Story: Walking on Ice

During a normal New Jersey winter, we’ll get a snowstorm that drops six or eight inches. Then the snow melts. Then we’ll get another three inches. Then it melts. Typically this happens no more than a half dozen times from December through February–although sometimes a snowstorm will bluster throw in March, and even more rarely fool us in April.

It’s a somewhat predictable pattern, though. Snow. Melt. Cold. Snow again. When it snows on top of snow that hasn’t melted, it is an unusual enough occurrence to be remarked upon.

This year, Mother Nature has thrown the script out the window and is making it up as she goes along. Our first snow of the season was lovely and on cue: six inches of the white stuff fell softly upon the mountain in the early days of January. The dogs played in it, it melted, and all was as it should be–bitterly cold, but no snow.

A more serious snowstorm arrived a few weeks later, dropped about nine inches, caused some messy travel, closed schools and gave the dogs something to romp in. It started to melt a bit, but, like a houseguest who overstayed his welcome, the snow stayed. And then invited his friends and relatives over, as a similar amount fell about two weeks later. By then, while it was fun for the dogs to play in the snow, it was a bit of a challenge to plow through, since the total was now over a foot.

Before those of you in cooler climes laugh at my New Jersey expectations, please remember, I don’t live in Michigan. Or North Dakota. Or Maine. Here in the garden state, we don’t get cumulative accumulations.

Once Ms. Nature veered from the norm, she was inspired to ever more heights of creativity. On top of the dozen or so inches of snow that now covered the ground, she added rain. Freezing rain. Then some snow. And some more rain. Kind of rain-snow sandwich. For those who haven’t experienced cold rain added to snow, think sponge. It doesn’t melt the snow; it just soaks into it. Which makes it very, very heavy to shovel.

And if the freezing rain arrives just the right way, it coats tree limbs and wires, building layer upon glistening layer. Looks pretty. Until the branches snap, wreaking havoc with power outages. (My parents lived with us for two days when their town lost power for three days. But that’s another story.)

Branches coated with ice

Looks pretty, but multiply by thousands of trees and the trouble begins.

Temperatures fell and everything froze.

Now the snow became a solid sheet of ice, upon which humans and canines had to tread quite carefully: one misstep and your legs slipped out from under you before you could say, “Squirrel!”

Three dogs standing on top of frozen snow

Tucker, Lilah and Jasper stand on top of the snow, trying to understand the new reality.

What made matters worse was that the ice layer on top of the snow could hold 45–or even 70–pounds of dog, but not consistently. So Jasper would  be cautiously picking his way across the ice when it would suddenly give way underneath him, and down he’d crash. Even Lilah or Tucker fell through.

Two dogs standing on frozen snow

Morning sun creates beautiful shadows while Lilah and Jasper ponder their next moves.

The dogs were confused. The whole world beneath them was smooth like a floor. And if there’s one thing my dogs know, it’s you don’t do your business on the floor. It took a lot of sniffing and exploring and wandering and sniffing  and sniffing before, one at a time, the dogs finally gave in, found a spot and did  what needed to be done. Reluctantly.

Jasper on frozen snow

Jasper sniffs the snow. The sparkly bits all over the surface are pieces of ice that fell from the coated tree limbs. You could hear the ice falling throughout the day, as the branches swayed, breaking the ice apart. It sounded like a chorus of tiny tinkly wind chimes.


Tucker on frozen snow

Tucker is just plain suspicious of the whole thing. Notice the areas where dogs or humans have crashed through the surface.


Lilah stands on the frozen snow

Nothing bothers Lilah. She takes everything in stride.

As for me, the only way to walk through this new landscape was with snowshoes. Then I’d crash through just a few inches, but not up to my knees. It was slow going, but the only way to go.

Dogs inspect my snow shoe

My metal snowshoes made lots of noise as I stomped through the yard. We played a game of Touch it With Your Nose to get everyone used to my new–and quite stylish–footgear.

After several days, the dogs accepted the new reality of a  frozen surface outside.

Tucker wants to play with Lilah

“I found a tiny stick. It’s mine and you can’t have it.”

Tucker would invite Lilah or Jasper to play, and start to run across the snow.  But the dogs  learned quickly that an attempt–at any speed–to move across the slippery, uneven and unreliable surface would  result in slips, falls and crashes. I didn’t encourage racing around; I could just imagine a leg breaking after crashing through a hole in the ice.

