Last Friday, I had an appointment with my vet friends. Elizabeth made it for late in the afternoon so we could go straight home when we were done. I haven’t been there for a long time so, I was looking forward to the visit. Even if it meant getting stuck full of needles, poked and prodded in inconvenient places, and showing the world at large that I gained two pounds over the winter.
We sat down in Dr. Celia’s examining room. The two-leggers talked while I checked out all the interesting smells, then made myself comfortable over by the nearest exit. Then my ears pricked up.
“How many lives has she used up now?” Dr. Celia laughed.
“Ummm… I’m not sure. I’ve given up counting. Twenty?”
“Doesn’t she know she isn’t a cat?”
I got up and gave them both a dirty look. Then I took a few steps over to the other side of the room and squeezed under the examining table.
Elizabeth looks up at Dr. Celia, “She says not to insult her. She’s no cat. Everybody knows cats only have NINE lives!”
“She looks pretty stiff. What are you giving her for pain?…”
Yes, I used up another life with my latest adventure. And, yes, I was a little the worse for wear for a couple of days.
A week ago Thursday was a lovely Spring day, if you like that sort of thing. I prefer snow and the deep chill of Winter, myself. Elizabeth decided it was time to do some work in the garden, which is still frozen solid once you dig down a couple of inches. But she gets excited about these things.
I lay just outside the fence guarding until it looked like she was ready to get me my supper. Then I wandered over to the back stoop and watched the last of the snow melt from behind the wood pile. Elizabeth was just about to open the door when I heard them. My friends, the long-necked flappers, were flying in low and calling me to say hello! I thought they were in England visiting my blogging friend Clowie, but I guess those were different long-necked flappers. They all look and sound very much alike, you know.
I’ve been working long hours at the bookshop so, when they invited me to play a game of tag, I was eager to join in for the exercise! Needless to say, I ran off to greet them.
The thing about long-necked flappers is that they have an unfair advantage in a game of tag. When they flap their wings, they rise off the ground. It’s a bit of a tease. Usually, I just stop and watch them play the game. Today, though, their advantage over the river was not so great. The splashy wet stuff hadn’t turned splashy yet. It still looked pretty hard, except where it had melted out to about a meter from shore. I ran back and forth a bit to find a place to get onto the hard surface.
Elizabeth was calling me. I ignored her. I could come and eat later.
I discovered that I could use Al and Joanne’s dock like a bridge. Its end was still firmly planted in the hard water. When I leapt out onto the hard water, the geese, who had landed to wait for me, took off, flying low over the hard water to Siggy’s Island. I almost caught up to them.
I was just at the end of our point when, suddenly, the hard water slivered and dissolved beneath me! I went right under into deep, cold, splashy wet stuff. I’ve never felt it that cold before! I found the hole and came up for air and began trying to get back onto the hard water or land.
Elizabeth, who had been yelling frantically at me to come and eat stopped. Instead, she screamed, “I’m coming, Stella! Keep swimming!” My head went under again.
Later, she told me how frantic she was. She threw her gloves up at the living room window to get Kay’s attention, yelled for Kay to phone Dan on Siggy’s Island. He has a rice boat that uses an airplane propeller to go across water or ice. She thought if he had it going (they just got back from Mexico), he could get to me faster than she could. She had to run around our bay to get to where I was, and that’s a long, rough run for a two-legger. But off she went!
On the way she saw a long piece of driftwood with a big crook in the end, and she grabbed it in case she needed something to help her pull me out. It’s hard to tell from the house how far out from shore something is exactly. Best to be prepared. She could also use it to break a channel through the ice for me to swim to shore. Maybe. That’s what she was hoping.
Elizabeth is asthmatic. The woods are full of snow and leaf mould. She was breathing hard. She didn’t have her puffer.
But she kept coming as fast as she could and calling to me to keep trying!
Meanwhile, I dug deep and found my Newfie genes. I put them to work. Swim. Fill my huge lungs with air and float! Swim. Then I used my Great Pyrenees Mountain Dog genes. I’m swimming and climbing a mountain at the same time. Grab the hard water like it’s rock and PULL! Grab the hard water and PULL! And I used my back legs, spreading my toes so my webbed feet could push the wet water and help lift me up…
“I’m coming, Stella! Keep trying!”
