The first raindrops froze, battering
the windshield with ominous tappings as my view of the
Spruce Road exit blurred behind a thin crust of ice. The
wipers swept back and forth with a soothing swish, and
the cleared arcs widened, bringing the right lane back
into focus. For the moment. A freezing rain advisory covered
all of Lapeer County this afternoon. Driving conditions
could only worsen, and I was still a half hour from home.
Braking lightly, I followed the
winding ramp to the road, where a green light shone faintly
in mid-air. So far, so good. I wouldn’t have to
make a stop. One more minute, and I would be traveling
on a quiet country thoroughfare, safe from the threat
of a multi-car pile-up on the expressway.
I turned right and slowed to twenty-five
miles, letting the occasional traffic pass me. Dark brooding
woods bordered the road, and a layer of snow blanketed
its surface. The winter wonderland was exquisite but deceptive.
Ice could be lurking beneath the ground cover. Almost
certainly it was, and a spin-out would send me careening
into the trees.
If I drove carefully, if I were
fortunate, I should be all right; and with a little extra
good luck, the sleet would end as quickly as it had begun.
Sometimes managing the hour-long
commute from Marston High School in Oakpoint to Foxglove
Corners was as nerve wracking as trying to control my
wayward fourth hour class. Both hid ever-present danger
beneath a smooth veneer.
What a melodramatic comparison,
Jennet! I scolded myself. Concentrate on driving. Listen
to your Christmas tape.
But the heavy splatter of frozen
precipitation on glass grew louder, muting the familiar
Yuletide melody. I hated it when the world turned to ice
and stole my sense of control. I hated ice.
But “Ice is nice/ And would
So said the poet Robert Frost,
who never had to navigate a car in an ice storm.
I left the woods behind and passed
the tiny village of Willowside and Cygnet Lake, a low-lying
frosty pond fringed at its northern edge by blue spruce forest.
A "Deer Crossing" sign seemed to leap out of the
rain wall. I glanced quickly to my left and right. The way
was clear. No deer were on the move. Nothing lay ahead except
a narrow expanse of pristine white, glistening in my headlights.
Poetry was the wrong choice for
a rowdy group of teenagers whose minds were already focused
on Christmas vacation. Maybe I should change my lesson
plan and have both of my Literature classes read Great
Expectations. That would mean a double dose of Charles
Dickens for me every morning. It would also mean fewer
students in rebellion and possibly an hour of harmony.
I’d do it and return to Frost and Company in the
Without warning, the car skidded
on an icy patch and veered toward the edge of the road
where the land dipped sharply and tree tops rose up to
meet the ground. I held the wheel in a death grip, feeling
as if I were trapped on a nightmare roller coaster. The
next second, I and my car would plunge down to the forest
Not if I could help it.
Pumping the brake lightly, I let
the Taurus ride with the spin, grip the surface, and straighten
itself, while my heart jumped back to its proper place.
I swallowed, but the dryness in my throat increased. The
outside cold seeped in through the closed windows. Feeling
chilled, I turned the heater fan a notch higher.
This stretch of Spruce Road could
be deadly with its curves and sheer drops. I’d let
my speed creep up to thirty-five while my mind wandered
back to school. That was an invitation to disaster. I
slowed again and glided past the Eversleigh Horse Farm,
its barns barely visible in the fall of ice. For the next
fifteen minutes I would be traversing a wooded section
again with only my bright lights to guide me through the
Unimpaired vision was essential.
I checked the rear window. The defroster was doing its
job well enough, but the windshield wipers in front were
no match for the rain slanting in from the east. They
I steered carefully toward a wide
verge, came to a stop, and turned off the windshield wipers,
grateful that I was no longer on the expressway. Pulling
my hood over my head, I grabbed the scraper from the back
Sharp needles of sleet jabbed
my face as I stood outside on the slick ground and chipped
the ice away. My right arm ached, but now the window was
clear again. That should take me through another mile
Giving the window a final sweep,
I flung the scraper onto the back seat, just as a sharp
cracking sound exploded in the air above me. An ice-laden
branch as large as a tree landed several inches from my
feet. Its cover of frozen particles glittered in the light
streaming out of the car. If I’d stopped a little
farther, I’d have been in its path.
Suddenly the snapping sounds filled
the air. Like rifle reports, they communicated danger.
I’d better be on my way.
Back behind the wheel, I drove
away from the breaking wood. Once again I could see, but
the view was cheerless: Sentinal confiers draped in frosted
snow, the first of the most hazardous curves on Spruce
Road just ahead, and another sheer drop. One more chance
to slide down to the earth’s core.
The ice melt in my bangs trickled
down my face like tears. Wiping impatiently at my eyes,
I drove, listened to the music, and prayed that no more
traps awaited me.
