I fell through the ice on the Yellowstone River when I was 8 years old. As I was submerged and skittering along, looking up through the ice, too scared of dying to notice the bone chilling water (yes, even an 8 year old can realize with all certainty that they are about to die) I was hearing my father’s words, the words he had said very sternly to me just before I had traipsed through the knee deep snow down to the river, “Do not go out on the ice. It’s warming outside and it is starting to thin.” I remember those words like it was yesterday.
As I was clawing at the ice above me, being taken down stream by the current, I kept seeing a dark shadow above me through the ice, flitting frantically this way and that, but unerringly following me as I went. My ears were filled with frigid water, pounding with the sound of my heart beating insanely fast and my lungs felt like they were about to explode in my chest. At eight, I was very close to saying goodbye to my short life and I realized and regretted this as well as any adult who’s lived a long life. And as I flowed downstream under the ice I was abruptly halted by something smashing into the back on my head, hit me hard, a large rock maybe, trying to end my awareness of my pending underwater demise. Immediately, even though I hadn’t moved, it slammed me again and in a split second I was halfway out of the water, my arms now above a hole in the ice but now I was being choked because whatever was yanking on me, not slamming into my head as I first thought, was doing so by pulling on the hood of my heavy winter parka. Tug, choke, tug, choke. I finally got a snow booted foot above the ice and hefted myself out of the river with the help of the tug…tug…tug…
“I finally got a snow booted foot above the ice and hefted myself out of the river with the help of the tug…tug…tug…”
Now, so many years later, sitting at my desk writing this, I still miss that dog deeply. Not just because he saved my life way back when but because he was a good dog. A dog that on more than one occasion risked his life to chase away a bear or two from the home and the people in it that he loved selflessly. Yes, I still miss ol’ Phoenix.