Squinting into the noonday sun, he found his footing along the ice. In one hand, he grasped a rope to drag his sled loaded with poles and a chair behind him. In the other, he held a long spear and stabbed at the ice, checking. This backwater lake had not yet frozen solid, so he picked his way between puddles of open water and ice.
“He’s nuts,” I thought to myself as I stood gazing out from our cozy living room, coffee mug in hand, fireplace ablaze and Christmas a memory. Who would walk across this Mississippi pond where only three days earlier waves rolled across the surface? No one can be that crazy about ice fishing.
Maybe he thinks he can walk on water? I mused.
A neighbor called, asking if we’d seen the man walking on thin ice. He and my husband quipped about which of them would dive in to save him.
But then, I checked my thinking and turned to kinder possibilities. Probably a veteran winter backwater fisher, this man must know more about conditions than I do.
Surely he had heard the angler’s warning about ice: “Thick and blue, tried and true. Thin and crispy, way too risky.”
Does he fervently wait for this day each winter when he can finally drill into the river and catch dinner?
Layered in an insulated jacket and sweatshirt, life jacket, thick wool cap, chunky bibs and sturdy buckled boots, he was decked out like the Emperor of Ice Shacks. I was mesmerized watching him stab, stab, step — stab, stab, step. He made it all the way to the back pond 400 yards away.
Whenever I sauntered past the patio doors throughout the afternoon and looked out, I saw him jigging away. An avid sportsman, he just had to be out there through thick and thin.
Hours later, I saw him slog back across the river into the setting sun. Even though the ice appeared thinner than before, there was no choice this time; he had to get back to land before nightfall. Stab, stab, step — stab, stab, step.
I think about all of us mortal beings the world over. During the past 10 months, we’ve been picking our way along virus puddles, stabbing at icy fear, placing a foot just so, trying to just get to the end.
The wisest among us take precautions like the iceman — side-stepping thin ice big group gatherings, crowded bars, restaurants and churches; dragging our distancing sleds; and wearing lifejacket masks.
Just a little farther, friends, and we’ll get to the end. Metaphors aside, however, I’m still not skating Frentress Lake for at least a week.