In treacherous weather like this,
I should have stayed overnight in Oakpoint with my friend,
Leonora, instead of attempting to drive back to Foxglove
Corners. But in Oakpoint at four o’clock, the skies
had been gray and sullen, with freezing rain expected
after midnight. Besides, at the end of the school day,
I longed to relax in my own house. In any event, I couldn’t
undo a past decision. I was halfway home and no longer
alone on the road.
A circle of light materialized
in my rearview mirror. It turned into a red truck traveling
at a high speed. The driver blew his horn as he passed
my slow-moving vehicle, apparently unafraid of black ice.
I wished him well.
One day soon, I needed to think
seriously about my choices. Was living so far from Marston
worth the hassle of an hour drive twice day?
On an afternoon like this, no.
Still, I loved my green Victorian
farmhouse on Jonquil Lane. The ten acres of land for my
collie, Halley, to roam and the rooms I’d furnished
with antiques were dear to me; and Deputy Sheriff Crane
Ferguson with his handsome face and frosty gray eyes,
was my love. Foxglove Corners had given me Crane and the
diamond engagement ring on my finger.
It was my home, and yes, well
worth the high price I’d paid for it. Truly perilous
commutes were infrequent, and music kept me company as
I drove over the long miles—usually the classical
station, but now that Thanksgiving had come and gone,
my collection of Christmas tapes.
“The Cherry Tree Carol”,
beginning now, was one of my favorites:
“When Joseph was an old
man, and an old man was he/ He married Virgin Mary in
the land of Gallilee . . .”
Please, let me reach my home safely,
I thought. Mary, Joseph . . .
The pounding of freezing rain
on my windows mixed with the cracking of falling branches.
They littered the road. If a tree toppled down on my car,
I could be killed, the victim of a freak accident in a
Why create the worst scenario
imaginable? I would be out of this thickly wooded stretch
and driving through farmland in another five miles. I
glanced at the dashboard. The hands on the clock appeared
to have frozen along with the world.
Listen to the song. Mary’s
desire for cherries. Joseph’s mistake. His unkind
words. His remorse.
“What have I done, Lord?/
Have mercy on me.”
I drove on, watching the road,
looking for deer, always ready to let the Taurus follow
the skid and not step on the brake in panic. The music
made me feel calmer, if not in charge.
Something with lights loomed in the
cavernous space in front of me. Two deafening horn blasts
fractured the air as a truck whizzed by, heading west. Before
I had time to wonder if this was the same driver who had just
passed me or another reckless fool, I saw a black barrier
rearing up in my path. Braking lightly, I brought the car
to a stop.
A downed tree lay across the road.
Its bulk filled both lanes, halting my homeward journey.
I couldn’t drive around this wall of wood the way
I could plow through freezing rain.
This was what those two angry
blasts had been telling me. What now?
Make a U-turn, as the truck obviously
had and return to the last road I’d passed. Then
I could reconnect with Spruce as soon as possible, approaching
my house in a roundabout way. The unanticipated detour
would add precious time to my drive, but this was my only
I turned the Taurus around, promptly
swerved on ice, and slid across the opposite lane into
the verge, smashing down low shrubs. Then I was on the
road again, going back the way I’d come, in firm
control my car, with the sleet beating on the rear window.
Doomsday thoughts marched through my mind.
I could have been under that tree
when it fell, crushed under a ton of wood. Someone was
taking care of me today and of the speeding truck driver
“The woods are lovely, dark
and deep.” Frost said that, too.
Dark . . . The hands on the dashboard
clock were moving after all. An hour had passed since
I’d left Marston. I would never be home before dark,
but as long as I lived through this deadly commute, I’d
I turned left at Lost Lake Road,
a narrow, unpaved trail that meandered through woods and
country estates built far back on their hilly acres. In
October, this had been one of the most scenic routes in
Foxglove Corners, offering a breathtaking view of changing
leaves and cool, blue lakes.
In the last week of November,
the scarlet and gold shades of autumn were long gone,
and the freezing rain had whipped the color out of the
landscape and turned the area into a skating rink. The
mansions were encased in damp mist, the Deer X-ing signs
were plentiful, and the way was interminable.
Where was the road that ran parallel
to Spruce? Every mile took me farther from Jonquil Lane.
The tape reached its end with a handbell version of “Jolly
Old Saint Nicholas” and rewound to the beginning.
I stopped again to clear the windows and took the time
to unwrap a roll of hard candy before starting on my way
The caramel drop dissolved slowly,
leaving a cloying aftertaste in my mouth. Meager sustenance
and balm for my throat and no end in sight. A "Horses
on the Road" sign and “The Cherry Tree Carol”
for the third time.
My throat had gone beyond dry.
