Monday, January 3, 2011

Be Careful on the Ice

Today in the News:  No news is good news....I think.

Link of the Day:

Be Careful on the Ice

No pictures here today. Hope that doesn't disappoint.  I just want to remind everyone to be safe on the ice and share a few memories while doing it. 

The first story is about my Dad, Snuffy.  Snuffy has been trapping beaver, pine martin, fisher, mink and whatever else brings money for hide since the early 70's.  He's been on many a lake, stream and pond, trying to catch what he can to provide a little extra for the family at the end of the season.  I might add that when I told him I was going to post this story here, he seemed a little offended.  He told me it was a poor example to use, since he'd been out on the ice so many times.  I'm not knocking him, just sharing the story.  It can happen to anyone that goes out on the ice. 

This happened about 15 years ago.  I was walking home from school.  I'm not sure exactly how cold it was, but I know it was around zero.  In Northern Maine, most people don't start complaining until it has been at minus 20 for a few days.  Sometimes it goes on for weeks.  I walked into our yard and saw the old man's pickup parked oddly right beside the house.  That wasn't his usual parking spot and it made me curious.  As I walked by his truck I looked down into the snow and saw bare foot prints.  Needless to say I was confused. 

When I walked inside the house, Snuffy was huddled by the wood stove and had it almost cherry red because it was so hot.  He was in his skivies with a quilt on himself.  I could see he was a little rattled.

He went on to tell me that he was up in the woods (a term for the North Maine Woods), checking his traps.  He walked down on a beaver flow to to check and pull a set.  Snuffy always did a penguin walk across the ice.  I went with him many times and always laughed, even when I was little, at his waddle on slippery ground.  Anyhow, he got onto this brook and was almost to the set when he heard the a crack and he went down through the ice.  He was wearing a heavy flannel shirt, cutter's pants, rubber boots with liners in them and his hat.  He was up to his backside in water and managed to get out of the hole.  As he rushed to the truck, he shucked his clothes, grabbed his parka from behind the seat of his truck and wraped it around himself.  He drove home with the heater full blast and booked it bulky bare (except for the parka) to the house.  We could have lost him that day. If he hadn't gotten himself out and headed for the truck, he probably would have died from hypothermia in the middle of nowhere. The thing he was disappointed about?  He had a stainless Ruger .32 magnum revolver on his hip when he went through and he lost it in the water.  He went back the next spring and found it on the bank of the stream.  The rubber grips had been eaten by mice, but other than that, it was fine after a good cleaning.

I remember watching the movie "Never Cry Wolf" with Snuffy when I was about 5 years old. In the scene where the main character falls through the ice, he hears the pop first. I remember the old man jumping out of his skin.  It is every trapper's worst nightmare.

When I was 11, my brother and I were on spring break.  We were hanging out on the family farm and went down to the camp to see the condition of the ice on the pond. We were bundled in our coats and boots.  It was about 30 degrees outside.  My brother, who was 15 at the time, and my younger cousin were messing around in the woods pushing over dead trees.  I looked out at the ice, which was almost perfectly clear.  I had no idea how much ice was still on the pond, but it was neat to look down through the ice at the vegetation.  I eased out onto the ice and looked as small bubbles rolled around under me.  I wandered further out to investigate a rock popping out through the ice.  I looked out to the channel and saw that it was thawed, but I was far from the channel and thought I had good footing.  I looked behind me and I saw my brother coming out of the woods with my cousin.  As he yelled to me to get off the ice, I heard it.  It was a high pitched whistle-pop, screaming down the ice towards me.  I looked down at the glassy ice and saw the crack approaching like a bullet.  I started to shuffle towards shore when the ice gave way.  All I remember is pain.  Needles in my eyes, burning in my lungs.  Stabbing in my ears. I came out of the water screaming.

 Luckily, the pond wasn't that deep.  I hit the bottom muck and pushed myself back through the hole through which I fell. I was about 15 feet off shore and the water was up to my chest.  I tried jumping to get myself out of the hole.  My boots and coat were too heavy with water to make any clearance. I broke away some ice in front of me and I noticed that I started to slow down.  My arms were not working right. They felt like logs attached to my body. I popped out of the water again, trying to be like a seal on the ice and land it with my belly.  Again, I broke through what now appeared to be brittle glass ice.  My brother was on shore, screaming, telling me what to do, but I was too scared to listen.  I saw him run back into the woods.  I thought he was leaving me. My heart sank and I called out to my eight-year-old cousin.  He stood on the shore, frozen.  Staring at me.  Not moving.  Not helping me. I tried to push myself up again, but the ice opened up and I dropped back down into the freezing water.  My brother returned in what seemed like hours, but I'm sure it was only a minute.  He had a skinny dead tree in hand. He shoved it out onto the ice.  It was all I could do to hang on.  I let go once and he shoved it back out to me.  I managed to bounce up onto the ice and as it gave way and he pulled me to shore. 

When he got me to the shore he was yelling at me to take off my clothes.  I couldn't.  My fine motor skills were gone and my gross motor skills were following closely behind them.  He dragged me to the camp while pulling off my coat and shirt.  When he got me inside, he finished getting my clothes off and put me in one of the four bunks.  He then shoved my cousin in with me, much to his protest.  My brother darted out the door and returned with an armload of firewood.  Within minutes, he had a fire going and was hanging my clothes over the ridge polls to dry.  I remember not being able to move in the bed and then shivering uncontrallably.  He would pull the covers back every few minutes and rub my arms and legs to get the blood flowing.  Within an hour I was up and standing by the stove.  I didn't realize it that day, but my brother saved my 11-year-old life.  We didn't tell anyone.  We didn't want to get in trouble.

These are two accounts of people getting lucky in unsafe ice conditions.  It doesn't always work that way.  Be careful efore you go out on the ice.  Contact your local fisheries and wildlife department and get information on ice conditions.  Above all, use your common sense.  If it looks to be even a little unsafe, stay off the ice.

Pax Domini Sit Semper Vobiscum,

Mike, Oscar, Hotel.....out.


  1. There is an 18th century account of a trapper slipping on the ice. As he went down he put down his left hand to break his fall. He was carrying a belt axe/tomahawk through his belt as many of us do, but he had no cover on the head of the axe. He fell on his arm and the weight of his body on the axe cut his left hand off.
    Always cover your axe head, even if it is only wrapped in cloth.
    A good post and timely reminder for those in the North.

  2. If you must go on ice carry a set of ice picks. Make them out of wood dowel 4" or so long with a strong nail in each one (you need a pair), after the nail is in the dowel with at least an inch or two sticking out, you cut off the nail head and sharpen each nail to a sharp point and attach a "dummy" cord to the handles like your mother might have done with mittens. A cork on each one covers the nail until needed.

  3. Scary stuff, but thanks for sharing. I'm glad to hear everyone made it out okay, and that lessons were learned. I'll certainly be extra careful on the ice.

  4. Le Loup - always a good story from you, brother. I can't imagine losing my hand to an axe. Especially in the 18th century!

    Haliboy - I was a volunteer firefighter at one point. I was trained in cold water rescue twice. Both of those times I was allowed an insulated suit and picks. They are VERY handy in those times of need.

    John - Lessons were indeed learned. I wouldn't go out on the ice with anyone who didn't respect it after my incident. And ol' Snuffy still gets out to trap the occasional beaver. Anyone here ever eat beaver meat? It isn't that bad!