How My Cane Rescued Me from the Swamp

How My Cane Rescued Me from the Swamp

Our mischievous 3-year old miniature Beagle, named Gunner, needed rescuing last week after my wife took him and our two other small Beagles on a 10-mile walk. I say they walked, but the three pups enjoyed being pushed in a dog stroller for most of the way. With their short legs, they get tired out after a mile or two and preferred being passengers. Of course, they enjoyed frequent water breaks and barking at other dogs and joggers along the way.

Our summer home in Minnesota is on a lake, and the property includes 15 acres of swampy bog and marsh. It is beautiful to look at but almost impenetrable in the summer. As my wife approached the roadway leading to our home, Gunner caught sight of a red-tail fox in the marshy lowlands next to the road. Within a second, he slipped out of his collar, and in one giant leap, cleared the stroller and disappeared into the jungle. Houdini would have been proud of his escape.

My wife called me immediately, and I dutifully rushed to provide assistance. Hearing that a foray into the boggy lowland was necessary, I quickly changed into blue jeans and told myself that it couldn't be too bad in the dark green morass. However, even from the beginning, I underestimated what lay ahead. When I reached the general area where he left the road, we could hear Gunner furiously tracking the fox somewhere deep inside the marsh. A small 15 lb. Beagle has some advantages in the jungle as he is light and can walk through areas without sinking into the muck. The fox, however, is even more lightweight and clearly knew the area. Hence, the home-court advantage went to the fox. Gunner is fast, but the fox was even faster. Despite his best efforts, the fox was elusive, and Gunner chased him further and further into the tangled undergrowth. He was much better at trailing the fox than actually catching him.

Being a good husband, my duty to rescue Gunner was clear, though the prospect of venturing into the swamp was not inviting. Fortunately, I had brought a cane along with me but had no idea of the vital role it would eventually play. Getting into the marsh and undergrowth was challenging but not impossible. In many places, the underbrush and overgrowth were so thick that I needed a machete. My cane was of some help initially but whacking at the tangled vegetation was not as effective as I wanted it to be. Deeper and deeper into the marsh, I went, though I was guided only by the rustling in the brush and the whimpering sound Gunner made when he was hot on the fox's trail.

Then, a new problem arose. I was proceeding carefully, step by step, and very slowly. Then my progress came to a complete halt as I began to sink into the bog. At first, it was only up to my shoe tops, and then a few yards later to my ankles, and finally up to my knees. It wasn't like quicksand you see in the movies, but it was quite unpleasant. Even worse, my jogging shoes were being slowly sucked off of my feet. Each step I took required tremendous effort, and I questioned my decision to venture so deeply into the green morass without better preparation. Just then, as I pulled one foot out of the bog, it came out without my shoe. After another two steps, the other shoe was lost. At first, I attempted to retrieve them but soon gave up on the idea. If I thought the terrain was terrible before, going shoeless made it even worse.

As I surveyed my predicament, I had flashbacks to an old Indiana Jones movie about his jungle adventures. Fortunately, this wasn't Vietnam in 1968-69, and no one was shooting at me. Even better, there were no Anacondas or pit vipers were slithering about. Yes, I was miserable, but the situation was not life-threatening. I was never more than 75-100 yards into the boggy swamp, but it seemed as if it was much further. The green vegetation was so thick that I didn't have any visual reference points to determine my location, and my vision was limited to an area of only a few yards around me. Suddenly, Gunner appeared out of nowhere and ran by. He was very clever and knew to stay just far enough away from my grasp. I'm sure that he intentionally evaded me, as Gunner was having fun chasing the fox and didn't want to end his romp in the swamp. My plight seemed not to concern him as the chase continued.

As Gunner and the fox headed for a different area, I was left behind and stuck in the unforgiving goo. My trusty cane, a Cane Masters Hickory training cane (of course), was helpful at first extricating myself from the shallowest areas, but as the muck grew deeper, it became less effective. My cane's tip soon penetrated into the muck all the way up to the horn. The difficulty was that once my legs were stuck in the thick mud, there was nothing I could hold onto to pull each foot out of the goo. There was vegetation everywhere, but nothing substantial enough to help me get unstuck. Each time I managed to take a step, I was stuck all over again. I fell three times into the goo as I lost my balance. It would have been an understatement to say that I was hot, miserable, and now soaked. However, rather than calling for help, and forever damaging my ego and vision of manly self-reliance, I had an idea.

Rather than using the cane's tip, I wished for something like a snowshoe that would distribute my weight over a greater surface area and avoid penetrating the bog's crust. Unfortunately, I hadn't brought a snowshoe with me, but the thought was in the right direction. Out of the blue, I had another idea… as an experiment, I simply turned the cane upside down and pressed the horn to the bog's crust to provide something to pull against. To my surprise, I found some areas around me that were firm enough that the horn didn't penetrate into the bog. Another technique, wherever possible, was to extend my reach with the cane and use the crook to hook onto a small branch to allow me to pull against it. Using both techniques, I was able to pull one foot at a time out of the muck and began a slow retreat back towards the road. If I thought it was uncomfortable going into the swamp, exiting was much, much worse. The route I chose for my exit was even boggier than my path going in. Trudging out wet and shoeless made for a memorable experience.

The only good news was that Gunner was also slowing down. As he tuckered out, he must have slowly come to the realization that he was not going to be able to catch that fox. Even more damaging to his fun was that his short little legs began to sink into the muck, and he literally bottomed out on top of a small fallen tree branch. It stopped his body from slipping, but his front and back legs were flailing away in the goo. The fox must have had a good laugh at seeing his pursuer out of action so soon. Apparently realizing that his fun for the day was done, Gunner let out a distressed howl to alert my wife to his plight and location. Fortunately, he was close enough to the road that my agile stepson could make his way to him and carry him out to safety.

I am told that Gunner seemed relatively unconcerned at his rescue and headed straight to his water bowl at the stroller. He was dirty as could be but safe. My wife got him to our home quickly and took him directly to the laundry room for a good bath. She checked Gunner over carefully, and he didn't have any injuries. Knowing Gunner as I do, however, I imagine that at that point, he was already planning for another trip into the bog someday to catch up with that fox.

All the while, it was half an hour before I finally made it out to civilization. As I exited the final wall of vegetation at the swamp border, I had envisioned a concerned group of family or neighbors waiting to greet me. Unfortunately, the roadway was empty, as everyone had rushed back to the house to attend to Gunner. So, without a vehicle, and looking like a slightly less scary version of The Creature from the Black Lagoon, I began the walk home. Along the way, two cars slowed down and eyed me suspiciously but didn't stop. I could hardly blame them.

Arriving home, my cane and I were both wet and caked with swamp mud, but intact. I needed a good bath, and my cane needed a good cleaning. Afterward, I applied a mineral oil coat to the wood and wiped it dry with a soft towel.

The story's lesson is to always carry a cane, especially if you plan to venture into a swamp!