One cold-weather pastime I’ll never understand

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Some things we just don’t have to think about down here. Cold, frosty things. Which, in my case, is probably a good thing. I like to picture my mind as a bucket, which is filled with all useful things. The more useless things that get dumped into it, the more useful ones spill out over its rim. Some people have plenty of room in their buckets for both, for 5 gallons of memories, trivia, and even song lyrics. But I have come to realize that mine is very small—not so much a bucket as a teacup. 

My point is that here, south of the permafrost, we do not need to contemplate so many things this time of year—like, say, a snow shovel, though I guess it would be good for beating fire ants or chiggers to death. We don’t have to choose snow tires or mukluks.

That leaves ample room for pineapple upside-down cake and sausage biscuits. I like to think of winter as short—a thing in passing. I like to stand in the drugstore and wonder what SPF would be suitable for a pasty man. I like to think that, any day now, only the early mosquitoes will be biting, not wolverines. My point is, I do not have room in my limited mind for the foibles of chilly men.

So why, for several weeks now, have I been thinking about ice fishing?

It’s not the how of it that haunts me. I have read enough about it to comprehend that.

It’s the why.

Why would I drive my pickup onto any one of the Great Lakes, towing a small house behind, which will keep the howling winds from freezing off my lips, nose, and ears? The hut has a heater that (by all logic) should melt a hole in the ice so it swallows us—hut, truck, and all. But this rarely happens, I am told, in part because the ice is so thick and because, even with a heater, it is still cold enough to kill a thin-blooded man. 

To even get at the fish, which have somehow not frozen to death, you have to saw out a hole big enough to drop a baited line, a hole that will keep freezing up. I don’t know about you, but there is nothing that gets me in the mood for fishing quite like the familiar screaming of a Poulan Pro and the rhythm of an ice ax.

The hole should not be big enough to fall into, drunk, I am told, since I cannot see how anyone could endure this (huddled in the cold and staring down into a tiny hole) if they were sober. But of all things I cannot quite wrap my mind around, this is the most difficult: You have to bring an ice chest out onto the ice to hold your beer. If you just set it outside, it would freeze. I just can’t comprehend this.

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Maybe the reason it is all stuck in my head is because of the one time I ever witnessed people ice fishing, or at least saw their little plywood huts. I was in Minnesota when I noticed a dark speck, approaching at a lope, on the white ice. As it got closer, I saw that it was a large rodent of some kind, carrying a fish that it had apparently stolen from the camp. In all my time fishing in the sunshine, I never—not even once—had a gopher swim out and steal a speckled trout.

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