I followed a snow plow on my way to work two mornings ago, slowing my commute somewhat. However, in light of what folks on the east coast are facing this week after Sandy’s devastation, I will declare a moratorium on complaining about Alaskan weather.
My hoped for trip to the Cabin did not happen last weekend and won’t happen this weekend either as I am presenting my jewelry at two different private parties on Saturday and Sunday. As a result I’ve been spending almost every waking moment (when I’m not at my regular job) at my craft table finishing designs, making displays, and the always dreaded pricing of the completed products.
The Anchorage Fire Department issued a warning yesterday about thin ice on the local lakes. This is an issue for folks who frequent the dog park at University Lake.
Several years ago, D. and I were walking Shortie at the park in late spring. The ice on the lake was thinning, with wide swatches of open water where the creeks feed and empty the main body of water. The creek that empties the lake has carved a deep, narrow channel at the west end of the park.
Shortie was carrying his Frisbee along the trail and decided to go down to the creek where he often went for a drink. We weren’t able to call him back from the edge of thin ice before he fell through…all 110 lbs of him…and still holding onto that Frisbee for dear life. Luckily he was in the open water of the main channel and wasn’t submerged under the ice, but the channel was too deep for him to be able to push off and climb out.
I started off for the other side of the channel, a walk of five minutes at my top speed which is NOT very fast admittedly! D. stayed at the near shore, calling ever more frantically even after I urged her to stop. I was trying to get him to come to my side where the bank was much less steep and I was sure I could break enough ice to get to him. Before I knew it her panic had led her out on to the ice where, of course, she fell through. Now I had two of them to rescue and I was on the wrong side!
Shouting all the way, I huffed and puffed back to the bridge and up the trail. D. had her upper body partially out of the water, but couldn’t reach the bottom to push herself the rest of the way up. It took all she could do to hang on to the slippery, wet ice. In addition, she was still trying to pull on Shortie, who was delighted that mom had come in for a swim and didn’t understand why she wanted to pull him out of the water.
The normally busy park was oddly empty and I was faced with an impossible and dangerous situation. There was three feet of rotting ice between D. and shore, her cell phone was now waterlogged and my battery was dead. I was (am) much too heavy to risk stepping out on to the ice…then there would be three of us in need of rescue…but the ice wasn’t quite rotten enough for her to be able to break her way back to the bank. In addition she didn’t trust her swimming ability enough to cross the fast flowing open water to the shallower side of the channel.
D. was in danger of getting hypothermic when finally, out of nowhere, a young, very petite woman and her small daughter came along the trail.
The woman was quick to realize what needed to be done. She climbed out on a low hanging alder limb near D., holding onto another limb above her. She was small and lithe enough that she was able to go right out over the ice on the branch. She grabbed Shortie by the scruff of his neck and yanked him straight up out of the water to where I could reach him to pull him to safety. I had to hold him back (he wanted to rejoin his mom!) while the young woman held out a broken limb to D. urging her to grab hold so we could pull her up onto the ice.
D.’s condition had become dire. The cold had sapped her not only her strength but also her will, and she wanted to give up. It took much shouting on our parts to get her to take the branch and hold it while the girl backed up, pulling her up and out as she went. At last D. was able to lift first one leg and then the other up onto the ice. We soon had her back up on the trail, shivering and thanking the young woman profusely.
From start to finish the whole incident probably took 10-15 minutes at the most, but it felt like hours of terror and helplessness. Another five minutes and D. could easily have succumbed to hypothermia and drowned.
Shortie’s and D.’s story ended well that day, but several dogs are lost every year to the lake, and the water rescue team of the fire department has had plenty of opportunity to test their skills, pulling owners like D. out of the frigid water.
We never got the young rescuer’s name that day, but D. has a fantastic memory for faces and finally saw her again at the park months later. She was shy and a bit embarrassed to be approached by D., which was in complete contrast to the confident, firm voiced girl of action she had been on the day we needed her.
Heroes truly come in all shapes and sizes.