Thus, we met Greg, a way-cool musician and conceptual artist in his 50s, and his handsome Setter, Rainbow. (It was love at first sight for Rainbow and Chloe; they have now been engaged for seven years, but have yet to set a date). Next we met Lilly, a witty photographer and her dog Sparky — a Pointer mix who had the air and expression of Nietzsche. The three of us humans not only had dogs in common: it turned out that we were all recent transplants to Woodstock. Greg and his family, up until then, had lived full-time in NYC, and Lilly came from Miami by way of Los Angeles. All three of us were also prone to SAD and facing our first Woodstock winter with trepidation. But, we had our prescriptions and we had our dogs.
Prescription 1: Avoid isolation. In the winter, those of us with SAD mostly want to hibernate. We want to hide in our emotional cocoons of lethargy and also in our literal cocoons of heavy down jackets with giant, puffy hoods, which we zip from head to toe and cinch tightly around our faces. Nothing shows except a nose, which is always red and runny from the cold.
Dogs, on the other hand, expand in winter. We’ve all witnessed this. They get friskier, more energetic. They tend to bounce around more, run in circles at every occasion (a ring-ing doorbell! a trip to the mailbox!) and exhibit new hidden talents for leaps and pirouettes. As the temperatures drop, their coats thicken and their pupils shrink to focused pinpoints, which somehow makes them look more alert, and feral.
At Comeau, our dogs seemed overjoyed with the new weather and their new pack. I loved to watch their ecstatic, bright-eyed faces as they ran through the white fields, and the way they seemed to smile as they leapt through the high drifts in buoyant dolphin arcs. I loved the way they threw their bodies into the snow and shimmied on their backs, pushing themselves upside-down through the drifts, only to leap to their feet again and shake it all off. Rainbow saw any dog on his or her back as fair game, and took the opportunity to get in a playful nip on the neck, rump or leg. I loved the way they would dive, twist and nip, exhausting them-selves with their clever dog maneuvers, and how they would pause from play, just slightly, to scoop some snow — powdery and pure — into their mouths for quick refreshment. Chloe always seemed rejuvenated by her “snow snack,” as we called it, like a hearty Russian explorer clearing her head with a shot of ice-cold vodka. Snow, I realized, was like a drug to dogs. A puppy upper.
Something else I found endearing was that Chloe was the least athletic among her new country-dog pals. Rainbow could clear six-foot fences and outrun snowplows, and Sparky — thick in the middle — could take a hit like a seasoned defensive lineman. Chloe, however, walked around puddles and, when she ran with the boys, was always a few yards behind, her ears flopping behind her as she ran with determination.
She didn’t mind being at the bottom of the hierarchy. She was just happy to have friends. She always trotted back to us with a smile on her face, as if to say: See, I’m hanging out with the cool guys. That smile warmed our hearts. This was much better than hanging out isolated at home with a SAD woman.
Prescription 2: Sunlight. For those of us with SAD, doctors prescribe at least 40 minutes each day in front of a light box or in direct sunlight. When our pack gathered at Comeau in the mornings, we always stood in the open field, in the sunshine. As the weeks passed, our positions shifted slightly so that we could get as much exposure and vitamin D as possible. We seemed much more aware of time after winter solstice, because we gained a full two minutes of sunshine everyday. I loved the way the low, slanted light sieved through the bare trees in the morning. The sun seemed to put in extra effort, just for us.