Over the river and through the woods is how the song begins. This year if we still relied on horses as transportation, the line: ‘the horse knows the way to carry the sleigh’ would be appropriate as well. There is a lovely eight inch blanket of snow on the ground from a storm yesterday; a good beginning to winter.
I know there are lots of people who have been inconvenienced by this slightly early dump of snow, enough snow that yesterday the snowshoes came out for the first time. I find even I am thinking that it will be good for this lot to melt so that I can stack my newly delivered firewood (next year’s) and move some more into the garage for this winter. That feels slightly blasphemous. I welcome snow, even in April when everyone wants to get into their gardens. I love the quality of the woods when the snow is falling and the light reflecting and sparkling when the sun comes out.
Today I braved the afternoon jaunt up the hill without the shoes. The packed trail from yesterday was good enough for barefoot boots. This is a good time for walking the dog as well. He’s easy to spot with the leaves gone from most of the trees and even more visible with his blaze orange hunting vest.
Hunting season started at the beginning of the month and Murphy gets into it as well. I surmise that it is something about all the denizens of the forest moving about more to get ready for winter. Whatever the reason, Murphy is more aggressively a predator now. I worry that he may encounter a hunter who might think that Murphy is after the deer that ‘rightfully’ belong to the hunters and be shot because of it. Murphy thinks they are the transgressors, those hunters who are never in the woods except with a gun in hunting season so he barks at them.
This first snow and cold reminds me of a walk we did last year in early December. The weather was similar. There had been a week of cold and ice was beginning to cover the ponds, then a warming spell and more cold, so the skim of ice, maybe an inch on Northern Pond wasn’t nearly enough to bear any weight.
Murphy was lagging behind me and off the trail towards the stream/slough that feeds the pond. He’s not fond of swimming but the ice might draw him to the other side on the trail of muskrats or beaver or even racoons so I lingered just as I got to the pond to wait for him to catch up.
Then I heard the sound you don’t want to hear: crunch, splash, crunch, crunch splash. Murphy had gone through the ice. I determined that he was in the stream part so I went back on the trail so that when I encouraged him my voice would be coming from the shortest possible way across the slough, even though I couldn’t see him because of the fifty yards of woody shrub marsh between my position on the trail and the slough. He worked at it for what seemed like ten minutes and then he started to bark for help,’Hey! Hey! Hey!’ continuously.
I thought that I might be able to reach him by going from hummock to hummock in the marsh but I soon found out that there was more water than land and when I stepped in the water it was icy and to my knees, with sheets of ice on the bottom. I knew I wouldn’t be able to walk through that safely so I yelled to Murphy that I would be right back and I sprinted back down the trail to my truck and quickly drove the two miles home. I shed my wet boots, socks and pants and put on my warmest thick fleece pants and wool sox then donned my chest waders and grabbed my waterproof/breathable jacket as well. Then I got a blanket and Murphy’s tie-out rope and went to get Ann to come back with me as a witness. I didn’t think she could help without proper garb but I wanted someone there in case it all went horribly wrong.
Back at the parking area I left Ann to follow and I sprinted back to the closest place on the trail to where Murphy was. He was still continuously barking so I called to him and started into the swamp, I first tried a line closer to the pond where the shrubs were not so thick but I was immediately in water up to my waist so I had to go deeper in the shrubs, breaking the sticks down and trying to find solid places to step. I kept falling, slipping on the ice under the water, then I’d drag myself back to my feet and press on.
When I finally got to the edge of the swamp beside the slough, Murphy was hanging on to the ice with his front legs splayed out and his head barely out of the water and eight feet of ice between him and the shore where I stood. I stepped on the ice to break it and stepped into the water at the edge and immediately was in deep water within an inch of the top of my waders.
I know from experience how debilitating icy water is when it gets in your waders (that’s another near death adventure) so I was very careful to lean on the ice and back off quickly before any water got in. Lean and back off, lean and back off and gradually I got four feet of ice broken. Then I went sideways a bit to try to get more broken and all the while Murphy was hanging on and watching me. Then there came a point when I couldn’t get to the last bit of ice that he was clinging to. We looked at each other and I yelled to Ann (who couldn’t see but had been listening to all my shouts and exclamations), ‘ I can’t reach him!’
I thought then that I was going to watch my dog drown and I wished I had thought to bring a branch with me. I turned and there on the hummocky marsh was a ten foot branch, too light to break the ice but I thought maybe Murphy could grab it or something.
I laid the branch across the ice and told Murphy to grab it. I’m sure he knew as well as I that this was the last chance. He didn’t grab it but made a last pull/push using the branch to get purchase on the slippery ice. That got him up on the ice enough to break the last two feet and he swam through the broken bits to the marshy shore, then followed me as we bushwhacked back through the swamp to the trail where Ann waited. We towelled him off a bit with the blanket then we all hurried back down the trail to my truck just as it was getting too dark to see.
Finally, home and in front of the wood-stove, Murphy seemed none the worse for the wear. He’d been in the icy water for nearly an hour, I’d reckoned. Luckily he has a thick undercoat thanks to his Great Pyrenees heritage. I was massaging him and got near his tail and he gave a yelp. His tail had worked so hard as a rudder to keep him afloat that he had strained the muscles and for three days his tail hung limp, straight down. He couldn’t even wag it never mind lift it in its usual above his back position.
I had successfully performed what I call a Reverse Lassie and saved my dog from drowning. Curiosity led me to Google dogs going through the ice and in the first pages of items that came up, roughly 50% of the incidents resulted in the deaths of the owners. Yikes. I think that is because most people just act and leap in to save their dog friends. For me, that emergency, adrenalin rush brought clarity with energy. I spent the hour or so of the rescue in a controlled hyper state, acting but with consideration of my own safety (within reason, or as reasonable as I could be with Murphy barking for help). I was Action Girl with a specific goal and fortunately I had the right tools for the job.
Later I thought that it would have been even better if I’d had my wetsuit on with my waders and until everything was really frozen I carried both with me in my truck wherever I went. Still, having experienced the Reverse Lassie, Dog Through The Ice Rescue, I’m not sure I could do it again. It was after the event that I thought of everything that could have happened.
So, Thanksgiving. I’m thankful that I’m still here, Murphy is here too and there is snow on the ground because it is FUN! to run downhill in the snow.