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Breaking the Ice

by Richard Lindell;

Also in the Frigid Tales Series:

All About Kids and the Snow
Saving Patti

Scaled against the epochs of history, ten minutes is a mere speck in time. For Dave “Goody” Goodbrand, Charles Meanwell (henceforth known as Chuck), Frisky the dog (man’s best friend), and I, the next ten minutes will nearly lead to my eternity.

Craig’s Beach, Oxley, Ontario February 15, 1964

We didn’t go into Aunt Claudia and Uncle
Jack’s when we arrived in Craig’s Beach,
but headed directly down the cliff stairs to a frozen Lake Erie.

“Do you think it’s safe?” Wonders my 13th-grade buddy, Goody.

“It must be. Look at those fishermen way out there,” I reply. “Let’s go!”

Normally, mid-February ice on Lake Erie is at least two-feet thick. What the three of us didn’t realize was that the balmy Christmas weather has made a significant difference in that year – as we were about to find out.

No sooner do we step out on the ice than we hear ominous crackling noises.

“It must just be thinner close to shore!” I shout, “Those guys must be half a mile out there.”

A friendly beagle bays from outside the fishermen’s ice hut and Frisky is in hot pursuit. Suddenly we lose Chuck – or at least half of him as he’s crashed through the ice up to his waist. He recovers quickly with Goody’s help and they hurry back to shore.

I scan the horizon while shouting for Frisky and spot her in the water about half way between her beagle buddy and us. I rush to her aid. As I get closer, I notice her normally strong swimming stroke is a blur of frantic movements as she tries to escape her frozen trap.

Then, six feet from the broken edge, I plunge through! My feet barely touch bottom as icy water fills my boots and clothes; never have I felt this kind of cold! I manage to push Frisky out and then start breaking the ice to find a thicker area. Eventually, I slowly slide myself out.

“Let’s get the hell out of here, girl!” I scream, but she has already responded to Dave and Chuck’s shouts and is heading for safety. She finds another soft spot and the ice caves in around her. This time I just jump in and am somewhat relieved to discover that the water is only chest high. Again I retrieve my dog and again I slowly pull myself out.

The shore is getting closer, but once more Frisky submerges into the water, barely struggling this time. Goody, the scientist of the group, shouts advice, “Lay down on the ice and increase your surface area! Slowly crawl to Frisky!”

I do as instructed, but from that moment on, I will have a more than a quiet distrust of the scientific mind. I get closer to Frisky than during the two previous episodes, but this time the ice breaks at my waist and I slide into the water face first under Frisky and past the open water.

By sheer luck (and not good management), I smash through the ice covering my “coffin,” push Frisky out and try to extricate myself – but this time, I can’t move, and I don’t really seem to care. I’m feeling absolutely nothing.

“Damn it Rich, get out of there!” Goody screams as he and Chuck head for me. Their shouts of encouragement somehow revive me and I heave myself out and then step onto solid ground.

The four of us climb the stairs up the hundred foot cliff to the house while the wind blows against our backs. When we reach the lawn above, we have been transformed into three snowmen and one snow dog.

Uncle Jack meets us at the back door and immediately shouts for clothes and blankets. He orders us to strip in the bathroom. After drying Frisky and bundling ourselves up, we charge to the fireplace and start to thaw. As steam rises from our hair and the shaking subsides, we finally start to feel good.

Suddenly I am aware of a major personal problem. Let’s see, how should I explain this? In winter the testes of the ram ascend from their normal position in the scrotum, up the inguinal canal into the abdomen. From this position it is impossible to impregnate a ewe until the spring when the testes reverse their path…

Sorry, maybe I’m getting too technical here. How about this? Like a forgetful squirrel in winter, I have misplaced my acorns or, how about – my swallows aren’t returning to Capistrano?

Eight minutes and 43 seconds later (but who’s counting?) Capistrano’s mission bells begin to chime, my problem reverses and I heave a huge sigh of relief. I immediately rip up my application as a perennial soprano for the Vienna Boys Choir.

Today, as a veterinarian, I will occasionally get bitten or scratched by a pet. Since I have very slow reflexes and very little pain sensation in my skin I don’t tend to pull away and the damage usually is minimal, although sometimes not very pretty.

However, if I ever find myself walking on lake ice and I hear even the whisper of a cracking noise, I recall a certain day in February 1964. A charge of a primordial reflex hurls me in the direction of the shore so rapidly even Donovan Bailey would not beat me in that race to safety.

Also in the Frigid Tales Series:

All About Kids and the Snow
Saving Patti





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