As we celebrate the first snow day of 2015 (finally!), I remember a winter storm that had a lot more bite to it.
Christmas night, 1987, a freezing rain started hitting our raised deck. Still in the excitement of Christmas, we watched as the ice quickly glazed over the multi-colored Christmas lights on the deck railing until the lights cast a soft rainbow glow across the thickening ice.
After a day of Christmas gifts, holiday food and, miracle of miracles, a white Christmas, I could hardly sleep that night. I awoke to a fairy tale land. This wasn’t snow that crunched merrily underfoot and padded your fall when you slipped. Ice encased the trees, bowing the limbs to the breaking point. It covered the driveways and streets in its deadly glaze.
We tried sledding, but the ice was unpredictable. After a terrifying slide sideways down the hill, my sisters and I gave in and played Monopoly and watched Star Wars from the warmth of the living room. Its many windows gave us a view of the sparkling world outside while we lounged in front of the fire.
That night, Mom let our big dog, Ruffy, off leash as usual. The black Gordon Setter liked to roam the neighborhood for an hour before returning home for the night. At our house, barking dogs were a given. As we watched another movie, though, we realized Ruffy was using his high-pitched Lassie bark to tell us something was wrong in his world.
“Go see where the dog is,” my mother said. I went to the front porch and listened. Ruffy’s bark was coming from “the woods,” the grove of trees covering the front half of our acre lot that dropped steeply into a ravine.
Ruffy’s bark came from the very bottom of that ravine. I carefully tiptoed over the ice to the edge of yard and peered into the darkness. “Ruffy?” I called.
An answering bark came from below. I spotted his black form scrabbling on the hard, frozen ice of the creek at the bottom of the ravine. I went inside and informed the family Ruffy was stuck in the creek bed and couldn’t get back up the steep hillside to the house.
What followed was a dramatic rescue event. We got a rope and tied it to a tree, then threw it down into the darkness. I started to slide down the hill on my bottom and quickly lost control, rough riding it over rocks and tree roots until I hit the bottom right next to the dog. He greeted me enthusiastically, hot dog breath in my face and fluffy tail wagging. I looked back up the hill to where Mom and Dad stood at the precipice, peering down anxiously.
“I’m okay,” I called out and gulped. “We’re going to get you out of here,” I reassured the dog and myself. First I tried pushing, but an eighty pound dog being pushed by an eighty pound kid up a a frozen hillside doesn’t work. After we slid back several times, my parents tried a new tactic.
My twin came sliding down with several towels. We started placing towels in front of the dog. Once Ruffy stepped on it, we could move him forward and place another towel in front of him. It provided just enough traction. Lindsay and I alternated who moved the towel, hauling ourselves up the rope inches at a time. The other stayed behind the dog to help push him to the next towel, then fling it forward for the next step. We inched up that icy hillside, two girls and a dog.
Finally, the ground began to level out. We didn’t have to cling to the rope to keep from sliding back down. Ruffy barked impatiently. When we got close enough, Mom reached down and grabbed his collar, helping him up the last few feet. Lindsay and I sat on the small railroad tie wall that marked the edge of the yard and looked warily down the icy slope while Ruffy barked joyfully and wagged his tail. The world still looked like a winter fairy tale, but I had a new respect for how slick and dangerous that beauty could be.