It was late spring and the ice on River Lake was breaking up. We were on our way to the cabin and I sat beside Willow, my dog. She was a soft, fluffy miniature golden retriever puppy with very floppy ears which were as shiny as gold. My rubber boots made a scrunchie noise every time I moved my feet. Leo sat beside me reading a book. I looked outside the window and finally saw the lake; half covered in snow and half open water.
Once we stopped, the adults talked, trying to figure out how to get to the cabin.
“It looks dangerous!” Exclaimed Chris, my neighbour.
“Very,” my mom agreed.
“We could put one foot in the boat and push with the other?” My dad added, thinking out loud.
“Great idea! Let’s go!” Shouted Chris as we untied the canoes and pulled them off the car roof.
We set off, paddling through the icy lake towards the middle which was covered in a thin layer of ice varying from about half an inch to an inch and anywhere in between. It was a hard mix of staying in the middle where it was thicker but staying near the edge so we didn’t get stuck. Willow walked along on the ice beside us.
The further we went, the thinner the ice. It was a sunny day and above zero with almost no wind. The water was a mirror and the sun reflected into my eyes. Across the lake the trees had a thick layer of slush on them so it was hard to see into the forest. I
could hear a couple birds chirping. Dad told me they were Whiskey Jacks. It was so beautiful; the sound of birds, the candling ice and the sun shining.
Then a gust of wind came along pushing the ice into the boat, making the boat tip sideways. Reflex made me grab the gunwale.
“Mom!” I shuddered.
“Paddle in the water honey,” she replied calmly.
“Right.” I whispered.
“Willow!” I screamed.
“Uh oh!” Shouted Leo.
“Ian, save her!” Yelled Mom. Slowly Dad walked over to the hole in the ice where Willow had fallen through.
“Is she ok?” I asked.
No response, just silence.
I counted in my head, all the seconds till she came back up; 12, 13, 14. Still nothing. Then I saw bubbles. Finally Willow’s head. Dad reached forward to grab her when suddenly, he fell over. Luckily, not in the water.
“Ian!” Yelled my Mom, as loud as she could.
“I’m fine, Amelia. Just hurt my knee.” He responded through clenched teeth. He crawled slowly into the boat.
KRRAAKKK. The ice started breaking up. Willow started moving with the wind, farther into the middle of the lake. Gill and Chris were a bit ahead and started paddling
to catch her. We followed, paddling as hard as we could, trying to catch a cold, tired, scared dog who was quickly approaching. . .
“THE RAPIDS!” I screamed at the top of my lungs. I started paddling faster, trying to get my puppy. Fast and certain, I stabbed the water and pulled the water back then, went for another, catching up to Willow. Now, getting closer to the rapids, we all paddled harder. If Willow got pulled into the current and went down the rapids she would die.
As we got closer, I put my paddle down and reached out for Willow at the same time as Leo. She was just out of our reach.
“Whoooaaa” worried Mom. The leaning boat filled with water and started sinking. With a half sinking boat, soaking family, and bags getting in the way we tried to get our puppy back, safe and sound.
At this point Gill and Chris were on shore calling for Willow, trying to get her to swim to shore. Willow tried and tried to swim to shore but the current was too strong. We didn’t have much time before she went shooting down. All paddling as hard as we could, we slowly but surely caught up to Willow again.
“Ruff!” Yelped Willow, she started swimming more slowly.
“Is she hurt?” I asked
“Probably tired, hypothermia is probably setting in as well” answered Mom, worriedly.
Finally we got close enough again to reach her. We were between Willow and the rapids, putting more water into the boat. As I reached to grab her collar, she slipped under the boat and came up on the other side. Quickly I turned to grab her again, reaching farther and farther. Finally I jumped out of the boat, the rapids, raging, roaring and running around me. Brrr! Willow was spinning and splashing with the huge white caps. Still holding the gunwale, I grabbed her foot. Willow let out a yelp but I pulled her into the boat. After helping her in, Dad reached out to help me.
“Quick!” I shuddered as we came closer to the rapids. “Paddle!” I added.
Suddenly we were near the shore. We finally made it.
Gill and Chris got out some dry clothes as we caught our breath, and emptied the boat of water and soaking gear. As soon as we got a change of clothes, we headed for the cabin.
After dinner, we got our PJ’s on. We sat down with our hot drinks and started to tell stories. Snuggling with Willow, I was thankful she was still with us. We started playing ‘Two truths and a lie’.
“I have been to Kenya, I have touched a rattle snake, I have almost drowned in rapids!” Smiled Dad.
“Hmm!” I laughed.
“I’ll have to think!” Agreed Mom.
“Give us a moment!” Answered Leo. We ended the intense and scary day with a bit of laughter.
Rae Panayi is a 12 year old grade 7 student at William McDonald School in Yellowknife. Rae’s favourite books are the Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins. She says she enjoyed writing her story “Close Call” because it was based on a real experience.