Labrador retrievers do not understand the concept of waiting. Patience is not a part of their doggie DNA. I don’t know if this is true with all Labs, but my dogs will explode if they have to wait longer than two barks for anything—especially if it involves chewing or chasing.
I feel the same way about waiting for spring to finally arrive.
My nose has been pressed against a window for six months, waiting for the relentless cold fronts to give up and go away. Then, right on cue, our planet slowly tilts toward the sun. The days start to become longer and warmer. Spring comes to the Dakotas and winter is forgiven.
Like Labradors let off a leash, I rush into the season with complete recklessness. I am fueled by pent-up frustration and anticipation, which often leads to some very questionable decision-making on my part. This explains why most of my outdoor misadventures tend to happen during the first few weeks of spring.
For example, I believe the term “ice out” is open to broad interpretation. If I can get a float tube in the water and cast a fly line, it is officially spring—even if there is a shelf of ice covering 80 percent of the lake’s surface. I have learned that fishing in half-a-degree-above-freezing water is fun right up until the moment my legs go numb and my knees stop bending. Today, every time my joints start to grind and click, I think about those April afternoons on Lake Pactola.
In the rush to greet spring head-on, I have buried my truck axle-deep in Badlands gumbo. Years ago, while exploring an area south of Cactus Flat, I thought I could power my pickup through a concrete-like mixture of snowmelt and clay soil. It turned out to be a terrible decision. With no way to dislodge my truck, I had to hike through the Badlands until I found someone, or something, that could help pull me out.
After an hour of wandering, I came across a rancher who let me use his phone. But that was all he was willing to do. He wasn’t about to get his own truck stuck in the mud. He said, “Only an idiot would be running around in this stuff.” Obviously, I could not disagree with the man.
My dad was kind enough to make the 80-mile trip from Rapid City to rescue me.
Another spring-induced bad decision would be the time my friends and I camped in the Cloud Peak Wilderness Area in early May. We were eager to see the Bighorns of Wyoming before the tourists took over, so we decided to enjoy a few days hiking and fishing in the high country. As it turned out, we were a little too eager. May is still considered winter at 8,000 feet elevation—which explains why it was so easy to find an open campsite. We spent our first night trying to keep our tents from blowing away in a blizzard. We spent our second night being pelted by sleet. Taking the hint from Mother Nature, we decided not to spend a third night in the mountains.
Even though I am old enough to know better, spring continues to get me into trouble.
It is usually about this time of year, when the weather warms up and dormant life beings to poke through the soil, I take my dogs to a nearby field to let them run. After a long winter confined to sidewalks and city parks, their energy is absolutely boundless. I do my best to keep up with them as they enthusiastically explore one new scent after another. Invariably, they both end up rolling around in something that will require a long bath afterwards.
It will also require the removal of several ticks.
In my eagerness, I forget these blood-sucking parasites have been anxiously waiting for spring to arrive, too. They have an uncanny ability to detect heat from mammals—dogs, humans or otherwise—and attach themselves to a host. And they usually do this in bunches. (For every tick I find on my dogs I seem to find two more on me.) Yes, I try to protect my dogs with a name-band flea and tick preventative, but I don’t know if anything can stop a hungry tick from finding a meal during the first few weeks of May. I know this all-too well, yet I keep bringing ticks home.
Admittedly, most of my early spring mishaps could be avoided if I were a more patient man. It would be easier to wait another week or two for spring to settle in and get comfortable.
But I don’t have time to wait. Winter is only six months away.