The Choctawhatchee River is 141 miles of magic. You might think that sounds whacko, and you’re probably right. But I am just naïve enough to believe in magic.
The Choctawhatchee’s headwaters start as two separate forks, located in Barbour and Henry County, Alabama. The river then flows southward, snaking its way through Geneva County, lulling itself past the Florida line, finally emptying into the Choctawhatchee Bay of my youth.
The water undergoes many changes on its journey to the Sunshine State. Even the color of the river changes slightly as it slices through mud, clay and silt.
In some places the water is olive green. In other places the water can look more reddish, like iced tea. By the time the water spills into the 129 square miles of brackish bay, the water is almost silvery blue.
When I was a young sap, old men used to say the Choctawhatchee River was different from other tributaries. Not only is the water staggeringly clean, the river also contains some of the oldest fish known to man. Among these species is the Gulf sturgeon, a frightening armored fish that traces its origins back to the Triassic Period, shortly after the birth of Willie Nelson.
These are wicked fish, known to jump right out of the water and assault fishermen. I know of a man who was knocked out of his boat and injured by a whopping sturgeon while he was eating a liver wurst sandwich.
So there is a special element that is unnamable about the Choctawhatchee. Using a fishing rod, I have spent entire summers trying to figure out what this unnamable charm is, but I have no answer except to say that, yes, it’s magic.
Which brings me to a recent example of this particular magic. A few days ago, near Hartford, Alabama (pop. 2,624), something happened.
A kayaker was paddling along the river and saw something stuck in the muddy banks. Something furry. Something with reflective eyes. It was a dog, an Australian-shepherd mix, stuck in thigh-deep mud. The dog wasn’t moving but was alive.
When the kayaker got closer, it became clear that the animal was hopelessly trapped in the mire, up to its chest, unable to do much more than make eye contact. Too tired to yelp. Too cold to whimper.
Enter Tiffany Howington, director of Troy Animal Rescue Project. Tiffany scrambled to help the dog once she heard about it. Calls were made. Texts were sent. A plan came together.
It was a crummy evening with overcast weather. A heavy fog hung over the river like a wet dishrag. Eric Alphord showed up at the boat ramp with his John boat in a frenzy. He launched with Tiffany and Aimee Cobb Smith aboard.
For two miles, they navigated the impenetrable murk and low waters. They looked everywhere, combing each bank, searching each landing, calling for the animal. But things were looking bleak. Because even if they did find the animal, it had been 16 hours since the dog was spotted. There was no way any creature could survive such perdition.
And then they found him.
“He was pretty non-responsive,” Tiffany said.
Which was putting it mildly. The dog was practically gone. They gently loaded the canine into the boat, then sped back to the boat ramp, kicking up a rooster-tail wake behind them. They transferred the dog to a vehicle and rushed the animal to the nearest emergency veterinary hospital.
“As soon as we pulled into the vet,” said Tiffany, “I went in to check him in, and his eyes were rolling back in the back of his head.”
The dog was suffering from parvovirus and severe hypothermia. His oxygen levels had sunk to 50 percent, his glucose readings were almost nonexistent. It’s a wonder the animal’s heart was still pumping.
But you see, that’s the thing. His heart WAS beating. And that’s what is downright unexplainable. It’s unimaginable.
“…He’s a very sick dog,” says Tiffany, “but it’s not getting worse. He’s teetering towards getting better.
“We’re just waiting to see what happens…”
Well, what happens next is that the dog will remain in Montgomery on 24-hour care until he is stable enough to be fostered. Things aren’t great right now, health-wise, in fact they are pretty dire. His medical bills are piling up, he’s on a feeding tube, and worse, nobody has stepped forward to adopt the animal yet. But don’t worry, he will be adopted. Soon. Maybe even by you.
And I believe with all my heart that he will be adopted, not only because I am an arduous dog lover.
But because as I say. Magic.