Cool Cats? Yes. Cold Dogs? No Thanks.

When it’s 17 degrees below zero, with a projected high of -6, everything changes. Even dogs.

This morning, when Sam (is a dog) and I woke up, it was 40 degrees inside the Tiny White Box. Sam, who doesn’t complain much, looked up at me to ask, “What the hell? If it’s that cold inside here, what’s it like outside?” I’m better at understanding Sam than at communicating back, so I scratched him behind the ears and turned up the electric heater to high. Of course, that takes a good 20 minutes, even when it’s a balmy 15 degrees above outside, so I also cranked up the propane Big Buddy heater that doesn’t usually get used unless we’ve been gone for the day and left the heat off.

Like most scientific matters, my understanding of heat is more metaphorical than evidence-based, more a matter of analogy than formulae, but I believe Big Buddy puts out the heating equivalent of candy. It heats things up right away, but that heat is short-lived and dissipates almost immediately once Big Buddy loses its flame. The electric radiator, on the other hand, is more like a bowl of oatmeal—there’s no immediate rush, but it provides slowly released energy over a long time. Day trader vs. investor. Sprinter vs. marathoner. Crush vs. marriage (with divorce being an unpaid electric bill). Again, metaphors.

With both heat sources on, the temperature quickly rose to 60 inside. And stopped rising. Because Big Buddy is plastered with warnings about my imminent death unless I provide adequate airflow and because I don’t fully trust my carbon-monoxide alarm (it never goes off, so how can I know it works?), I always keep the front- and back-door windows wide open while it’s running. Unfortunately, this morning’s airflow was enough to achieve a Tiny White Box equilibrium at just below comfortable. I needed to kill my Buddy, close the windows and let the electric heater do what it could. In the meantime, Sam and I could go for our walk.

Since Sam and I moved here at the end of August, we’ve averaged between six and eight miles per day hiking. Even on rainy days, we typically get in at least four miles. The cold, however, is killer for both of us. Yesterday, for instance, we took only 3,300 steps, about 1.4 miles. Pathetic. My dad had a leg amputated above the knee a dozen years before he died, and I’ll bet he walked that much every morning. This kind of cold gets your toes sore, your fingers numb and your nose, runny or not, to freeze, so the hairs inside are doing nothing but providing a frigid wind tunnel for cold air to shoot down. For Sam, below zero is worse. Much worse.

First of all, Sam is a boxer/lab (again, I will not use boxador), a dog with lots of energy, but no fur to speak of—despite that the inside of my Jeep looks like a cough drop rolled on a barber-shop floor. As soon as we stepped outside, Sam relieved himself, and headed back to the Tiny White Box, standing outside the door and saying, “Hey, Fool, it’s too cold out here for man or beast. I may be the beast, but I’m not an idiot. Use those opposable digits of yours and open the door!” Or I think that’s what he said. My ears had already frozen, making dog words sound more like whimpers. When I started walking down our dirt road, Sam ran over to the Jeep and stood by the door, something he’s never done before. Because my ears were already ice-encrusted, I had to read his lips, which seemed to say, “If we’re not going inside the Tiny White Box, at least get inside this black one. Turn the heat on and we’ll go for a ride.”

Because part of our morning routine is driving to use the free and fast Wi-Fi atTreats and Treasures, the gift and variety store three miles away, I did start the car, but didn’t open Sam’s door. I wanted it to warm up a bit while we walked at least a quarter-mile down the road. Sam typically runs 40 feet ahead of me, then 40 feet behind, but this morning he acted like a show-dog, staying right at my side. Unlike a Westminster competitor, he was muttering the whole time about how cold it was. After our half-mile death-march, Sam and I got in the car, and his mood had not improved.

“Why do we always listen to your music? Stupid Ani DiFranco? Whiny Smiths? Oh-so-deep Bruce Cockburn? Heavy Lou Reed? Why don’t I ever get to choose? Huh?”

I picked up my phone and selected my favorite Americana band. Sam lay down happily as The Lost Dogs started singing.

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