Category Archives: Reverse Lassie

December, also ambivalent

It's just the tool shed but it looks good with the first dusting of snow.

It’s just the tool shed but it looks good with the first dusting of snow.

We made it through hunting season in November and I don’t have to walk around looking like a pumpkin with legs anymore, and now we’re well into December and it all comes back to me, the things to love and the things to, well, not so much.

I like the snow and as I write this we’re expecting a decent dump starting late tonight.  I’m a night person so I often do a preliminary shovelling of my sidewalk (is it the only one here in Monroe?  Might be.) so that I don’t have to move huge amounts at any one time.  Snow falling is magic and December is usually about the first snows that everyone enjoys.  The snow in April is enjoyed by far fewer folks.

That co-dependant holiday is just around the corner and the millions who do the obligatory gifting are crowding the venues.  A bit closer to the day and you might wonder if no one ever eats  except two times a year if you dare the grocery store.  It took me a couple of times but if you live in Canada and go to someone’s house for Christmas dinner you still need to shop before the holiday anyway, because ALL the grocery stores are closed on Boxing Day.  Weird.

But my real love/not-so-much with December stems from my life with Mr. Ever-Vigilant/ Scourge of the Forest, Murphy.

Who me?  I'm a love puppy.

Who me? I’m a love puppy.

The temperature is cold enough that he has lots of energy to patrol and bark which it is in his nature to do.  The leaves are gone from the trees and the air is crisp and a good barking rhythm can carry across the valley quite nicely, reminding all residents of the woods that they might better avoid this particular stretch.

Until there is a good amount of snow on the ground to make the excessive (in my mind) patrolling difficult, nearly every day it is possible that Murphy will not return from our afternoon foray up the hill and instead will move back and forth barking.  I would take him in the truck to Northern Pond and do our walk there so he would have to finish with me but in December the ice is not necessarily frozen enough and I do not want to repeat the Reverse Lassie. (See my post, The Thanksgiving Song:  for that story.)

Usually he waits for me to at least start the walk with him but today when I came out he was already in full voice.  I started up the hill directly because he was already too close to the neighbour who doesn’t like him patrolling and never forgets an infraction.  I try to get ahead of where he is going so that we can meet in the woods but Murphy was already across the right of way and in the woods on the other side.  There is a loop trail on the neighbour’s property where we used to walk with permission until permission was revoked.  One too many times Murph opted to return in his own time and swing through their dooryard for a friendly chase of a cat if possible, alas.

So today I ran down the snow-covered upper part of the loop to get ahead of him.  I was just looking for the place where we used to cross a little stream when Murphy can running full tilt toward me.  He was all, hey! cool to meet you here! and I was all, what a surprise to find you here too!  I gave him a couple of cookies from my pocket and hooked him up.  He thoughtfully chose to backtrack my trail since it’s good not to go right by the neighbour’s house and give her more fuel for the stories.  ( She never forgets an episode and still uses as an example something he did when he was a juvenile.)

Across the right-of-way we followed my trail up the hill above our garage.  With the little bit of snow it’s hard to see the lay of the ground but traction is not too bad because the moisture from the ground has frozen so some steps are into eight or so inches of ice crystals which gives some traction.  Still there are rocks and piles of branches and some ice so it’s good for the balance to walk such uneven terrain.

So far, I’ve managed to bring him home every time he’s gone on barkabout, but it interrupts my work and I worry that he might get shot by one of those Maine hunters who feel entitled to the deer and erroneously think Murphy threatens that or that he might end up in a trap somewhere where I can’t find him.

Note, the day after:  The perfect winter storm started late last night.  We woke up to 8 inches and I shovelled my way out to the driveway, then barefooted (no snowshoes) down the unploughed driveway with dog and shovel to clear a walkway for my neighbour who has a dodgy heart.  ( Her heart’s in the right place, it’s just not up to heavy physical exertion .)  We walked down the road that the snowplough had done already and the reason I didn’t wear snowshoes.

To get the full information Murphy buries his nose in the snow,

To get the full information Murphy buries his nose in the snow,

So it’s all good now.  Murphy  and I love to run downhill in the snow, me with snowshoes.  He steals my mitten and flips it into the air, a playful moment for a usually serious guard dog.  Snowshoes were needed for the walk up the hill but not so much that Murphy couldn’t offer to break trail for me, but just enough that he came home from the walk and now is out on his long lead, letting the nearby world know that this hill is guarded, go elsewhere if you are a ne’er-do-well.  Today December is good.


The Thanksgiving Song

Early morning walk before the plow has been by

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.

this is not the wood under the snow

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.