Thursday, January 31, 2013

Shantytown

A day of camaraderie in the ice village

When the truck crossed the threshold from the boat landing onto the 18 inches of ice covering the Turtle Flambeau Flowage, I listened closely to see if I heard any cracks or pops come from the ice. A half mile out without incident, and it seemed we were in the clear. I turned to my brother and we made a toast to the forthcoming day of ice fishing with our styrofoam coffee cups.

Before us on the ice lay a vast shantytown - clusters of trucks and tents; clumps of shacks made of scraps. The portable villages, a reflection of the lake bottom terrain below the hardened surface. Where there were ridges and weed bed borders, there were anglers. Where there were underwater debris, deep pits, or raised bottom, there were anglers. Along the jagged shoreline there were snowmobiles and tip ups shadowing the shape of the woods. Tucked away in the bays, more shacks and holes in the ice. And through the center of the city on ice ran a snowy highway, upon which snowmobiles zoomed in endless streams, and trucks plodded back and forth with gear, foodstuffs, and grizzled men.

Stakes surrounded every clump of fishermen on the ice - tip up markers. In some cases the markers were more like low, scattered, half-hearted fences, warding off competition from competing camps. After all, everyone on the flowage was out there to compete in the Eighth Annual JPD Warrior Fisheree, raising awareness of depression and suicide prevention. And what better way to heal wounds like that, than to be on the ice, competing for best catch in divisions of Northern, Walleye, Crappie, and Perch.

My father's friends were ahead of us in another truck, and when we stopped to check in with one of the camps they were familiar with, I started to get antsy. The morning was late now, the sun had nearly crawled to its climax in the sky, and we were still mulling around. Our suckers were still in a pail, our tip ups still piled in the back of the truck, and we didn't even have a spot staked out in shantytown yet.

I took another sip of my gas station coffee.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Stewards of the North

A bold message in a tiny voice came calling.

Winged courage in the dead of winter

When I stepped outside on Tuesday morning, I was greeted by a wall of harsh air that measured -20° F and my face froze almost instantaneously. I swear, I thought my nose would slide off the front of my face like a sheet of ice. It was almost enough to take the breath right out of me, and I was worried the blood would freeze to a standstill in my veins. And just then, as all courage had been iced over, I heard a chickadee calling from the woods, and I remembered my place.

The tiny, lonely little Black-Capped Chickadee was out singing her song in the mixed hardwood forest to greet the morning light, and I was cold just walking out the front door of a well-heated house. The little bird shamed me. It was as if she were mocking me, calling me a coward, a fake, a phony, a weakling. Chickadee’s cries shouted taunts, challenges, and a strange, ancient language of support for brethren of the North.

My new friend gave me courage. I started my car to let it warm up, but instead of sitting inside it or retreating back into the house to wait, I began twisting my torso, spinning my arms in circles, and doing some free-weight squats in the driveway. I'm sure Chickadee laughed at my impromptu workout. I know I did. The movements got my blood flowing though, and before long I was one step closer to conquering the cold.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Hearths like hearts

Reminders from a winter wood stove

The thermometer read zero-degrees this morning, the coldest it's been yet this winter. So, after forcing myself to crawl from under several pounds of blankets, and before I put water on the stove in which to boil my oats, I clambered down to the basement to check the fire. Sure enough, a single, palm-sized coal was all that remained from overnight. Groggily, I set to work.

I opened the furnace and grasped the old iron fire poker that rested against the wall. I used the doorsill as a fulcrum, and began to prod and flip the sad single coal around in the dusty ashes, trying to breathe some new life into the little bugger. The fine grey ash particles rose in the low glow of the ruby red coal, lifted by the heated air before settling again on the inner walls of the furnace.

Still trying to wake up, I set aside the ancient iron and turned to gather up some old newsprint out of a crooked wooden box on the floor. I unfolded the papers as though to read them once more before they became fuel, then balled them up in my hands until they were the size of softballs and full of air pockets. Reaching into the lukewarm air of the furnace, I set the old news around the coal, dashed in some bark chips and splinters, and opened the draft. The fan roared to life, and before long I was tossing full-size logs onto a blazing fire. I took in another little snuff of woodsmoke before heading back up the stairs with a quiet smile. Nothing warms up a house like a wood fire.

*Note: This article is part II of a IV part series enveloping the four classical elements: firewaterearthair.


Thursday, January 10, 2013

Lakes like minds

I saw a lot more than fish come out of the hole i chopped
in the ice a few weeks ago.

Revelations from a hole in the ice

The silence of a winter sunrise on a clear day is nothing short of staggering. It's one of those visions that gets seared into your head, and you mutter to yourself indistinguishable praise when it truly captures you in its rapture. The sort of sight that's difficult to look away from, more difficult yet to walk away from. When you see it, you swear a secret oath to yourself that you'll dedicate time for it more often. You swear you'll get up early every day that week, bundle up tight, and venture out to watch it unfold. Usually, that never happens though, the cold keeps us inside, the memory fades, and soon we forget. We forget, that is, until we happen on it again. A gentle reminder of what exactly we are missing.

I received one of those reminder memos from the atmosphere the other week. Perhaps it was a swirl of the holiday spirit still lingering in the air around me, but during Christmas week, I let that frozen sky convince me to stare into it on two separate mornings.

Despite frigid temperatures that week, I went out ice fishing on my favorite lake the day before Christmas and the Friday following. I had not been out to the lake for fish since late August. Let’s just say there had not been much caught since early June, so my pursuit had petered off. I had a feeling, though, that my luck would change on hard water. I was simply too curious, the crisp winter sunrise too stunning, and the lake too promising to let the cold deter me.

*Note: This article is part I of a IV part series enveloping the four classical elements: firewaterearthair.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

A look back

A list of greenhorn milestones

The following is a glimpse at the path my training has taken since I began writing Woodsman Enough last June. The format of the stories has evolved since I first began recording my neophyte adventures, but if there's one thing I've tried to stick with, it's penning an intriguing title and finding an appropriate quotation to touch on the central theme of each story. My end goal is singular - inspire. I hope some of these will grab your attention (lets face it, some are more clever than others). 

While I'm at it, allow me to shamelessly plug the Website where you can find the full version of each of the Woodsman Enough articles featured below. Simply go to www.pricecountydaily.com and at the top right search bar type in "woodsman enough" and click search. The site restricts you to reading 10 articles a month before it demands money - tacky, I know, and I apologize.

I am busy making plans for running around outside in the coming months, so I encourage you to hang in there and see if I find anything interesting out there. I'm hoping to find dinosaur bones in my backyard, but that hasn't panned out for me yet so I'm not going to get my hopes up. Regardless, thanks for reading.