All winter long I have been appreciating the ice-fishermen out at Codorus while on my work commute. These are hardy folks. They embrace the winter elements, defying the advice of weather forecasters and loved ones by going out when everyone else is staying in. It is not necessarily hubris that drives them as much as it is the need to simply breathe outside and look upon nature’s beauty while partaking in an activity they love, an activity that has the added bonus of a potential quick jolt of adrenaline.
In the early morning they carry their buckets of gear, windblocks, and drills, silently honoring winter’s grace while walking across the ice. They are clothed in insulated pants and coats colored camouflage and hunter’s orange. Hats, gloves and big boots protect the extremities.
Holes are drilled. Ice is scooped out. Lines are prepared. Ice is scooped out again. Lines are set.
Sit on the bottom side of the bucket. Wait.
What an ice-fisherman is thinking while sitting on the ice waiting for a bite on the end of the line is intriguing to me. I considered walking out to meet a few the them. Then I reconsidered.
I do not have a right to their thoughts. Me asking questions of them seems a bit rude. All of us deserve quiet time for uninterrupted reflection. If I really want to know, I could head out on the frozen lake myself.
While some may see it quite foolish to fish through a hole in the ice in subfreezing weather, I see it as testament to the freedom of the human spirit. For an ice-fisherman is not out there for the sole purpose of catching a fish. No. The ice-fisherman fishes through a hole in the ice on cold, grey, winter days with a biting breeze in his face to maintain his connection to something that Jack London described as The Call of the Wild–the non-relinquishing to total comfort and mundaneness, and/or the need to touch the experience where human control is teetering on the edge of risk.
Frozen Lake Marburg on a nineteen degree day with a whipping northern wind can serve as the setting to have such an experience. The ice-fisherman seizes the opportunity. By doing so, he accepts the discomfort of cold’s eventual penetration of the thermal layers, the hidden risks of walking on frozen water, the casting-off by other members of society of him as being “crazy,” or “not-right.”
The ice-fisherman is not to be romanticized, however. He is to be respected.
Often I have driven by and let out a loud whoop with some genuine happy laughter when I’ve seen an ice-fisherman. The sight of them makes me feel good. Why? Because they are following their own set of rules.
(7 March 2004)