The Big Snow had started, but my training school was toasty warm, thanks to the ancient stand-up furnace hulking in the corner, nicknamed The Beast.
Over eight inches of snow fell throughout the day. Overly-stimulated meteorologists gleefully predicted up to ten inches of accumulation.
Temperatures fell after sunset, and I tucked the dogs in, patted The Beast and drove home carefully in my small sedan. I had taken to feeding some birds under the train viaduct on these barren nights. My car slid to a stop along the curb and I got out with my seed. Under the viaduct, bumpy black ice obscured the ground, but I spread the seed and the birds eyed me from above, hungry and ready to pounce. As I turned to leave, a grayish shape on the ground seemed to move. I peered at it, and it rolled halfway over. ‘Rat!’ I thought and leaped back, bonking my head on the iron supports. I looked again. A small head stretched out of the frozen shape toward the seed. A glossy black eye turned slowly upward toward me. It was a pigeon, completely encased in snow and ice, unable to walk or fly, but still alive.
I scooped him up in a dry towel I kept in the trunk and slid back toward the car, already showing a layer of white. We made our way back to the training school, just two blocks away but a ten minute crawl in these conditions. Inside, I put the pigeon on a dry towel inside a small dog crate near The Beast. The ice was sliding off of the bird, but he was not perking up. ‘At least he won’t freeze to death’, I thought.
My favorite veterinarian had a soft spot for pigeons, but would not be available until tomorrow. I set the bird up with a small bowl of water and a handful of seed. Outside, it took fifteen minutes of shoveling to get my wheels to turn, and I made the five block trip home in half an hour, stopping twice to help others push out of drifts.
Sunrise showed over a foot of snow on the ground. Driving was useless on side streets, so I put on my big boots and trudged to work. No amount of snow was too much for my furry charges, and they leaped and snuffled their way through the white fluff with total abandon. I always let the larger dogs out first to tamp down the snow for the wee ones, but even with that precaution, I scooped two terriers and a poodle mix out of a drift. They came up snorting and shaking off the snow, and dove right in again.
I finally got up the courage to go and look at the frozen pigeon. As I approached the crate, I heard a light scraping sound, and I peered in. There he was, strutting fearlessly over a sopping towel looking confident and bright-eyed like Sam McGee, finally warm and toasty. He eyed me with expectation and turned in a circle, as if to show off his robust health. Only husks remained of the seed. To celebrate this resurrection, I dubbed him ‘Mr. Freeze’ and offered him a small piece of my bagel.
The weather warmed a bit over the next few days and my veterinarian suggested we release Mr. Freeze before he became too accustomed to free meals. I had moved him to the front lobby, where he craned his neck to spy on new dogs and people coming in. He showed no fear of curious canine noses, fixing them with his intense gaze. His feathers glowed with soft mauve, pink and grey tones that shimmered as he groomed himself.
I took his crate out to the yard and opened the door wide. He poked his small head out, darting his eyes over the snow-packed earth in front of him, and then retreated into the crate. I had expected a mad rush to freedom, but clearly, this was not on his agenda. I placed the crate on the ground, door swung open, but Mr. Freeze backed up as far as he could get. Even tipping the crate didn’t work, he just held on tight to his homemade perch, a small curtain rod stuck through the bars. Then, I brought out the big guns. He cocked his head at the sound of the brown paper bag. I pulled out a small piece of bagel and placed it on the ground in front of the crate. He hopped out, grabbed the bagel and then realized his mistake. I quickly closed the door, keeping him out. The bagel dropped from his mouth and he looked at me, betrayed. The guilt washed over me and I was just about to open the crate door, when he flapped mightily and rose straight up to the roof of the building.
“Good boy!” I shouted. Two people passing through the parking lot stared at me and then followed my gaze upward, perhaps thinking I had trained a dog to fly. Mr. Freeze danced on the roof, bobbing his head crazily on his thin neck. Just then, the doorbell rang and I had to go in. He was gone when I went back, and I wondered if I would see Mr. Freeze again. I did not have long to wait.
Two mornings later, I was out with a play group of boisterous big dogs. An agile lab mix led the charge with the others hot on his heels, around and around the small, barren cherry tree that bloomed each July. A loud flapping, close enough to stir my hair, stopped the group and Mr. Freeze landed smack on the ground, and turned a few circles. The hunting breeds knew what to do. Two German shorthair pointers froze in perfect point, the retrievers quivered and the spaniels danced in place, waiting for the crack of gunfire. I tried to shoo him, but he just walked around me, head bobbing and bold as ever. Finally, one of the setters could no longer just set, and charged at the bird. Mr. Freeze flew effortlessly up to the cherry tree and began to preen in a self-satisfied way. I brought him a piece of bagel and began to herd the dogs inside. There, on the roof where he had taken that first freedom flight, was another pigeon, mostly white with a swipe of black on one wing. Mr. Freeze grabbed the bagel bite, rose gracefully in a spiral and landed on the roof next to the other bird. I watched quietly as they canoodled for a moment, and went inside.
Two more times he came and went, always landing in the middle of the yard when dogs were out. He looked healthy and sassy, his feathers shining and his eye boring into me. Then he soared away, joining a small flock heading back toward the viaduct.