Authors: Ellen Miles
For Mary and Leverett
Lizzie folded her arms across her chest and tucked her chin into her jacket collar. “I’m
this, anyway?” She glared at her father. she knew exactly whose idea it was. Who else in the Peterson family would think that it was a good idea to have a Saturday afternoon picnic at Loon Lake Park — in
On summer days, Loon Lake Park was one of Lizzie’s favorite places. The lake was just the perfect size, not too small and not too big. On a Saturday afternoon in July, the water would be a sparkling sweep of crystal blue instead of a flat plain of rough gray ice. The sun would be blazing, but there would be cool, shady places under the towering trees near shore. The green, grassy slope
where people parked their beach chairs and coolers in summer was now just a dingy patchwork of leftover snow and mud. In summer, the park’s sandy beach, playground, and campground would be alive with activity: Kids and moms and dads would be swimming and fishing and paddling canoes, climbing the jungle gym and playing catch, and buying Popsicles from the little store. There would be that special, only-in-summer smell in the air, a mix of hot dogs grilling and suntan lotion and newly-mowed grass. Now it was totally quiet and empty except for the Petersons.
Lizzie looked across the frozen lake. There were a few little houses — cabins, really — along the far shore. Each one had its own little beach, a dock, and maybe a canoe or a rowboat. Nobody was at the cabins now, but in summertime they’d be full of people, just like the park was.
Lizzie sometimes pretended that the smallest cabin, the one with moose antlers over the
doorway, was hers. She liked to imagine waking up early and starting her day by doing a cannon-ball off its dock, right into the still, blue water. The gates at the park entrance didn’t even open until ten
, but if you had your own cabin you could swim whenever you wanted.
Dad said those cabins cost a ton of money. Since he was a firefighter and Mom was a newspaper reporter, the Petersons were not exactly millionaires. That meant they could not afford a cabin at Loon Lake.
At least they lived nearby, so they could visit as often as they liked. They came all the time in the summer — and they always came at least once in the winter, too. Dad said their winter picnic was “a highlight” of his year. He said he and Mom used to go on winter picnics all the time. They would bring binoculars to look for winter birds, plenty of food, and blankets to keep them warm. That was long ago, before Lizzie and her two
younger brothers, Charles and the Bean (his real name was Adam, not that anybody ever called him that), were even born.
It wasn’t that Lizzie really minded the winter picnics. It was fun to help load up the basket with blankets and thermoses full of hot cocoa and spicy chili. She liked the part where she and Dad made a fire in one of the picnic area fireplaces. And she could even deal with sitting on the cold, hard ground, poking a marshmallow on a stick into the dying coals. What she
like was how it always took Mom and Dad so long to choose the exact right spot for the picnic.
“How about over by the marsh?” Mom asked now. “We might see some interesting birds or some animal tracks.”
“I like that spot by the boat docks,” Dad answered. “It has the best view of the lake.”
Lizzie and her brothers stood there, shivering and looking out at the grayish-white frozen lake and the bare, brown trees along its shore. A stiff
breeze stung Lizzie’s cheeks. “Come on, you guys! I’m
warm!” the Bean proclaimed. He pointed to his chest. “I
warm in my Fur.”
Lizzie rolled her eyes. The thing about the Bean was that he liked to pretend he was a puppy. He liked to take naps on a doggy bed, eat doggy snacks, and play with doggy toys. Lizzie had always thought all that stuff was kind of cute.
But lately, the Bean was doing something that was not quite so cute. He had been wearing his “Fur” — a brown, fuzzy fleece sweater that Mom had found on sale — all day long, every single day. He even slept in it! The only time he took it off was when he took a bath, and then he insisted that it had to be hanging on a hook in the bathroom where he could see it.
Mom had tried to take the Fur away to wash it, but the Bean got pretty upset about that. Mom believed in “picking her battles” with a toddler, and she didn’t think the Fur was worth arguing
about. She had promised to let the Bean be the one to decide when and if to wash his Fur — even if it took forever.
That was fine for Mom, but Lizzie was really getting sick of seeing the Bean in his Fur. By now it was kind of smelly and crusty, with blotches of grape juice and bits of mud and oatmeal stuck to it.
