It’s winter, and every morning, before dawn, a dog who can’t wait one more minute to go to the bathroom, begins to bark. I get up. I put on Jon’s barn coat, cinch the hood with a hand-knitted scarf, and pull on my great galumphing boots. Then I release two of the dogs into the back yard. Dugan, who tends to run off, has to be walked on leash. So while Bonnie checks the perimeter for deer scat or foxes, and Jack waters trees, I tromp around in the snow with Big Dog, aerating the ground with my microspike boots. Round and round we go, too slowly for him, but too fast for me. Because it’s bitterly cold with blowing snow, I pray that he’ll do the big job quickly.
When the urgent business is completed, Dugan and I go back inside. Off come the scarf, the coat, the great galumphing boots and the leash. Dugan takes the stairs like a racehorse out of the starting block, and I follow slowly, taking care not to get in his way. His cohorts are waiting on the back porch. They stand outside the glass door in characteristic attitudes: Bonnie’s pointy ears are laid back and her plumy tail creates arcs in the air; Jack looks anxious even though his butt is wiggling. It’s cold; they want to come in and have breakfast. Oh joy! Kibble! Again!
One, two, three, dogs are fed and crunching away. Dugan bolts his food; Jack eats warily and quickly; Bonnie chews delicately, taking her time. While they eat, I fix the pony’s food; softening his alfalfa cubes with boiling water, and mixing it in with senior feed and fat supplement. If I have an apple on hand, I dice it and throw it into the bucket as well. Lastly, I turn my attention to the barn cats and fill their dish. Done! The entire process has taken 30-40 minutes. But, I’m not really finished. The dogs must be fed once more, later on, and the pony two more times. And of course, Bonnie, Jack, and Dugan have to be released for bathroom breaks throughout the long winter day.
I used to do all this without thinking twice about it. I wasn’t fazed by the weight of a full feed bucket, and I wasn’t nervous about being jerked off my feet by an excited dog. I didn’t calculate how much time it took to feed the zoo, or comprehend how it tied me to the house. But now, plodding through snow, in the freezing, dark winter mornings, I have a tendency to resent these obligations, this mundane scut work, and envy friends who winter in Florida, or friends who are doing bigger things. This introduces reflection about choices made that cannot be unmade, and about what I mean by “bigger”.
As for choices- I could have chosen to keep tropical fish. I didn’t. Or I could choose to give the dogs away, shoo the cats and shoot the pony. I won’t. So much for actions that affect the present situation. But the question about doing bigger things remains. Or maybe, the question I should be asking is why I consider doing repetitive tasks at home “small”. There is a certain glory, after all, that comes with doing what we should. The trouble is- I rarely realize that- especially when I’m wearing heavy boots and walking through snow.
God gave me the gift of creature cravings. But I often forget that it is a gift – a trust. I forget that any given capacity for doing good in specific ways, in specific circumstances is a big deal. It opens up a whole frontier of “good works created beforehand” for me to walk around in, and to delight in- even in January.