As many of my blog followers know, I do not like to let grass grow under my feet. My year is divided into a plethora of outdoor activities that run the gamut from ice fishing to antler shed hunting to duck hunting. Every season is full of reasons to be in the woods, stomping around the marsh, or on the water.
Ice fishing is in full swing right now and I have been getting out every weekend since before Christmas to enjoy some quiet time in my portable ice shack and catch fish. My shack is of the old Fish Trap variety with a myriad of holes in it from a combination of much use and critters who have a taste for old canvas. The fact that it probably belongs in a fishing museum does not take away from its usefulness in keeping me cozy, with the aid of a propane heater, even on days when the temps dip well below zero.
So, what is the draw to pulling a 50lb shack out across a stretch of frozen sloughs with the sting of negative degree wind-chills freezing my face worse than a Hollywood Botox clinic? For one, I am a sucker for braving the elements. The feel of icy air in my lungs is invigorating and to be out on a frozen sheet of ice at a time when everyone else would rather be tucked in at home makes me feel like I am truly living. Also, ice fishing holds a certain nostalgia for me in that it was something I did with my dad when I was a child.
As I mentioned before, my dad taught me about life. He was all about showing me how to fend for myself and that included hunting and fishing lessons which I absorbed with great gusto. I was no girly girl. In the summer I would dig worms to fill rusty coffee cans and fish the creeks for chubs that we kept in a dented milk can full of spring water. In the winter we would load up our rickety ice shack with thick summer sausage sandwiches on homemade bread, thermoses of hot chocolate and coffee, a few rods, our bait and we would be on our way. I remember the anticipation I felt riding in that 1970 Chevy pickup. I can still smell the vinyl of the seats and feel the cold of the window nip my fingertips as I drew pictures in the frost.
When one is a child, everything is magical because the imagination has not yet been tamed by the reality of adulthood. Even mundane events have the potential to be an adventure and for me, arriving at the frozen lake we were to fish was akin to landing upon a newly discovered planet. The wind whipped across the barren landscape like a scene straight out of Star Wars and old ice holes became indentations left by ancient meteors in my 7 year old mind. We were on a great quest to find life below the crust of this whole new world and I was ready to begin.
The buildup to the actual event was more dramatic than what gernerally followed but, once we were settled, my dad and I would spend hours chatting about anything and everything in the warm glow of a sunflower heater. I heard every one of his childhood stories, advice on how to tie the perfect blood knot, how to properly thread a wax worm on a freshly sharpened hook, and how the Swedish Pimple was the ONLY lure to use for picky pan fish.
My dad was a gruff man who never showed much emotion except anger but when we were alone in that ice shack he was a different person altogether. If I got bored with fishing he would pull out my ice skates and tell me to go for a spin but to not fall in any spear holes. He wanted me to have fun and to learn. For me, however, the icing on the cake was to have my dad actually want to spend time with me.
I have not been fishing with my dad in years. He is 83 years old now and entering a new stage in his life that involves relocating my mom into a permanent nursing home for her Alzheimer’s care. His lungs can no longer take the cold and he just doesn’t have the energy anymore. So, I go out and in my mind he is right there with me making me laugh with his stories, telling me what I need to do next time to catch more fish, and just being there enjoying each other’s company.
Life goes by very quickly, as we all know, however, things slow down a bit when you go out on the ice or into the woods. I can flip the top closed on my ice shack and shut out the entire world for hours. Basking in old memories, making new ones, continuously learning lessons that will help me when I go out again. Then, when it is time to go home, I open up my shack and blink against the sudden brightness of light on new fallen snow. Everything is the same as it was but somehow it is different. Or perhaps it is me that has changed in those hours on the ice and my eyes are more focused on what is important because I allowed myself a moment to slow down, to stop time and just live.