A dog picks up a piece of ice to play with

“I got a chunk of ice and you can’t have it.”

Outside running was effectively quashed. This was hardest on Tucker, whose terrier nature required constant movement. We played a lot of indoor running games during this time.

The dogs were getting used to walking on ice. I kept my snowshoes by the back  door. We can handle this,  I thought.

Three dogs casting shadows on top of frozen snow

Lilah is eyeing a piece of ice to play with, Tucker is smiling because he’s ready to play, and Jasper would like to go inside now please.


Then a blizzard threw nearly a foot more snow on top of the ice. But that’s another story

How do your pets handle unusual or extreme weather or other dramatic changes in their environments? Are they easily confused? Can they adapt? Maybe they take it in stride and go exploring…


This post is part of the Monday Mischief Blog Hop. Stop by any–or all–of the sites below for some great stories.

28 Comments on "Story: Walking on Ice"

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  1. My dogs don’t do well in the extreme cold. We just keep our time outside short. They both love snow. They don’t seem bothered by the ice, it is an obstacle for me though! I am so afraid of falling. Stay warm and safe!

  2. Wow, that is a lot of cold and snow. Torrey would have had fun. Not so much Roxy.

  3. Gabi says:

    This made me laugh, I deal with this pretty much every day (Michigan, lol). I know what you mean about the sheets of snow ice though! The dogs have adapted pretty well to it, but it’s me trying to keep up with them that is comical. It definitely doesn’t hold human weight as well as dog weight. Our dogs adapt pretty well to all sorts of weather… living in Michigan, you pretty much have to. We get everything.

    • I have lots of relatives in Michigan so I know what it’s like there. But here in NJ, we are simply not prepared for the snow that never ends. We ran out of salt. And places to put the snow. As for the dogs, I think they’re more adaptable than humans.

  4. Since we are in Louisiana the crazy weather we get usually involves tornadoes or maybe an ice storm. I’d love to see Bentley in deep snow but he isn’t a fan of bad weather. I hope your spring comes early. : )

  5. That is some crazy weather! Hopefully it starts warming up soon so everything will melt!

  6. Ann Staub says:

    Yikes, I’ve never seen snow that deep before… Interesting how it freezes on top. Our winter has been colder than usual, but we are having very nice weather at the moment and it’s been pretty warm outside.

    • We could use some warm weather, that’s for sure.

      The funny thing is, I’ve never seen snow freeze that hard on top; it’s only because we had so much rain and freezing rain on top of the snow followed by a quick deep freeze.

  7. Kari says:

    Wow, that icy surface looks very pretty, but slippery!

  8. Mr. N will go out in all sorts of weather and he loves snow. He’s more sensitive to heat than cold though. We got him a cooling vest which I think gives him too much energy though. He was running circles around the other dogs panting in the park.

  9. Retro rover says:

    Wow it sure looks cold!!! Our pups would never tolerate that nor could I. The only one who might like it is bulldog Bob he loved snow rolling
    Retro Rover

  10. slimdoggy says:

    Wow, having lived in the northeast for years, I know exactly what you are talking about. Part of the reason I live in SoCal now. Hope spring comes soon for you and the doggies!

    • Ah, sunny SoCal. I think you earn that after so many years in the Northeast, why so many people here become “snowbirds” and fly south (or southwest) for the winter. Thanks for the spring wishes; every little hope helps!

  11. meowmeowmans says:

    Thank you for these wonderful pictures, and your terrific reportage. We love that Lilah just takes it in stride. 🙂

    This has been a very rough winter, for sure! The dog walkers — and the dogs — at our shelter have risen to the challenge. They are all amazing!

    • Thanks!The funny thing about Lilah is she was the skittish one, the one who was afraid of everything as a young dog. She’s a wonderful example of what good training can do for a dog. Today, anyone who I tell the story of Lilah becoming brave is astonished that she used to be that way because now she’s so at ease and comfortable in the world.

  12. Misaki says:

    Look at all that lovely snow! Wish we had snow here too

  13. Sue says:

    You are so right about Mother Nature making up the rules as she goes along this year. We’ve broken records several time with snowfall, ice and arctic temps. The dogs love the white stuff, the humans are very sick of winter. Especially ice. So dangerous to all. Beautiful photos 🙂

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