Get Me Out of Here: First Snow

It snowed in the Twin Cities on Thanksgiving, and Katie Heaney went to a dog park

Kiah gets ready to pounce.     Photo: Katie Heaney

“If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes”: a saying that must have started somewhere. When the unknown speaker first said it—though the saying is sometimes attributed to Mark Twain, the wise old Internet maintains that isn’t correct—surely it seemed especially true of that particular locality at that particular time, and everyone around him or her must have laughed. “So true,” they would have said. They would have gone home and told every one of their neighbors, and those neighbors would have told all of their neighbors, and eventually some of those neighbors would have been across state borders—which are, after all, arbitrary. And soon, people in every state came to believe the saying was theirs. In Minnesota/Maine/Ohio/Florida/New York/Illinois, we have a special saying: if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes. 

This, I’m guessing, was the very first meme. 

And now it isn’t funny anymore. It’s been said too widely, too often. Hyperbole often works this way—at first it might be humorous to exaggerate something for comic effect, but eventually people start to get suspicious: “Why do you have such a hard time estimating realistic time frames for changing weather patterns?” and so on. But people still say it because it feels true, and it’s only going to get truer and eventually maybe false again. Sure, a single day’s weather weirdness can’t realistically be attributed to climate change, but you do notice.

For instance, in the Twin Cities on Thanksgiving Day temperatures hovered near 60 degrees in the middle of the day, and it started snowing by the time my family’s big turkey dinner was done. I hadn’t been expecting snow, and not just because of the springy weather earlier in the day; my city’s 2011-2012 snowfall was pathetically minimal, and I’ve spent the fall both anxiously awaiting winter and assuming that it would, ultimately, let me down. Watching disapprovingly as the unseasonably warm weather rolled through September, and October, and finally well into November, I felt like this winter owed me something.

So on that Thursday holiday, I was, I think, guilt-tripping the globe. It wasn’t something I decided to do on a conscious level, but I did find myself sending a number of dirty looks toward the sky and ground outside my parents’ windows. And my dirty looks are very severe. When it started to snow shortly after sunset, I was pleasantly surprised, but I was also inexplicably triumphant. I asked, and it was so.

Do most of us believe, to some extent, that we can control the weather? Do we not say anything like that out loud because we know that it sounds crazy, but do we still think wishing for rain or snow or sun might really work, at least sometimes? Is this just a personal problem? Am I projecting?

THE NEXT MORNING IT is 23 degrees outside: an entirely new season. There are two inches of snow on the ground. I’d been thinking about what terrifying new outdoors activities I could try next, as we’re in this weird interim weather phase in which it’s too cold for anything summery and sweat-inducing, but it’s also too warm (or more accurately, too snowless) for the wintry variety of activities-that-give-me-panic-atttacks. Besides, after conquering (used here loosely) my fear of rock climbing, I could use a little breather. So, I decide, this first snow morning, to take my family dog to one of the off-leash dog parks in town. But rest assured that even a simple walk like this one is not without its own special horrors: I see people I went to high school with around that area all the time.

Kiah is my family’s fourth dog overall and our third female Australian Shepherd. (The third dog, Oreo, a black-and-white lab and springer mix of some kind, was the beloved fluke we took home from the Humane Society, having gone “just to visit.”) I won’t go into her intelligence, because people talking about how smart their dogs are—so often incorrectly, too—is very nearly as bad as people talking about their brilliant, brand-new infants. Listen, almost all of us could talk by two. Almost all of us memorized the alphabet fairly early on. We were little babies; what else was there to do? But Kiah is very smart.

She is also the weirdest dog I’ve ever met, and not just because she wiggles her back half (not her tail area, but her whole back half) so strongly while walking that she can only ever get anywhere diagonally. Kiah has, from the beginning, loved to fight. Not seriously (she doesn’t appear to be out for blood), but neither is it totally not-serious. Unlike any other dog we’ve had, she fully leaps off the ground at other dogs (or people, doesn’t matter) when she wants to wrestle. She commits. Overall, she seems to prefer being airborne.

It is therefore unsurprising that before I open the back door of my car, Kiah has started jumping out of it. She lands on the ice-coated parking-lot asphalt and slides a few feet before regaining composure, looking back, presumably, to see if I noticed. I did, but for her sake I pretend like I didn’t. Once we’re inside the gate, I take off her leash, and she’s off again, jumping.

There aren’t many other creatures here today, canine or human, but those we do see, Kiah leaps at. There is a German Shepherd, whom she outruns, and a beagle, who seems to bore her. The other dogs don’t seem very “into” the idea of wrestling today—they seem lethargic, as if its taking them some time to adjust to the sudden cold and the slippery ground. Still, they don’t seem too bothered when Kiah keeps trying. I always wonder, in the midst of these attempted battles, how each dog decides that the other dog is mostly only joking about all the biting. How did they come to decide it was fun and not inappropriate or weird to jump all over the stranger dogs they encounter in public? When my ferocious small dog finally lied down in the snow in deference to an enormous black Lab with a three-foot-long stick in his mouth, was it because she was scared? Or was I right in thinking she looked a little bit ... suggestive?

Perhaps I am anthropomorphizing her too greatly, but how do you not?

THERE IS THIS SORT of sad, free zoo in Saint Paul that Rylee and I went to last summer, and we stood for half-an-hour in front of the chimpanzee exhibit, watching through Plexiglas as a mom chimp teased and hugged her chimp son. There was a loose, flappy canvas bag he clearly loved, and his mom kept putting it over his face, running away to hide, and waiting for him to find her again. When he did, he’d climb in her lap, and she’d tickle him. “Exactly like us,” you’d have thought, “just furrier or scalier humans after all, every last animal there is. Geniuses, every one. Just like us.

But there, the next display over, sat the old male gorilla, reclining on a boulder, leaning on his elbow, scooping a large puddle of vomit off the rock and into his mouth. Then swallowing it, vomiting, and then eating it again. So it’s hard to say. I suppose they are individuals, just like the rest of us, but I don’t pretend to understand the world around me. I only pretend, once in a while, to control it.

Katie Heaney is a writer based in Minneapolis. She has a memoir coming out in early 2014.

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