Last night just after the snow started, in those quiet moments after dark when the first flakes look to be little more than summer insects dancing among the street lamps but then cease their flutterings and grow thicker and heavier and begin to fall in earnest, I took Duncan downstairs for a walk. The traffic had calmed and the night was quiet and thick around us, the only sounds those of our feet slapping the slush and breaking the thin crust of ice that was trying desperately to form along the edges of the curbs. Duncan padded along beside me, pulling gently this way and that when he found a bush or a clump of grass that needed investigating, but mostly sticking close to my side, occasionally brushing against my leg as if to be sure of me.
When our hair had turned good and white and my cheeks were a solid shade of pink, he climbed to the top of the tallest mound of snow leftover by the plough that had cleared the parking-lot last week. It was a mammoth thing, towering over me by a good three feet. One side was dark and solid, an enormous chunk of ice that was stained with rocks and small pebbles, the dirty splashings of passing cars; the other a soft powder of snow, the kind that kind be blown and scattered by a single breath. Duncan rolled over on his back on the soft side, exposing his belly to the heavens and simply looked upward into the cascading flakes, the flurry of white dancing down into his eyes. He laid there a long time, unmoving, simply breathing and witnessing, and after a long moment I could not help but join him. So I climbed the berg and settled down next to him. His body was warm against mine and his tail fluttered when I rested my head beside his. And together we did nothing else but watch the snow come down, each flake sighing a single whispering crystalline chime as it alighted on our lashes or in the powder around us.
I am not the kind of man who throws big parties or attends them even. The nightlife does not know my name or my face. I do not make loud noises. Laying next to Roo in the snow and watching winter be winter is all the excitement this spirit needs or craves.
Usually at this time of year, when Denver's winter really starts, when the temperatures plunge and I watch Orion begin his slow descent on the horizon, falling lower and lower each night, after the promise of longer days and shorter nights has been made by the spinning of the earth and its slow rotation around the sun, I think of North and South only in terms of the hemispheres and their weather, with a big "Ha ha, suckers," directed toward those who live on the southern side of the planet and who have just reached that point on their calendar when their own days grow shorter, and longer, darker nights become a reality. Their summer has just begun, of course, but each evening when I drive home I notice the sun resting on the horizon a little longer and a little higher, and each morning when I rise the skies are bluer when Duncan and I finally venture out.
This year, however, I've been thinking of North and South in an entirely different manner. A few days ago I stumbled across an article on Live Science that has answered a question I've had since the night Ken first brought Duncan home: why do dogs spin in circles before squatting to take care of the Big Job, the Number Two. Those of us who lack yards and must don our winter coats and boots, pull on our mittens and hats each time our companions need a walk or a bathroom break, are well familiar with the tiring experience of standing in the cold watching our friends move in a slow circle, butt low to the ground, as they go around and around and around again, being ever so particular about where they chose to take care of business. I have shivered and bounced in my boots for minutes at a time, impatiently waiting for Roo to choose the exact spot, always wondering what the big deal is, why one patch of land is preferred over another.
It seems as though a team of German and Czech researchers may have finally answered that question. After two years of watching dogs poop, they have finally concluded that the reason for the exhausting selectivity is because dogs prefer to do the job in alignment with the magnetic lines, meaning they like to face either north or south when the deed finally goes down. So, because I'm a curious fellow, I have spent the past four days diligently watching Duncan poop, taking note of the direction he faces each time he goes. And as luck––or science––would have it, it looks like these researchers are correct, at least in the case of a certain Golden Retriever who's laid claim to my life. Without fail, every time, his head and rump and have turned and turned and finally settled in such a way that one or the other is pointed north.
And there's your science tidbit. Give it a try yourself and see if your dog's compass points North.
If you liked this story and would like to share your thoughts or the results of your own experiments, I'd love to hear from you. Please don't be a lurker. Post a comment! They're greatly appreciated! *Photo courtesy of Google Images