I walk leisurely up the steep, narrow, rugged path high above a roaring river. I’ve been here before. I feel sure of it. The stately evergreen trees and the water are familiar. J, my 60-pound Border collie, lopes along beside me, my trusted companion.
I stop to take a picture of the river, looking down over a sheer rock face. The water is a brilliant turquoise blue, except for the white of the rapids, crashing violently over jagged rocks.
J goes on ahead of me. I’m not worried. She’s well trained. Smart and obedient. I hear a scampering noise. I turn and see J jump, her body falling, falling to the river below.
I freeze, paralyzed with fear. Finally, I look down. But J is nowhere to be found. I scan every inch of the river. It’s no use. She’s gone. Why did I hesitate? Why? I feel helpless and guilty.
For an instant I wasn’t sure where I was. Everything around me was suddenly dark. I reached under me and felt…my bed. Thank God. Just a dream. But the same dream. Again.
I felt sweat running down my neck. I looked for J. She was stretched out on the floor, sleeping, with Bo, my other Border collie, beside her. Their chests rose and fell. Everything was fine.
But why did I keep having this nightmare? It was so real, so frighteningly vivid. I couldn’t get that horrible moment out of my mind–being frozen, watching my dog disappear in the rapids.
My husband, Don, lay peacefully beside me. I reached over and shook him awake.
“Wh-h-hat?” he said. “What’s wrong?”
“I had that dream again,” I said. “I’m scared. What would I do if that really happened? If something bad happened to J I’d never forgive myself.”
He wrapped an arm around me and held me against him. “Nothing’s going to happen,” he said. “It was just a weird dream.”
I sighed. If only I knew what to do. But I didn’t. That was the problem. I didn’t have a clue. I felt the warmth of Don’s hand on my shoulder and drifted back to sleep.
I was a little better the next morning. The sun streaked through the blinds as the dogs shot out the back door. But I was afraid to let them out of my sight. A week went by. Then another. No dream. Spring gave way to summer; the memory of those strange, haunting visions faded. I finally relaxed.
That July I invited Jamie, a girlfriend, to spend a long weekend with me and the dogs at a cabin by the Metolius River in central Oregon. We hiked the mountain trails and took photos of wildflowers.
In the evening we cooked out, while the dogs swam in the nearby river, the water swift, but not treacherous. It felt great to kick back.
The last day we decided to go check out a fish hatchery upstream from our cabin. We leashed the dogs and walked over a bridge near the hatchery. I stopped to admire the gentle rapids below, the water the most incredible shade of turquoise. I spied a trail that ran beside the river. “Let’s go,” I said.
At the trailhead J and Bo strained at their leashes. They wanted to play. “Okay, you two, don’t get into trouble.” I unclipped them. I felt a flicker of unease as the dogs loped in front of us up the trail.
We reached a spot where the rapids crashed over huge rocks. The now raging current was breathtaking. We stopped to take a photo. I lowered my camera and looked at Jamie. Bo was right beside her. But where was J? I called for her, but there was no answer.
Frantic, I scanned the river. Suddenly J’s head popped up, like a seal’s, about seven feet upstream. She’d jumped in, probably thinking the water here was as mellow as it was near the cabin. But it wasn’t. The current pulled her under.
I didn’t hesitate. I jumped into the water. So cold it took my breath away. Just then I felt something rush past my hand. J. I grabbed her collar, but it was all I could do to hold on. I pulled her head up out of the water and held her tight.
The force of the rapids threatened to suck us both downstream. We bounced against some rocks and I found my footing.
I eased my leg from between two of the rocks and stumbled out of the water, still holding onto J. She didn’t have a scratch on her. I leashed the dogs and we slowly made our way back to my pickup. I had a sore knee, but it didn’t really bother me. In a way it was almost reassuring. My badge of courage.
How had I possibly managed to get ahold of J’s collar? Another second and she would have been gone, swept through those vicious rapids.
“I can’t believe you jumped in like that!” Jamie said. “It all happened so fast. But you weren’t even scared. It was like you knew exactly what you had to do. Like you’d seen it before.”
I had, hadn’t I?
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