And, somehow, I found some really hard water, and I managed to get up onto it. I woofed to let Elizabeth know I was okay, and I ran to find her. When she saw me, she just sort of sat abruptly on the shore, while I ran toward her.
“Stella! Go Home!”
But I wasn’t going to go home until I was sure she was all right.
I just got to her when I heard a strange growly beast on the other side of the house. So I didn’t stop. I just kept on running back the way Elizabeth had come overland. I left Elizabeth sitting on the shore, waiting for her lungs to settle enough that she could make the walk home. She was thinking, Why would Dan come that way? That can’t be Dan!
Kay had phoned 911 and told them, “Stella’s gone through the ice!” (Kay had a stroke in November. I’m not sure just what that means, but it has made it harder for her to get around, and it has made her hard to understand sometimes, especially when she is tired or upset about something).
The fire chief, who lives about a mile down the Big Gravel Path, was on his way home when he heard the call out, and he rushed to help us. Then the police arrived…
Elizabeth could hear snatches of conversation, “We don’t rescue animals when they go through the ice…” Then she saw me on the far shore, back at Al and Joanne’s dock, looking for my long-necked flapper friends again. I was afraid that they might have gone through while I was intent on my own struggles. I ran back out onto the ice to find them.
Elizabeth tried to call over to the fire chief and Kay, who were now chatting, him on the lawn, her up on our balcony. “HONK THE CAR HORN!” Elizabeth couldn’t get enough air into her lungs to support her voice, and they couldn’t hear her. She knew that if I heard the growly beast horn, I would run home. Nothing trumps a ride. Nothing. And the horn sounding means we’re going to go for a ride. When I hear the horn, I stop everything and race for the ride.
She got up and started to head for home. She knew I was too wound up to listen to anything but (maybe) the growly beast’s horn. So, that became her focus. But by this time, she was having so much trouble breathing that she was also having trouble walking through the woods.
About halfway home, she tried calling the two-leggers at the house again.
“WHAT DID YOU SAY?” The fire chief had heard her.
She took as big a breath as she could. “HONK.” Another breath, “OUR.” A third breath, “CAR.” And another, “HORN!” She slid down a rock face to the mud flats at the end of our bay.
She heard the fire chief tell Kay what she had called, and a few seconds later, HONK, HONK, HONK, HONK!
OUR car horn, she thought. Our car horn, not yours…
I heard the horn, though, and it caught my attention. That’s strange, I thought. I’d better go check that out!
By that time I was back on land again, some distance east of where Elizabeth was. I met her as she was crossing the mud flats. I got close enough to her that she was able to grab my collar. That’s when I realised that she needed help if she was going to get home.
We got to the other side of the mud, then I pulled her up the bank to her trail. We would walk a bit, then she’d rest, then we’d go a bit further up the hill toward the house. When we emerged from the woods, I led her to the bench by the gardens and she sat down.
But by this time, Kay had remembered that her daughter might be having trouble, and told the fire chief that Elizabeth had asthma. So he’d gone off looking for her!
Elizabeth was still having trouble talking. “I… can’t… go,” she said. “Honk… the car… horn.”
And that’s what Kay did. Amazingly, it works for fire chiefs, too!
The hard water looks much more rotten now, and for the last week, Elizabeth won’t let me go outside unless I’m on the leash. She does that every spring and autumn when the river isn’t safe. This year has been a bit strange, and the change happened very quickly, so she wasn’t aware that the time had come to be more cautious.
Yesterday at work, Elizabeth got a message from Karin, Dan’s wife. “Are you at home?” it said. A sneaky deer had gone through the rotten hard water and was struggling to get to safety. It was almost exactly where I went through the week before. It’s a bad spot, Elizabeth said, and reminded me that she went through there in January a couple of years ago – just one leg, fortunately, and she was able to roll out to the thicker ice on the snowmobile path nearby. I should have remembered that…
The deer almost got to shore when it turned around and went back through the channel it had cut. It was so close to the end of the point. So close. But it didn’t make it. Today the big white-headed black flappers and lots of croaking and cawing black birds are feasting.
Watching the activity through our window I feel a little unnerved. There, but for the grace of God, go I.