But there was nothing Lizzie could do about it. The Bean was not about to give up his Fur. Anyway, that wasn’t the point right now. The point was, Lizzie was freezing. And so was the Petersons’
puppy. “Look at poor Buddy. He’s shaking!”
All the Petersons looked down at their puppy, Buddy. He looked back up at them with his big, chocolate-brown eyes. Then he held up one little tan paw.
My feet are cold! Why are we just standing around? Maybe we’d warm up if we ran around or had something to eat.
“Aww!” said Dad. “He
cold, the poor little guy.”
“Don’t worry, Buddy,” Mom said. “We’ll get a fire going right away.” She bent down to give him a kiss and stroke the little white heart-shaped area on his chest. Then she straightened up and looked at Dad. “The place by the docks sounds fine,” she said.
Charles grinned at Lizzie and gave her a thumbs-up. “Good thinking,” he whispered. Like her, he knew that everybody in the family could always agree about one thing: Taking good care of Buddy was very important.
They all loved Buddy so much. He was the smartest, cutest, sweetest puppy
The Petersons had met lots and lots of puppies. As a foster family, their job was to take care of puppies who needed homes. They gave the puppies a safe place to live while they looked for the perfect forever family for each one. But when they met Buddy, they knew exactly where his
perfect home was: It was right there with them. Now he was part of their family.
One of the best things about the winter picnic was that Buddy could come. Dogs weren’t allowed at Loon Lake Park in the summertime. Lizzie understood that the crowded, hot beach was not a great place for dogs — but still, she always hated leaving Buddy home alone while the rest of the family was having fun. On summer days she had sometimes seen a black dog diving off a long dock by her favorite little cabin across the lake. Buddy would have
to do that!
Lizzie knew she was lucky to be able to go to Loon Lake Park. But sometimes she could not help envying the people — and dogs! — who had their own places on the lake.
“Can I let Buddy off the leash to run around?” Lizzie asked her dad now.
Dad looked out at the lake. “Better not,” he
said. “That ice looks a little thin. It’s been warmer the last few days, and the ice is starting to melt in places. We wouldn’t want Buddy to fall in. The water would be very cold and dangerous for a dog.”
Lizzie knew her dad was probably right. “Sorry, Buddy,” she said. She was sure he would have loved to run along the lakeshore, his ears flapping in the chilly breeze. “How about if you help me find some sticks?”
Sticks? I love sticks! Let’s go!
Buddy tugged at his leash, pulling Lizzie toward a patch of woods near a little curve in the lakeshore. “Look! He can’t wait to help!” Lizzie said. She trotted after the strong little puppy, laughing whenever he picked up a stick and carried it proudly, his tail waving like a flag.
Buddy only took a few steps with each stick
before he got bored and dropped it so he could look for a new one. Lizzie followed behind, stooping to pick up each one he dropped. Soon she had an armload, almost enough for a fire.
Buddy was still pulling her along the lakeshore. But now Lizzie noticed that his head was raised, his nose was twitching, and his ears were all perked up. Lizzie knew what
meant: Her puppy had seen or heard something interesting.
“What is it, Buddy?” Lizzie asked. She followed his gaze, out toward the lake. Lizzie saw a dark circle, way out in the middle of the flat, grayish ice. Open water! And — was there something
Lizzie dropped her armload of sticks. “Come on!” She pulled on Buddy’s leash. “Come on, Buddy!” She ran as fast as she could, back toward her family. Charles and the Bean were down by the lakeshore. Mom and Dad were still unpacking all the picnic stuff.
“Mom — Dad — quick — I need binoculars — something —” Lizzie was out of breath by the time she reached them.
“What’s up, Miss Lizzie?” Dad asked.
“Binoculars, binoculars,” Mom murmured, poking through one of the bags. “Here they are! Did you see an interesting bird?”
“Maybe.” Mom handed Lizzie the binoculars. By now she had caught her breath. “I don’t know. It might be a bird, or an otter, or some other kind of animal. But whatever it is, I think it’s stuck out there in a circle of open water!”
She pointed, and Mom and Dad peered out onto the lake. “That dark spot?” Dad asked. “Is that the open place?”
“Mmm-hmm.” Now Lizzie was looking through the binoculars. Everything was all blurry at first, until she turned the focus knob. She couldn’t find the dark spot on the lake, but then, suddenly, she could see everything.