February 8, 2023

Damn Near to Death

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eleazerbanner - CopyJournal—January 15–Sunday

It is another cold January night and the stars are as bright as I have ever seen them–just like on Friday. This is my first entry since it happened, and I’ll try to recall the experience as best as I can…

Margie, my dear wife, asked me to take Brinker, a very muscular hound with all the energy of his three year old body just a quiverin’, out for an evening walk. I looked at the thermometer and it was just shy of ten below zero. Why, oh why, must I do this tonight, especially with the wood stove just a humpin’ in the corner, and the smell of fresh apple pie cookin’ in the oven. I peered out the frosty window and saw bright stars everywhere in the sky, and sharp, dark shadows cast by the full moon on the crusty snow. I thought well why not, it is nice and crispy and may be good for both Brinker and me to get some fresh air.

I bundled up in my wool coat, fleece lined leather mitts, felt lined boots, and a woodcutter’s wool cap. Brinker was constantly underfoot as he twisted and turned in his excitement to get out the door. As I opened the heavy front door, I grabbed the leash, a twelve-foot long rope with a loop in one end and a large clip on the other, and tramped outside. Of course Brinker was sniffing everything and charging from here to there with the energy of a horse leaving the starting gate.

The air on my cheek felt like it was just slapped by a cold hand, but the brightness of the moon and stars let me forget this first smack of the frosty night. I tramped out into the yard with my boots squeaking on the cold snow with every step, trying to get the leash hooked to Brinker. It was like trying to calm down a big bass on your fish line long enough to get him unhooked. Finally, I got the snap opened with my mitts and locked it into the stout collar on Brinker’s linebacker sized neck. The race was on, as Brinker sprinted down the driveway, I managed to get a slip loop around my waist before the line pulled taught. His strength snapped my body in the middle, but I was ready, and let Brinker lunge skyward as his hind legs pumped up and down.

Brinker calmed down to the point of yielding control of the pace of this walk to me. But he would pull hard and rear up on his hind legs if he thought I was too slow. We soon settled into a brisk walk down the road, with the squeak of my footsteps the only sound on this great night. I marveled in the brightness of the moon, and the way it cast dark, sharp shadows on the hard crusty snow. It was hard to believe that earlier in the week the sky had clouded up and just burst with pouring rain, and as hard a rain as any during the summer. The temperature fell suddenly to subzero and made a very hard crust on the snow, much like years ago when I was a kid and slid on cardboard boxes down the length of Ole’s farm field.

The roadway was pretty much a level walk that follows along a small river. The hardwood trees along the river and road cast long shadows across the road and down the steep bank to the water. I could now hear the clinking sound of blocks of ice banging along the frozen shoreline, and occasionally see a twinkle of these in the dark, cold water as they rushed downstream. My nose was trying to run as fast as Brinker wanted to sprint, so I had to stop for a quick nose blow. Going again, I fell into a kind of euphoria and day dreaming state just reveling in the sights, sounds, and feel of the night.

I don’t recall what warm land it was I was dreaming, but my nose dripped again, and woke me from my state of bliss. I reached into my back pocket, up under my coat and under the loop of Brinker’s leash, to pull out my handkerchief—this is when it all started! Brinker, having smelled a wondrous scent, or seeing a mouse or ghost, who knows, gave a sharp jerk on the leash. My left hand was just reaching into my pants pocket, when the leash tightened around my waist, trussing me up like a convict. The second lunge of the bruising hound was the one that took me off my feet. This all happened in the snap of a twig, and felled me onto my left elbow and arm. The shot of lightning in my arm was such that I knew the ground was hard and my arm not. I umphed out loud, as I slid off the road and rolled over the bank. The leash, being a strong rope, had wound around my midsection and now held both arms securely as I bumped into a small tree. My tears now came in floods, but not because of sadness at the unreal situation I was in, but rather from the raspberry cane that had just whipped my freezing cheek.

I lay in a stupor on the cold crust for some time. It was only when Brinker put both his hefty paws on my chest that I felt, with very much clarity, the aches and pains of my poor body. I looked into his eyes and could see his concern and read the question in his mind—“What to heck are you stopping for?” Thanks Brinker, now isn’t the time; but suddenly with a quick push from those honking feet, I was propelled again toward the river! I slid down and into a small depression just shy of the river’s frigid shore. Brinker was again at my side, as he should be, since he was still hooked to my waist by a short length now. I swiveled my head toward the river and could see that I was safe, as I couldn’t roll or slide down any more.

I let my mind overcome the dull throbs in my arm, and tried to clearly think through what just happened a few seconds ago. I looked up the short, steep bank to where the road shoulder was, I looked at Brinker sitting quite placidly near my side, and I just thought I really had to let out an audible chuckle—which I did with steaming breath pluming away into the starry sky. But—-it wasn’t over yet!

I started to roll over to undo the leash from my waist, but a sharp cracking sound stopped me short. Apparently I had stopped on a small brook, and the ice was cracking beneath my weight. I breathed slowly and with deliberation, believing that any change would cause me peril. Peril it was, because a hole opened in the small patch of ice just the size of a small waste basket and it was directly under my butt! I stretched out with a sigh of relief, as I managed to span the opening without settling. Gosh what next?

I didn’t have to wait but just a second, Brinker, for whatever reason—maybe he was cold, maybe he was bored, maybe he was tired—whatever ”maybe” it was, he plopped himself directly on my midsection. I saw it coming, with his few short deliberate steps to my aching stomach. There was no cracking sound or noise other than my own whimpering, as my nice warm bottom settled, from the loving hound’s weight, splat into the near frozen mud!!

I sat, or rather, succumbed to being hogtied in an ice hole for some time, before I really could think clearly about my situation. Here I was with my butt freezing, tied up as a thief, alone—except for Hans Brinker the ice dog, and wondering how to get out of this most awkward situation. The rope had soaked with water, and now was frozen to my coat. One hand was wet yet warm, because it was still tucked into my back pocket. The other hand was mitten-covered and across my waist, but under seventy-five pounds of hound. My breath still could be seen in the night using the stars as a backdrop, but I lie well within the dark shadow of the roadway. How would I get out of this? This neighborhood was very quiet, no one usually ventured out on such a frosty evening. No vehicles traveled this dead end roadway, unless they are a neighbor out later than usual. How would I get out of this?

I waited for what I thought must have been hours, but only turned out to be minutes, for the sweet sound of Margie. Oh that sweet woman was out to rescue me! I listened as she came nearer, “Brinnnnker!” “Brinnnnker!” “Brinnnnker!” Brinker, the hound, what about the old duffer you married? what about your lost and missing love? What about me? I called out in my now weak voice, maybe more of a shrill cry, “Honey!” “Honey!” We’re down here!

Margie stopped her laughter long enough to free my arms, and get “Brinnnnker!” off of me. My mood, most foul, and feeling ultimately humiliated, I had to at least murmur out a “Thanks” to Margie. I certainly won’t forget the night of the thirteenth, especially the way the neighbors and my so called friends at the barber shop, keep smiling and asking “How was your evening?” As for my hound Brinker, he wants me to take him out all the time—I think he thought the adventure was marvelous and ready for a rerun! Me, I’m a home body these nights; especially as I note the low mercury in the thermometer, the bright moon shining on the snow, and remember that not long ago “I was nearly frozen damn near to death.”

Humbly Submitted,
Eleazer Peabody

Read all of Eleazer Peabody’s Tales from Maine.