Griswold Christmas Vacation Meets Homeward Bound
“If you didn’t have bad luck, you wouldn’t have any luck at all” is what my mom always told me….and it seems true today.
A few days ago, we left for a week-long relaxing holiday family vacation, driving 800 miles from home to a little secluded rustic cabin on the rocky shore of a quiet blue-green lake, the bucolic setting carved out of a 180,000 acre national forest. A week of hiking, de-stressing and soaking in nature in sweet, secluded silence… ahhhhh ……… sigh.
The one-shot, 14-hour drive was fun and cheerful despite a teenager and two dogs in the back seat. We talked, laughed and played car games for hours. Around 10:00 pm, during the last couple of hours of the long drive and with darkness all around us as we entered the national forest, we all fell silent with the sleepy anticipation of soon reaching our rustic retreat. With just five miles to go and our teenage son asleep in the back, my husband excitedly broke the silence by showing me the deer that had just crossed the road in front of us. We watched as a couple of does danced off into the woods on the side of the forest highway we were traveling on. With a smile on our lips, our eyes simultaneously returned to the road only to spot a huge doe frozen in the middle of our lane, perfectly executing the proverbial “deer in the headlights” pose. At 55 mph and only about twenty feet of distance between us and the doe, we made a startling, direct impact with the deer. The loud thud, the sounds of plastic and metal falling off of our vehicle and rolling under our wheels, our muffled screams and the panicked shouts from the suddenly-awoken teen in the back all threw us into an anxious ball of panic, fear, grief and confusion.
The next morning, the coffee was brewing while I stood in front of the cabin’s wall of windows looking out onto the lake. The clear blue-green water was calm without a ripple and frost covered the trees in a glistening coating. I put the beagles’ electric collars on and plugged in their wireless pet containment unit, dialing it up to its maximum distance. The beagles have been to the cabin many times before and they knew their boundaries, but the beagles that they are, they can forget those boundaries and enthusiastically set out to follow their noses. So, collars and wireless transmitters were plugged in and engaged! I let them out the door for their brief routine romp in the forest and along the rocky lake shore before breakfast.
After an hour of romping, I smiled thinking that our beagles, Felicia and Fletcher, had not returned as they were probably happily smelling all the new scents of the forest’s wild animals. After all, they had not been here for over three months and that makes for a whole bunch of interesting smells for beagles! When the scent-fest turned into a two-hour tour and there were no hungry dogs scratching at the door, I gingerly stepped outside in the just-above-freezing temps with only my jammies to call Felicia and Fletcher in for breakfast. I stood shivering and calling, but no puppies. I stood completely silent to see if I could hear them rustling in the leaves on the ground. No beagles.
I quickly knew that their collars were not working probably because their batteries were dead. I ran into the bedroom to wake my husband, quietly yelling, “Are you ready for that hike right now?” We woke up our teenager who immediately teared up when he was told his dogs were missing. His job was to stay at the cabin and be on the look out if Felicia and Fletcher returned home for breakfast. My husband and I jumped into our partially mangled vehicle, checking to make sure there were no loose vehicle or deer parts hanging on the front end, and we drove slowly down the forestry roads calling for our beagles. The thought of our dogs in this huge national forest in the middle of nowhere made me feel hopeless. After an hour of a fruitless search, we returned to the cabin and all three of us set out on foot. We hit the fire trail in the forest, stopping every so often to call for the dogs and to listen for return barks. A few times we heard distant barking seemingly coming from the creek that runs along the side of the cabin and reaching into the depths of the forest. But we also heard the distant pop pop pop of hunters’ guns. We decided to split up – our son was to head back to the cabin in case the dogs returned home, my husband insisted the best approach was to continue on the fire trail and I was determined to go off-trail and follow the sound of the barking we had heard earlier. Our son hesitated, but tearfully headed back home with instructions to call us when he got there. My husband continued on the fire trail insisting the dogs would return to the trail if we both stayed on it, but I refused and headed toward the creek. Cold rain began to fall.
My mother’s instincts told me Felicia and Fletcher had followed the creek. l set off through the woods battling vines, leaves, fallen trees, cold rain and the just-above-freezing temperature. The longer I plowed through the forest brush, the more I worried I would not know how to get back. I got to the edge of a cliff overlooking the creek fifteen feet below. I walked along the cold, wet, slippery slopes along the creek for about an hour and then decided to head back before I too got lost. All the while, I would stop and call for my puppies. I returned to the point where I had initially found the creek and I turned to head out towards the fire trail, relieved that I was not going to be lost also. Then I heard the much-recognized doggie cries of Felicia and Fletcher.
