foot two summers ago, but Alpha is particularly stubborn, even for a humanoid.(4)  Maybe it’s safer pulling him along on his cross-country skis.   

                                                            Fit as a husky, and loving the snow,


(1) Recent scholarship, including Dr. Cassandra Wise, The Zoscha Years, Carleton University Press, 2009, p. 187, concludes that this passage refers to cross-country skiing in the Gatineau Hills outside of Ottawa.

(2) The Rideau River, op. cit.  p. 193.

(3) The toboggan run at Windsor Park is known to this day as “Brody’s Hill,” in memory of one of Zoscha’s companions who used to chase balls down the slopes.

(4) Zoscha proved to be remarkably prescient in predicting Alpha’s future mishaps on skis.  See “Limping Along Together,“ The Windsor Chronicles Part 60, March 2006.