Oreo: Watch and learn.

Sometimes an outdoor activity can really salvage a day. Such was the case on Feb. 14, when my boyfriend and I both failed to plan anything romantic for Valentine’s Day. I didn’t think I cared about the commercialized holiday. I have no use for stuffed animals or any other heart-festooned doodads. I’m not really a chocolate eater, and when it comes to flowers, my two cats usually tear them apart before they even make it to the vase. Then they vomit on the floor. Happy Valentine’s Day to me.

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Yet when Feb. 14, a Saturday, rolled around this year, I felt a certain pressure, a guilt because I hadn’t planned anything nice for my longtime boyfriend, Derek.

Oreo: Watch and learn.
Oreo: Watch and learn.

We could go out to dinner, he suggested. I agreed, however unenthusiastic. I was disappointed in our lack of creativity, perhaps.

I could see the gears turning in his head as he sat on the couch, then, “Let’s build a snow fort,” he said. “Hurry, get your snow stuff on while it’s still light.”

It took some arm tugging before I ceded and retrieved my snow pants, down jacket, fur bomber hat and two pairs of mittens. It was cold out.

Oreo: Let me get that snow out of your way, Dad.
Oreo: Let me get that snow out of your way, Dad.

We velcroed Oreo into a wind-resistant, fleece-lined dog coat, gathered some shovels and headed to the backyard, where Derek had created a snow pile with the snowblower a few weeks before. He had made the pile intending to make a snow fort for Oreo, he explained. Yeah right. We all have a little kid inside us.

So with shovel, spade and rake, we hollowed out the inside of the snow pile.

Actually, Derek did most of the digging, if you can call it that. The snow was so dense that it was most effective to stab at it and angle the shovel so it would chip away in large chunks. I then hauled the chunks away to construct a neat wall around the cave entrance. It would block wind, I told Derek. I really had no idea. It looked cool, anyway.

Oreo and his fort.
Oreo and his fort.

Oreo looked confused as he watched us. We thought he might participate by digging. Aren’t dogs known for digging? But no, he just watched us. And eventually we had to let him back indoors because he had started shaking in the cold.

It was growing dark when we finally decided to stop. Being out there in the gloom and cold, sweaty and covered in snow, I was reminded of all the times I had played in outdoors in the winter when I was a kid. I’d often stay out into the evening, my eyes adjusting to the dimming light, and I wouldn’t leave the snow pile until my parents called my sister and I indoors.

Snow cave selfie!
Snow cave selfie!

To celebrate our snow cave, Derek and I retreated indoors and to grab some beverages — and Oreo. We then crawled back into the snow cave and sat side by side, backs resting against the snowy back wall. In the light of our flashlight, we watched the steam rise and swirl in the air as the tiny room warmed with our body heat.

Maybe it’s wasn’t romantic in the conventional sense, but it was good enough for me.

After a bit of coaxing, we got Oreo into the cave, too. Then Derek demonstrated to him how a dog might dig snow, scraping his gloved hands down the wall. And that’s all it took. Oreo started digging away.

One way to dig out a cave: bite the snow.
One way to dig out a cave: bite the snow.

And boy could he dig.

We couldn’t stop laughing as we watched him chip away at the wall with his claws, pumping his front legs frantically, kicking snow in our faces. At one point, Oreo got so worked up he started barking and growling at the wall, then biting it, taking away a mouthful of snow each time.

Wagging his tail. Giving us kisses. Barking. Digging. Eating snow. Oreo was expending energy that had been pent up from too many hours indoors. Next time, we’d have to get him involved with the project from the get go.

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A few days later, I let Oreo outside to go to the bathroom at lunchtime. Usually he doesn’t stay out long in this cold weather. But when I went to the door to let him in, he was nowhere in sight. So I called for him. Nothing. I peeked around the corner of the house. Nothing. I called again, and again. And all the sudden, Oreo emerged from the snow cave wagging his tail.

Looks like he’s enjoying his new hangout.

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Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn is a Bangor Daily News reporter for the Outdoors pages, focusing on outdoor recreation and Maine wildlife. Visit her main blog at actoutwithaislinn.bangordailynews.com.