When I got to my children….uh……I mean dogs, Fletcher reluctantly raced to meet me while repeatedly looking back towards the creek. When I got to the edge of the creek, I could see that Felicia had fallen down the cliff on the other side of the creek and couldn’t get out. I picked up Fletcher, afraid to let him go and tried to coax Felicia out off the shore of the creek. Her eyes were wide with fear and she barely tried to move. I knew I couldn’t reach Felicia without letting go of Fletcher. I tried to bribe her with doggie treats for what seemed an hour but was probably only minutes before I stopped to call my husband for help.
Men are stupid.
My call went directly to his business voicemail. I left a nasty message. I called my son at the cabin to let him know I had the dogs but he needed to keep trying to reach his dad to come help me. I looked down at Felicia near the creek and I swear her expression said, “Mommy, I give up!” Flashes of one of our favorite TV shows, Survivor Man, raced through my brain and I asked myself, what would Les Stroud do? I remembered that he always used the odd items he had in his possession for other purposes. So, I whipped off my jacket, used it to tie up Fletcher to a tree, and I shimmied down the 15-foot cliff to the creek. Felicia was just on the other side not 10 feet from reach. I tried to coax her to a low point in the creek where she could cross, but she was not moving. I only had one choice: I had to wade across the creek in near-freezing water to exactly where Felicia was and hope I didn’t sink up to my knees in the mud. Of course, first foot in went directly into the soft mud. Why had I chosen to bring only my new sneakers on this trip?
I waded across the creek to Felicia, picked her up, hugged and kissed her, and went back across the creek again. With wet, muddy shoes, I tried to figure out how I was going to get back up the rocky wall in front of me. And so, with Felicia in my arms, I climbed up a little at a time, placing Felicia on a rock above me each time, threatening her with her life if she tried to walk away as I belly-crawled up the 15-foot rock wall!
Once I got to the top, I heard my husband yelling for me. He came through a nearby forest clearing letting me know we would have gotten here eventually if we had both followed the fire trail. This he told to a hypothermic, rain-soaked, emotionally-frazzled woman who had just miraculously pulled off a dramatic doggie rescue, swimming across a near-frozen river and climbing a sheer rock cliff with an injured dog in her arms – all alone.
Men are stupid.
Yeah, I know, it wasn’t quite that dramatic, but it felt that way. I told him something nasty, similar to the voicemail I had left him earlier, and then I announced that he was one lucky fellow married to superwoman as he was. And so we phoned our frantic son and let him know we had the dogs and were on our way out of the forest. We outfitted them both with their harnesses and leashes which we so cleverly thought to bring with us on this resuce, but after thirty or forty feet, we could see Felicia was limping and had to be carried.
Like a baby in a sling, I snuggled 35-pound Felicia into my jacket – the same jacket I had used to tie up Fletcher to the tree. We all were cold, wet and tired when we finally arrived back at the cabin. After three hot showers and two doggie baths – the dogs had lovingly rolled into wild animal poo on their great adventure – we all put on warm, dry clothes and headed into the village for supper.
After retrieving our license plate and other car parts from the severely disfigured carcass of the poor deer we met the night before, we chose to eat at the ONLY restaurant in the village – a drive-thru chicken joint. We quietly ate our greasy and unhealthy meal, relieved to know we had survived a damaging deer-with-vehicle impact and a dramatic doggie rescue in less than an 18-hour span of time. After supper, we picked up an equally unhealthy dessert at the local convenience store and headed home with our much-deserved treat. With our warm jammies on, hot tea and snuggled into the big cushy chairs at the cabin, we reflected on our day. We all three praised ourselves for our level-headedness during the traumatic and dramatic events we had just experienced in the last day, and even this, after listening to the nasty voicemails myself and my son left for my husband. We were enormously proud of ourselves.
Fletcher and Felicia were completely tuckered out from their big adventure. With lots of love, attention and cuddling, Felicia seemed to be on the mend from her injuries. All was right in our world now.
Warm, dry, fed and relieved, all three of us quietly turned to our electronic tablets, happy and content. Ready for a quiet night..
Then a text from our 24 year old, “Mom, I’m so sorry. I feel so horrible. I backed up into a parked car. You will probably be getting a call from our insurance company.”
That’s nice, dear.
No big deal.
We can handle it.