Editor’s Note: The following piece by Gazette Vineyard Haven columnist Nancy Gardella was published in June 2007. It appears here again in appreciation for Ms. Gardella’s dog, Haley, who died on Nov. 7 at the age of 16 and a half.

Am i the only voice crying in the wilderness about the new town parking lot? Well, surely last Saturday I was the only voice crying in the wilderness of Tisbury. This is how it happened:

As I am wont to do, I took my little black dog Haley to Memorial Park to walk her around the perimeter. As we passed the edge of the swamp, Haley tried to take off after a large muskrat re-entering his home base. I had her firmly on her leash. We continued our walk. I put her in the truck with the windows halfway down for air. I took out my basketball and proceeded to shoot — beautifully, nothing but net, which is what always happens when there is no one there to watch.

Then I saw a black dog streak across the lawn, trailing a long green leash. Haley had jumped out the window and was headed to where she last saw the muskrat! I ran to the truck and grabbed the can of dog treats I always keep handy. I rushed to the edge of the swamp, shook the can vigorously, called her name out frequently, and waited for the little glutton to emerge.

No Haley.

The swamp was thick; there was no obvious trail she had taken. Then I began to hear, not distressed but rhythmic barking, which I knew signaled that her leash was caught on something and she couldn’t break free. I can do this, I thought, as I began to enter the swamp, breaking cattails, swamp grass, briars and vines. I kept calling as her barks grew closer. Finally I found her as I suspected, wrapped around the arms of a low bush. I untangled her. I turned to retrace my steps. But just as the infamous Chicago Black Sox team of 1919 was swallowed by cornstalks in the movie Field of Dreams, the swamp had swallowed me.

What to do? My old girl scouting skills came to mind. Follow the stream, I told myself calmly. I saw water, about four inches deep — okay, wet sneakers, no big deal. But a swamp is not a stream you can follow out to a bridge and a road. When I began to cross, holding Haley firmly by the leash, I sank up to my derriere. Quicksand! Well, perhaps it was slow sand because I’m alive to tell the story. But it was bog muck trying to suck my sneakers off. Not to mention my short little Island dog, a Shih-Tzu terrier and black Labrador cross.

We saw muskrats, field mice, water rats, birds, frogs, snakes, chipmunks and creatures only Fred Glodis could identify. Haley was shivering and scared. So I lifted her like a good soldier raising his rifle to cross a river and proceeded to make my way across the water.

The going was slow. I reached the other side, pulling on branches that kept breaking off as I tried for higher ground. Finally, I heaved us up to a more solid spot, under a tree and sat on a fallen limb. I assessed my situation. I had a Swiss army knife with at least 40 attachments, a large bottle of water, my Fred Glodis memorial gym whistle and a first aid kit. They were all in my truck. I had a can of dog treats that was getting difficult to carry and too large for my pockets. I also had a cell phone and a lipstick. So I did what any good girl scout would do. I threw the can of treats into the swamp, figuring the raccoons and muskrats could open them later with their clever little hands, called the Tisbury police department on my cell phone and waited for salvation.

It came within 20 minutes in the form of an officer at the edge of the swamp calling out my name. The swamp grass and cattails were so high I couldn’t see him — obviously, or I could have gotten out. I shook the tree I was sitting beneath so he could determine my location. “Okay, Nancy. You’re about 100 yards, come toward my voice,” he said.

“I can’t,” I gasped. “That’s across a huge puddle of water and quicksand. We just crossed it and my dog almost drowned!”

I tried to free myself to walk in a drier direction, but the brambles and growth were too thick.

“Officer, have you ever had a case like this?” I asked. “No, Nancy,” he responded. “You’re unique.” From time to time he called out to ask how I was doing. I admitted defeat and told him I would follow his voice, once again crossing the big pool of muck. Again I held Haley in my arms. Again, branches and grasses broke when I tried to haul us up to steadier ground. Then Haley’s collar, now stretched from all the water, loosened and she escaped. Again. And found her way out of the swamp!

I heard the officer calling out, “Oh, here’s your dog!” I heard another man’s voice as they tried to catch the collarless miscreant. The police had called for backup; it was Tisbury fire chief John Schilling. I yelled for them to get her in my truck, but as her lead and collar were in my muddy and bleeding hand, they had no luck. From time to time, Haley ran back into the swamp to see how I was doing and attempt to show me how easy it was to get out.

As I twisted off vines and poison ivy wrapping around my waist, it occurred to me to ask what officer had been sent to my rescue. “Dan Hanavan,” came the reply. “Oh, no!” I shrieked, “They sent the handsome one!”

Without missing a beat Dan sweetly corrected me. “All our Tisbury officers are handsome,” he said.

Match point. He was patient, shouting encouragement as I extricated myself, branch by branch, vine by vine. “Are you okay, Nancy? Thirty more feet, Nancy. Ten more feet, Nancy!”

I paused to use the only other tool available to me. I applied my lipstick. And I emerged from the swamp utterly disheveled, briars and brambles in my hair, cuts, scrapes, and bruises everywhere, trailing cattails and mud. But my lipstick was perfect.

The fire chief saw I was safe and took off for other duty. Officer Dan helped me secure Haley. I wanted to shake his hand but thought it best not to, covered as I was in poison ivy oils. I thanked him profusely, and in my head am still doing so.

I dragged myself home to where I thought I had Tecnu lotion in the outdoor shower. But no luck; I must have used it all last summer. Too filthy to drive downtown and purchase some, I called my neighbor, Bill Little, and asked if he had any to bring over, not relating my predicament. He came by ASAP, took one look at me and said, “What happened? You look like you were in a fight with a tiger and the tiger won.”

I took my Tecnu shower and decided the safest place for me was to return to bed and read a book. My other two dogs sniffed Haley carefully. Bill returned with a tube of triple antibiotic cream for my external wounds and a bottle of vodka for my internal wounds.

I have many people to thank — Officer Hanavan, Chief Schilling, Pam Alley for moral support (after she was done laughing when I called her from the center of the swamp) and Bill Little for all the medicines.

If you often feel, as I do, that the Island is getting too built up and they paved paradise and put up a parking lot, I invite you to take a stroll in our local town swamp. Haley and I will wait at the edge and call out directions as you shake trees to signify your location. Wear waders. I have seen enough nature to last a lifetime. I now return to reading books.