One of the great things about where I live is that I am a few miles from an entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway, a most incredible U.S. National Park. (I am also a few miles from the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, but they do not allow dogs on trails, leashed or not. Fortunately, I am also near the Pisgah National Forest which has fantastic trails).
In its infinite wisdom, the federal government has given the Park Service an incredible amount of acreage, but precious little money to actually maintain the parks. As a result, my section of the Parkway closes sometime in November and does not usually reopen until March or April. Why? The Park Service does not have the funding to plow or salt the roads, so the snows simply make the roads too treacherous for tourists to drive.
But the road is open for walking. And, coupled with the incredible knowledge that most tourists never walk more than a few hundred feet from an open road, after a mere quarter mile from the gate, we can walk or sled for a long time without running into another human being.
It was March of 2004 and the road was still not open for the season. We had walked a couple of miles in – Nikita and Natasha and I – and were on our way out. The weather was warm and I was running late for dinner with my parents. I had played too long and knew that we had to hurry so I could have time to feed the dogs and still get to dinner without being too late.
We had been a half mile at least since last seeing any snow on the ground and Nikita suddenly started to whine. Off to the side of the road was a small patch of snow – maybe 10-15 feet long, maybe 2 feet wide, and no more than 6 inches deep. It was nothing, certainly not worth our time. But Nikita began wooing her insistent talk and begged that we stop.
No, I said, we are late. We have to go. But she turned, stared at me and wooed again.
Suddenly it hit me. My old girl, already 11 years old, was getting frailer. Would she make it to the next winter? Would she ever see snow again? And all she wanted, all she asked, is that we stop for 10 minutes and play in this little patch of snow. So I relented. Her arthritis was forgotten and she dove in. I tossed snowballs for her to catch and she and Natasha wrestled in the snow. After a few minutes, her outer guard hairs wet, Nikita was done and ready to head on down the road.
Fortunately, she lived to see another winter (but not two). And we even got another snow in the spring of 2004. But if we had not, was it really worth being 15 minutes late to dinner?
In return for being a little late, I got to see my old girl be a puppy, if only for a few minutes. I got to wrestle in the small little patch of snow with her. I have a memory that I will never forget. And I made her really, really happy.
Thank you Nikita for all you gave me, but most importantly, for helping me to remember to enjoy the small things while you can.