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Donut dog dumps canoe, creates memories

Members of the canoeing party, left to right, Seth, Adam, Tom and Debbi with Shiku, Jeff and Betsy take time for a break at Cut Away Dam. (Photo by Leonard E. Gibbs)

Thomas Wayne King

Ice had just left Upper St. Croix Lake a few days earlier in 1994. The St. Croix River, flowing south from Solon Springs to Gordon and beyond, offered an inviting three-hour April canoe trip for our families. Four adults, three boys, one dog, and one bag of fresh bakery donuts all headed out for an early spring paddle down the wild, clear St. Croix. We had made this fun river trip many times before.

So how was it that two humans and their dog were soon swimming for shore? Canoeists getting wet, especially in water that was ice a day or two before, is not a good thing.

Here is how it happened.

Our friends, Len and Betsy, with their young son, Jeff, were back at the lake’s western “Cozy Cove” shore just in front of Grandpa Favell’s cabin site — now Jim and Jo Stewart’s home — getting settled in their canoe and stowing gear they would need on our trip. We were all experienced canoeists, and excited to explore the open, pristine river in this new season.

Son Seth and I, along with Shiku, our 30-pound American Eskimo female dog, had already paddled our canoe out ahead a few hundred yards to get on the lake and out of the way of the others still at the dock. We stopped and waited while Adam and Debbi packed their canoe. They launched, then paddled out to join us.

As Adam and Debbi approached, they asked if we could toss the donut bag to them. We positioned our boats about six feet apart and got ready. I lobbed the tightly closed white bakery bag with recently-warm donuts so that it would arc and land in their canoe, trying to account for the wind.

That’s when Shiku jumped for the flying bag. We hadn’t planned on that.

She sprang hard against our left gunwale at about the center thwart, toward Adam’s boat, nearly swamping Seth and me.

Adam grabbed out quickly to his right for the donuts, as the bag was now far off my intended trajectory. He and Debbi tried to balance and compensate for the sharp, fast, rocking disturbance in their canoe equilibrium. They could not adjust. They went over — instantly. It happened in an eye blink, but I can still view the slow-motion movie version in my mind.

As you can imagine, they gasped, splashing and thrashing in the cold water. We saw surprised fear in Shiku’s eyes as she surfaced: a sleek, soaked, wet-rat dog. So skinny. So scared.

Shiku appropriately dog-paddled to the shore a few yards away, shook off, and watched her humans perform. Debbi and Adam kept their composure and swam for shallow water. My shouting “She’s gonna die!” toward my water-wary, water-soaked wife may not have been all that appropriate.

She was fine. Adam and Debbi simply swam a few strokes toward shore, got into waist-deep water, and found firm lake bottom to stand on. They easily walked in toward the grassy lake bank. Shiku, now content and mostly dried off, sniffed around on the shore, likely still thinking about those donuts.

To everyone’s good fortune, the day was bright and sunny, with a strong, warm south breeze. We retrieved the flipped canoe and pulled it in. Our boys and I lifted and drained it, setting it upright again, gently beached on the gravel bottom near shore. Debbi and Adam had wrung out their clothes and socks, and recovered all but one shoe. We were happy, laughing, and ready to go again in minutes.

During all of this, our friends were still back at Cozy Cove getting set to launch. Things take longer with a preschooler. Their attention was diverted from the feral festivities we were providing on the lake, considerably out of hearing range for them. We had just drained the canoe and were drying off on the turf bank when they paddled up close enough to see the aftermath.

Len, Betsy, and Jeff registered little surprise as they got closer to us, saying it appeared to them as normal for the Kings, simple activities they expected of us: A quick cold-water dip and canoe swamping — parts of our annual spring rituals, they assumed.

Humans and canine were soon warmed and willing, so we headed downriver, expecting our usual lazy trip. This day, however, the headwinds from the southwest were fierce. Our “easy paddle” took hours of hard stroking to finally dock at the Gordon ranger station.

We gained insights that long day into why indigenous First-Nations people and European voyageurs, traders and explorers poled their way up this part of the river, often in low, flat-bottomed boats known as bateaus. Going upstream against flowing water currents would have been way less work, we figured, than bucking the warm but hard, pernicious spring winds throughout our entire trip.

But we did it just fine. Overall, family lessons of resilience and quick thinking were reinforced that warm day, with great memories of adventures with Len, Betsy, and Jeff, our tolerant, excellent friends.

By the way, our donuts and the bag sank. We never found them.

Adapted from “Tales from the Red Pump: 130 years of Northland Wisconsin family adventures. Volume 1.”