dock and sea

Taking a Dog Down the River

If you have been following my posts, you know that I have written a few stories about our life on the river. Well, here’s another one.

We lived on the Chain-O-Lakes on the Fox River just north of the McHenry dam in northern Illinois. Our street was separate from most of the river-front homes in that stretch of the river giving us a tight close-knit neighborhood. Our home and the four houses south of us became a little community packed full of the closest neighbors you could ask for. In fact, it wasn’t long at all before we were great friends. We would plan dinner parties, weekend getaways, and even an annual trip to the Florida Keys (Islamorada Key) during the winter, renting homes and boats. My wife and I had in fact inherited a “boating community“. We even named our little slice of heaven, “Boulder Junction“. Life in Boulder Junction was anything but normal. Perhaps “spontaneous” would be a better adjective. And I could add a few more adjectives, but let’s get on to the story about the dog.

Like most typical weekend mornings, walking out the back door to take a good look at the river was always risky. If timed wrong (right) it could change your whole day in an instant. This particular morning in July was just such a morning. I slipped into my shoes and exited the back door of my house and entered the back porch. I briefly noted a slight malodorous smell wafting pass me. This is actually common, living on a river. There is a lot of nature everywhere you look. I decided that I ought to walk out to the pier and check on the boat that was resting overnight on its lift. A short fifteen feet across a lawn that I could mow in ten minutes and a step up to the pier got me starboard side in no time. I was checking my boat canvas and thinking I have to clean up another full night of spiders and their webs when I heard a noise, a warm neighborly greeting in fact.

Two doors down and stretching for the sky, my good friend Greg was limbering up for a full day of boating and looked rather happy to see me out early in the midst of an impromptu boat inspection. I left my pier and he descended his back porch steps to meet half way in our co-neighbors yard. I could see by his smile that his mind was working out a scheme to get two Bloody Mary’s in our bellies since, well since, why not? After a hearty handshake, the drink proposition was pitched. I acquiesced and picked up on that funky smell again. “Greg, do you smell something?” I queried. “Yea, the moment I stepped out the door. Do you think it’s a dead fish under one of our piers?” he responded. This was a good bet because this was a fact of life living on the river. A lot of nature, like I said.

Just then our neighbor two more doors down, Chuck emerged from his home for no other reason then he seen the two of us standing outside. The original Saturday plans were now in serious risk of surviving. “Making three Bloody Mary’s is just as easy as making two”, Chuck called out as he approached us, obviously already deciding that he was a part of a conversation that had just started. By the time he reached us with an extended hand, he furthered with “What the hell is that smell?” I could pick it up again too. Okay, we all knew the routine. Let’s start walking the piers and see what we got under here. Whatever it is, it has to go.

I hastened back to my pier with closer inspection on what might lie below. Our pier which we replaced the first year we moved in, was in a “Y” shape. This made it easy to tend to both sides of the boat. The lift rested inside with the boat up a full three feet above the water. I walked both sides searching and came up empty. My pier was clean. I looked down and could see Greg on his pier doing the same thing. He raised both arms to me indicating that he had nothing either. Chuck was checking the next pier over owned by our good friend Joe, who incidentally was stepping out into his back yard. My Saturday plans were dead now. He immediately remarked, “What is that smell?” Chuck hollered from Joe’s double piers (that’s another story), “There’s nothing under here.”

I headed down, stopping at my next-door neighbor Fred’s pier which was just a simple walk-out wooden pier. It was a very common design from an earlier river time. I could quickly see that it was free of any dead fish. So I continued on down to the last pier where everyone was gathering, Chuck’s pier. Bingo.

But there was no dead fish.

As we gathered, Chuck, Joe, Greg and I in a half circle halfway down Chuck’s pier, we seen the cause of our proboscis suffering. Underneath Chuck’s boat hoisted high on his lift, was a medium size, massively inflamed dead animal, difficult to ascertain its specie. It was a female for sure, lacking certain genitalia, and boasting rows of oversized nipples on the verge of exploding, it was clear to us it had been dead for several days. Greg said, “It’s a dog!” And it was, though difficult to confirm with so much decay already beyond describing. We had seen this happen once or twice in the past, but it was still quite rare.

With barely a summer breeze in the air this morning, the smell was beyond accepting and we quickly organized a plan. Joe left and returned with a farmers rake. I had never knew these existed, but it is basically a garden rake on steroids, with a wider base and a taller handle. He began to move the dog from underneath. “Careful!” Chuck urged. “We don’t want to puncture it.” It wouldn’t budge. It had come down the river overnight and gotten wedged in there pretty good. With his tongue out and biting down for concentration, Joe worked magic with the rake like only a guy who used his tools like a surgeon could. Finally, the dog was free of the pier and holding onto the rake by Joe’s command. The plan now was for Chuck to lower his boat and bring it out so we could do what river people have done for ages. Send it down the river for someone else to deal with.

Carefully, we all boarded onto the boat with the dog-rake at the back of the boat. Chuck was the Captain in front with Joe, the designated 1st Mate. I had taken possession of the rake and was at the stern of the boat with Greg. The delicate balance for me was nothing more than to keep that dog on the end of the rake, period. We were still well in front of the no-wake zone, but this mission was going to go “slow-and-steady”. This early in the morning there would be very few if any boaters out. We proceeded down the river and headed towards the dam. The dam itself was comprised of three sections, the dam in the center, the “spillway” to the left (this managed the amount of water flow through the dam), and the boat locks on the right. The goal was to get to the spillway and let nature & gravity do the rest. Several times Chuck would call out, “Is everything okay?”, which Greg and I would reply something corny like, “Steady as she goes!” And on we went toward the drop off point. But oh no, this was not to be.

As the whole operation was moving swimmingly along, I failed at the one thing I needed to do; keep the dog on the rake. While focused on my mission, I missed a large branch floating by us and catch part of the puffy pouch, knocking it off the farmer’s rake. Greg called for the captain to pause while I grasped several times with the rake until I had it in my possession again. With dog-rake intact, we called for the captain to resume. But before he did, I sensed something wrong. I looked up as my upper hand on this huge rake started to pull outward, which meant the lower part of the rake was coming in. Greg yelled, “Wait the dog is going under!” Before Chuck slip back into neutral the damage was done…

It was at that precise moment that the air all around Greg and I was filled with flying debris of rancid bits of what once was a dog, littering a half-circle of water that we left behind and leaving chunks on the boat’s back swim platform. Surprisingly, neither of us were hit. The prop had simply minced it in merely seconds. We all stood still for a moment not sure what to do.

A half hour later, we were all gathered on Greg’s pier enjoying a Blood Mary and a side beer-back chaser with a nice pleasant smelling July breeze passing through from the west. Just another day in Boulder Junction! I’ll say it again, there is a lot of nature living on a river. You eventually get used to it.


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2 responses to “Taking a Dog Down the River”

  1. Dolores Avatar

    Mike, i love all your stories, each and everyone! You have so much talent in that body of yours. I think you could make money with these stories. So glad you and Cartie are in our circle of friends.

    1. mikehemphill Avatar

      Thanks for reading!

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