Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Nothing Without Art: January 3, 2018--"Winter Dog"

So already, one day before an impending snowstorm* that already has whipped local newscasters and meteorologists into a frenzy, I write to share an excerpt from a short story by Alistair MacLeod, a Canadian author who was unknown to me six weeks ago. Thus far, the stories I've read affirm the statement about him on the back cover of As Birds Bring Forth the Sun and Other Stories **: "In a voice at once elegiac and life-affirming, MacLeod describes a vital present inhabited by the unquiet spirits of a [Cape Breton] Highland past, invoking memory and myth to celebrate the continuity of the generations even in the midst of unremitting change."

"Winter Dog" is a story for winter-lovers, for dog-lovers, for people-lovers, and for anyone who's ever been waiting to hear the news of a loved one's death while the whole rest of the world--even the rest of one's own family--is caught up in gleeful anticipation of something else. 

In the case of this story, the children, "half crazed by the promise of Christmas," respond to the "unexpected giddy surprise" of an overnight snowfall by insisting on going outside to play at 4:30 in the morning (32). Their father gives in, warning the children against disturbing sleeping neighbors. So begins his journey into the past and perhaps the mystical:

     "Through the window and out on the white plane of the snow, the silent, laughing children now appear. They move in their muffled clothes like mummers on the whitest of stages. They dance and gesture noiselessly, flopping their arms in parodies of heavy, happy earthbound birds. They have been warned by the eldest to be aware of the sleeping neighbors so they cavort only in pantomime, sometimes raising mittened hands to their mouths to suppress their joyous laughter. They dance and prance in the moonlight, tossing snow in one another's direction, tracing out various shapes and initials, forming lines which snake across the previously unmarked whiteness. All of it in silence, unknown and unseen and unheard to the neighboring world. They seem unreal even to me, their father, standing at the darkened window. It is almost as if they have danced out of the world of folklore like happy elves who cavort and mimic and caper through the private hours of this whitened dark, only to vanish with the coming of the morning's light and leaving only the signs of their activities behind. I am tempted to check their recently vacated beds to confirm what perhaps I think I know.
      "Then out of the corner of my eye I see him. The golden collie-like dog. He appears almost as if from the wings of the stage or as figure newly noticed in the lower corner of a winter painting" (34-35).
"In the Studio" by Robert Motherwell
I leave it up to you read this short story if you want to watch that "golden collie-like dog" roughhouse with those children and set into motion interactions among the story's various levels. I leave it up to you to read the story if you wish to plunge with the narrator into his searing recollection of a near-death and salvation experience with another golden collie. At least as far as I've gotten, As Birds Bring Forth the Sun gently but firmly asserts that all of us are always making our ways in terrains shaped by inner and outer realities often simultaneously mystifying, comforting, and disturbing. Baffling as they may be, they are sure as stone, so we accept them, even embrace them, though they often make us lie awake at night.

* MacLeod, A. (2002). As birds bring forth the sun: And other stories. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart. 
** Photograph in Blog entitled Meditation Travelogue: Thoughts from the Mystical Road by Noelle Vignola: Vignola, N. (2014, December 28). Night walk: Part III [Web log post]. Retrieved January 3, 2018, from   
*** In the Studio, 1984/1985. Courtesy of the artist in blog: Shaw, C. (2014, September 8). Form, gesture, feeling: Robert Motherwell retrospective opens at Pearl Lam [Web log post]. Retrieved January 3, 2018, from

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful, Joan. Both the piece you excerpted and the thoughts that follow.