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Author Topic: The Ice Man Dunketh - by Charles T. Lamb  (Read 308 times)

Offline Terry_Green

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The Ice Man Dunketh - by Charles T. Lamb
« on: April 23, 2003, 05:48:00 AM »
The Ice Man Dunketh

by Charles T. Lamb

The winter sun shown across the Wyoming sage flats with a cold, unfriendly light. Back at the house the thermometer had read an unfriendly  -20 degrees. The heater in Vance Brewer's beat up old Chevy pickup labored to keep the cab warm as he and I cruised around the back roads looking for something to do. We'd hoped to find something to shoot at but mostly we were just cruising, fighting off a bad case of late winter cabin fever.

We'd made our way across the big mesa west of town and had come out on the highway near the Green river cutoff. As we approached the bridge Vance slowed the truck, perhaps hoping to catch a glimpse of a moose down in the willows.

What we saw were two little nondescript lumps of brown about two hundred yards from the bridge on the thick river ice. It surprised us both that anything would be out there on a day like that. Pulling over by the rail we got out the binoculars and soon had them focused on a couple of chunky beavers.

Well, there was no doubt they would be prime and the season was right to legally take them and we figured there was a dozen things we could do with the money from a couple of big beaver hides. We pulled the truck off the bridge and onto the shoulder of the road and planned our attack. Since we had no guns I grabbed my bow from the back of the truck and we struck off into the willows along the river.

The plan was to sneak along through the willows and knee deep snow to a point where we could shoot out onto the open ice. It was hard to guage how far the shot might be from the our original position on the road but neither of us figured it would be much more than a twenty yard poke.
The way it looked, if we could get near the bank the beavers would have to come our way as we could see no place else for them to go.

We circled out into the sage for a ways and then cut into the willows. As we came into the last fringe of cover we could just make out the form of one of the beavers still out on the ice. The second one was gone and we didn't have a clue where. It would soon become evident where the missing rodent had gotten to. The remaining beaver spotted us through the thin screen of willow and quickly upended into a small hole in the ice and was gone.

I don't think either one of us was all that surprised that it had ended up this way. It was a long shot from the beginning and we had known that. We stepped down from the bank onto the ice and walked out to the hole.

I'd never really thought about how a big old beaver might get up and down through as small a hole as we were looking at. It wasn't much bigger than a football and the beavers had been much bigger than that.

I'd pulled a blunt tipped arrow from the quiver when we were back in the willows in anticipation of the shot. I hadn't bothered to put it back when we came out onto the ice. As Vance and I stood talking, I looked down at the hole just as one of the beavers surfaced.

In a heartbeat I yanked the heavy recurve to anchor and released. The sage green arrow centered his skull, killing him instantly. I was stunned for an instant, but quickly realized he was sinking out of sight. I made a grab for the arrow as it and the beaver sunk out of sight beneath the thick ice cover. Dammit.

I glanced down stream hoping on hope that some plan would come to me, but all seemed lost.
The river, which ran fast through that stretch, made a slight bend just a hundred yards down stream from where we stood and I could just make out an open lead up against the bank there.
There was a chance, albeit a slim one, that the current might carry the beaver into that open lead.
I took off on a dead run for the open water.

As I approached the lead I jumped up onto the bank  and positioned myself a few yards down stream from where the beaver might appear. The lead was only a few feet wide and ended just downstream from me about twenty feet.

I put one foot right on the edge of the water and the other was half way up the two foot bank. I grabbed a willow no bigger than my thumb to steady myself so I could lean out if the opportunity presented itself.

I'd only barely gotten into this position when low and behold the white fletched end of my arrow slid out from under the ice, followed by the still attached beaver. The whole works, beaver and arrow was tumbling on the current right to me. Almost!

As it came rolling past, the arrow suddenly came above the surface, but just out of reach. I leaned out as far as I could and made a grab for the arrow.

No sooner did my hand close around the shaft than the willow I was holding onto snapped. I was overbalanced and it was all it took to tip me toward the open and very icy water.

I remember thinking that the water wasn't all that deep up against the bank and that as cold as it was how I'd be a lot better off going in feet first. At -20 degrees, it would be better to get wet up to my knees than to flop down full body into the water. I tried to jump up and out and managed to enter the water upright.

What I had thought would be knee deep water swallowed me whole. Sploosh!! I was in over my head. I had to get out of there. Had to do it right now! The current could easilly pull me under the ice and beyond any chance of help. There would be no breaking through the foot thick ice and nobody would find my body until the ice melted in a month or two.

In a panic I pushed off the bottom hard, as soon as my feet touched, and rocketed out of the water.
The cold air hit me like a slege hammer as I grabbed a handfull of willows and grass. I started to pull myself up but the icy water and icier air sucked the energy out of me. Slowly my arms were straightening and I was unable to find the strength to pull up. I was sliding back into the water.
Suddenly I felt something on the back of my coat. Vance had me and was pulling hard to drag me up over the bank. I helped as much as I could, but it was very little. He finally got me up on terra firma and started throwing snow on me, at the same time rolling me around in the white fluff to absorb some of the water.

He didn't have to tell me to get to my feet. I knew I had to get the hell out of there. I must have looked like a snowman and my wet clothes were freezing up solid. It was all I could do to stand, even with Vance pulling on me.

It must have been quite a sight! I was trying to run, but couldn't bend my knees. Vance ran ahead to get the truck closer to where I'd come up onto the road and to get the heater going. Even with my stiff legged gait I made pretty good time back to the road. Vance had to help me into the truck and we were finally off.

Home was less than a half hour away at normal speeds and Vance buried the speedometer for a record breaking trip. The weak heater didn't even touch my frozen clothing and I was shaking violently the whole way.

We roared into the drive of my house and in seconds I was standing in my living room. The woodburning stove was stoked up and the room was warm. So warm it caused my hands and face to hurt. I still had to get out of my frozen clothes and the only way to do that was to cut them off with a knife. I just stood shaking as Vance went to work.

My wife was laughing at me and I must have been quite a sight, but she really didn't have a clue how serious this was. I asked her, not too politely to get a pot of coffee going.

I didn't move away from the stove for hours that night. It was a close call I'll never forget.

 

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