When Knute ducked death
knute by fred soucie, coon rapids
This good old dog is not going to die. One way or another, I just won't watch Knute drown. "Keep swimming, Knute!" "You can do it, Knute!"
It's a gray, cold and blustery day in North Dakota. The water is frigid. What started as a great retrieve of a bluebill by this magnificent, grizzled and gray 11-year-old black Lab has turned into a nightmare. Knute had maneuvered through our decoy spread and picked up the bluebill about 100 yards off shore. A great retrieve for this tired old dog. Now he is almost back -- only 5 or 6 yards from shore.
Suddenly he's stuck. A branch of a sunken tree has snagged his camouflaged neoprene vest. I see confusion and fear in his eyes. No matter how hard he swims, he can't get free.
Knute's owner, Billy Harper of Afton, goes for the duck boat -- but it's hundreds of yards away up the peninsula and down a steep slope.
Time freezes into an eternity.
Boris Popov (who also lives in Afton) and I stand on shore helplessly as this good old dog struggles. Knute doesn't understand. He is panicked.
"Hurry, Billy! Hurry, Billy!" There is no way Billy can hear us. The wind is too strong. "Please Lord, please Lord, let the motor start," I pray to myself. Knute is exhausted. He can barely keep his head above water. A couple of times his head sinks below the surface. "Come on, Knute! You can do it, Knute, come on!"
Neither Boris nor I know it, but we both had decided we would jump in if absolutely necessary to rescue this fiercely devoted hunting dog. I strip out of my jacket. Should I take my waders off or leave them on? It's not that far, but I know the water is deep and cold, and the sunken tree already has snagged one victim.
Finally I see the boat coming through the sunken timber.
"Hurry, Billy!" I wave my arms to speed him along. Knute's head is barely above water now. The little duck boat, bow up, speeds over. Billy pulls in next to Knute, reaches down and breaks the offending branch as he hoists his exhausted dog over the side.
"Thank God! Thank God! Thank God!'' I say as I sink to the ground, relieved. Knute, this huge part of Billy's life, is safe.
And he never dropped the bluebill.
Photo courtsey Bill Harper