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  • Writer's pictureReyna Bradford

Breaking Trail (written 1/1/21)

The first heavy snowfall of the winter arrived today at sunrise. It was Christmas-card snow: feathery, hushed and beautiful. It was the kind of snow that collects on everything, snow like weighty, cream frosting on a cake, that transforms every commonplace thing it touches into something richer. Gateposts, garbage cans, the roof of the rabbit hutch, the old oak stump in the front yard. All smothered and smoothed in deep, white powder.

It came down steadily all morning and half the afternoon, and sometimes it accelerated and fell in dense, dimly-brilliant curtains. It was during one of those dense periods that the dogs and I banged out of the house and plowed up the driveway for a good, long walk.

Tomorrow was Saturday, after all, and Saturdays are days we never venture onto the roads. We had to get out today. Plus, such inclement weather almost certainly meant that we would have no trouble with traffic, with people, or with the typical loose neighborhood dogs who harass us on regular days. And besides all that, my own dogs would just have a darn good time.

There was enough wind to make the snow swirl and sting as we turned north onto the gravel road. But it wasn't enough to worry me. The temperature hovered around thirty degrees, and by the time we had made the half-mile trek north and then the next half-mile trek west, I was warm enough to pull my gloves off as we hung another left and headed south. With a good four inches of snow underfoot, the going was slower than my usual snappy walking pace. I was breaking my own trail. The only minor concern I had was the place where the road splits and takes a little jog around one corner. That spot can be tricky for me to hash out, even in good weather. But with substantial snow on the ground and a moderate wind in my face, it could be dicey. I was just going to have to feel it out and follow the dogs. They knew the way.

We had almost reached that sticky spot when a big pickup truck came easing up behind us. The sound was so muffled in all that snow that the driver had to tap the horn before any of us knew he was gaining on us.

We scrambled off to one side and the truck crept past, breaking trail as it went. From then on, we had a set of good, solid tire tracks to follow around that tricky corner, and for the rest of the walk. Crisis averted.

Slogging along and listening to the dogs bells jingle and clink around me, the thought came to mind how appropriate a snowfall like this was to a new year. Especially to this new year.

We've all had a rough road in 2020. The hardships and hassles and stresses of this year have touched each of us individually somehow. Some have lost jobs. Some have lost people. And to some degree, all of us have lost a way of life.

For me personally, 2020 has been the emptiest year I have ever known.

There have been disappointments, and there has been despair. There were mornings when I wasn't sure I could make myself get out of bed, and wasn't sure that I wanted to make myself. Meg and Dundee, two of my best working dogs, had to be suddenly retired from the ring this year. Even for the dogs still working, shows have been indefinitely put on hold. I was saddled with Scotch, a puppy that I really wasn't sure I wanted, but with whom I've had to move forward even though there's virtually no place to move forward to.

And so it goes. A year of emptiness, confusion, and adjustment.

For most of us, if not all. But I love turning the page on the calendar. I love having that blank, unsullied vista spread out wide in front of me. An entire new year. Unseen horizons. Room to grow. Space for grace.

I don't have Dundee and Meg anymore as working partners. But Tassie and Cinder are training well, and Banner and Scotch are coming in to their own. Competition obedience is on hold, but we're discovering the wonderful world of tricks training; Tassie is gaining ground with tracking; and of course, I have my six rats, and the barn hunt arena awaits.

Cognac is a new herd sire for me, and we'll have his kids hitting the ground by early April. There's a new book in the works. There are sunsets and songs and thunderstorms to look forward to. There is happiness and hope, and things even deeper.

I'm choosing to live like this. I'm choosing to let the world be fresh, new and unspoiled, and to stride in to it head up and arms open. And whether that means breaking my own trail or trotting in the tire tracks, I'm choosing to push forward and follow the road. God and my dogs are with me, and you can't ask for much more than that.

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