I tried to swallow the soreness away. This was the certain
beginning of a cold. I was weary of battling the weather,
tired of listening to Christmas carols and wanted desperately
to reach the parallel road.
It didn’t happen. The freezing
rain tapered off, only to reappear in the form of light
snow, and I was still on Lost Lake Road, still dodging
ice patches. It seemed that an entire day had passed since
I’d begun my long trip home.
A sudden movement in the woods
on my right caught my attention. Pieces of the snowy landscape
seemed to break apart, taking graceful leaping forms.
Deer! I tensed, bracing for collision
as the image imprinted itself on my mind.
Three animals dashed into the
road and froze, their eyes fixed on my headlights. They
weren’t deer but dogs, gorgeous adult collies with
fluffy white coats and golden sable heads. As if posed
for a show ring photograph, they stood in a row, blocking
my passage as effectively as the fallen tree had done.
I pressed on the horn and felt
the car begin to slide. The dogs didn’t move. They
stood as still as marble statues on the road while I blew
the horn again.
I couldn’t stop! I was going
to hit them!
Forgetting one of the cardinal
rules of road safety in a Michigan winter, I stepped down
on the brake. The car slid dizzily across the road, collided
with something hard, and crashed into a sapling, sending
my books and shoulder bag flying to the floor. The loud
thud echoing in the sudden silence reached my stunned
I had run into a tree.
The seat belt held me firmly in
place, but a sharp pain knifed across my forehead. I touched
my skin, expecting to find my fingers covered with blood,
but there was only a warm sensation and a throbbing above
my right eye. I must have struck my head but couldn’t
remember doing it.
Realization dealt me a second
blow. I had hit something besides the sapling.
Not one of the dogs!
Dear Lord, what had I done?
Shaking and cold, I looked back
to the road, trying desperately to see through the falling
snow. The beautiful white collies were gone, vanished
as if by sorcery into the forest.
I had hit a dog, a collie like
Halley, in the whole canine race, one of the breed I loved
Flinging open the door, I stepped
out onto the ground. My boots crushed down the light glaze
that topped the snow as I scanned the immediate area.
All I could see were woods. On the right, lean black trunks
rose on their hill. On my left, a small lake shone dully
behind a line of thinner woods. I waited, willing the
dogs to return. The air thickened with cold flying flakes,
the sky turned darker by the minute, and the road was
Maybe I had struck something else,
and the three dogs had fled in terror back to the shelter
of the trees, but I couldn’t count on that. If a
wounded canine lay somewhere in this wilderness, unable
to move, I had to help him, if it wasn’t too late.
First I had to find him.
“Where are you?” I
steadied my voice, trying to sound light and playful.
I squinted through falling snow,
searching for a sign of the collie, trying to hear some
giveaway sound—a rustle of dead leaves and twigs
as an animal stirred, a faint answering whine, anything
to lead me to the wounded dog.
“Are you all right?”
His coat had been white, a fluffy
marshmallow color with golden head markings. How could
I see a white dog in failing light with the landscape
draped in folds of snow? The impossibility of the task
The dog had to be dead.
“I’m so sorry.”
My voice broke over the words, and my eyes filled with
tears. I had forgotten to cover my head, and I was trembling.
I couldn’t stay alone on an isolated country road
indefinitely with night approaching. Neither could I leave.
If I did, I’d be no better than those heartless
hunters who wound their prey and leave it to die alone
and in pain.
I explored the edge of the woods
on the far side of the road, climbing as high as I dared
into the tangle of trees. Then I crossed to the other
side and walked to the lake and back. No creature came
out of hiding, no fellow traveler drove by to offer help,
and I didn’t see anything that had once lived and
run and been beautiful. I might have been the only living
soul in Lapeer County, an eerie feeling reinforced by
the silence that surrounded me.
All I could hear was the Christmas
music drifting out of my idled car. The jaunty strains
of “Jolly Old Saint Nicholas” mocked the tears
streaming down my face. Even if I stayed in this place
until morning, I’d never be able to find the body
of the dog I’d killed.
Defeated and miserable, I got
behind the wheel and maneuvered the car back into the
road. The snow still fell, my destination still lay somewhere
beyond my sight, and a weight had come out of the night
to sit heavily on my heart. Home might as well be a hundred
The haunting of
a crime scene by three white collies is only the beginning of
The Snow Dogs of Lost Lake's magical appeal. Ms Bodoin brings
us a beguiling mystery all wrapped up in the hazards and beauty
of winter and Christmas. And as if that weren't enough, in and
through it all she spins a yarn of romance so heart warming
that you'll want to trade places with either of the tale's sleuths,
Jennet Greenway and Sheriff Crane Ferguson. So find your easy
chair and get ready for the enchanting mysterious world of Foxglove
S.E. Schenkel, author of the Acey