Thank you to everyone who submitted a story to the nonfiction portion of the Winter in the Bay writing contest. Today, we spend time with two beloved pets, as Karen Damtoft shares a peaceful winter morning stroll with Chester, her cat, and Hui Zhou cherishes memories of walking Oland, her family’s much-mourned Labrador Retriever.
It’s not too late for you to tell your story! Submit your fictional short story (maximum length 2,500 words) by March 15 at 11:59 p.m. to firstname.lastname@example.org to participate in the fiction contest. Or submit your nonfiction essay of 350 words or less or your fictional short story of 2,500 words or less anytime for sharing. We will post it here once all contest entries have been published. Let’s keep telling our stories of the Bay!
Ready to Go Outside
My big boots crunch the snow as we leave the house. I lift Chester to lay him over my shoulder. He meows in protest even though he will not walk on the snow. Our destination is the shoreline, beyond the snow-covered lawn. Chester relaxes as his senses are bombarded, distracted from his discomfort. We reach the shore and Chester jumps from my arms eager to start his walk. I check his harness and loop my gloved thumb tightly into the handle of the lead.
Chester explores the shore. He walks slowly and carefully, his feet slipping slightly on the wet rocks. He pounces on a leaf that moves in the breeze. It is just before dawn when his eyesight is at its best. The mustard-coloured seaweed on a rock attracts him and he sniffs long and deliberately.
The sun rises behind us. I am bundled in my winter clothes, warm in my fleece-lined pants. I gaze at our ever-beautiful surroundings, take deep breaths, grateful for the peacefulness. Two American black ducks swim close by, seemingly to tease Chester, who breaks into instinctive chattering. He tentatively puts a paw on the water but it moves. He looks up at me and meows in frustration. I laugh. In resignation he crouches and watches the world. I open my ears to identify the awakening birds. A male ring-necked pheasant struts close by, his feathers fluffed, his long tail dragging on the snow, his full beauty not yet evident in this light. My hands are getting cold; I move my legs in place to warm up. Sunlight hits the ground and I move into it with satisfaction. My eyes catch movement across the inlet. A familiar deer walks slowly. Her three fawns, born last summer wander behind her.
My toes are cold. It’s time to go in. I pick up Chester, drape him over my shoulder and snuggle my face into his fur. As we reach the house, he jumps down and runs toward the door anticipating warmth and breakfast.
Tomorrow, we’ll do it again. It’ll be the same, but different.
Karen Damtoft illustrated her story with Jerry Walsh’s pine and driftwood sculpture, “Ready to Go Outside.” To read Jerry’s inspiration for this work, visit the Winter in the Bay online gallery and click on the image of the sculpture.
Walking with Oland
The winter came to the Bay gently in 2020. One morning, everything seemed usual, but Oland, our nine-year old puppy, a physically fit Yellow-Labrador-Retriever, behaved most unusual. He refused his delightful routine: walking, sniffing, playing, marking and then trotting back home. At home, he refused his tasty breakfast, meat.
Around noon, Oland was in an Emergency Animal Hospital. The diagnosis showed: Pericardial Effusion, an excessive amount of fluid/blood accumulated within a sac leading to Oland’s heart pump malfunction, most likely caused by a tumor in his heart or on the sac surrounding the heart.
Oland was my daughter’s “Son.” Being crowned “Grandma,” I sometimes looked after Oland, but always cared about him and loved him dearly.
Since early 2020, Oland had stayed with me. I therefore became his full-time Grandma. The neighbours quickly recognized us because of our six times a day, every day walking around the neighbourhood.
During our walk, Oland decided where we should go by slightly turning his head to the left or right. When a road became a tiny bit downhill, Oland would look up at me as if to ask “Grandma, shall we trot.” Then Oland and Grandma trotted joyfully.
Oland loved playing in an enclosed tennis court and strolling in his favourite woods where scattered were lovely branches. He would sniff at, bite off them or carry a suitable one to cheer our walk up.
Oland reacted to other animals always before I noticed them, so I could easily cry my heart out: “Oland, Oland” when he broke free the leash to chase a cat or a squirrel running into the woods. Or I might be jerked by the leash when he sensed deer in darkness.
I often talked to Oland during our walk. Oland responded in his doggy way.
Now, regardless it’s sunny, windy, rainy or snowy, every day I keep walking along our regular routes, around the tennis court and in Oland’s favourite woods. There, I count Oland’s beloved branches and whisper to him “No one is missing” as if he were wondering “How many, Grandma?”
Hui Zhou was deeply moved when she saw “Winter Storm in the Bay,” Margo Mosher Swain’s painting, which inspired her to share a story about her family’s beloved late dog. To see Margo’s inspiration for her painting, visit the online gallery and click on the image.