Today is Friday, supposedly. It’s normally my favorite day of the week, but this one feels too….ordinary. I’m having trouble embracing it.
It’s about 15 below outside and branches wave discouragingly in the budding daylight. No wonder it got so cold in here. There isn’t much to do other than feed the fire, curl up on the couch, and turn the radio on. I pull a blanket onto my lap and up to my neck.
Fishing yesterday afternoon was less than great— no action on the tip-ups while the wind nipped at our cheeks and noses. Nothing to fillet; just as much to eat. We said we’d hit it again today, but I’m not eager for more of the same. Coffee keeps me company while I turn over all the options for this uninspiring day.
One by one the rest slink down from the loft. It’s time for breakfast. Normally we have something quick, but pancakes aren’t an imposition today while we wait for temperatures to creep toward zero.
After a while I strap on my knee-high boots for a tromp in the snow. It will be good to burn some calories and take in some crisp air. It’s a short trip down the road to a stand of red pines. I jump the bank and head in.
There are many more deer tracks among the pines than around the cabin, which is not much more than 100 yards back. Depressions in the snow reveal a fondness for bedding here. Broken branches show where they nipped at hazel buds. They’ve certainly been around, but not much recently. Maybe wolves are keeping them on the move.
I come out of the woods into my cousin’s lot, noting several nice maple trees along the way. I wonder if they consider tapping them; their kids might get a kick out of that. The view of the lake is incredible from here this time of year. And their old pines are downright majestic in the snow.
A voice jolts me from my inner musings. “Hi! You are currently being recorded.”
My eyes scan to find the source of the disembodied voice. When I see it, I give a cheesy smile and wave to the camera under the eave. I continue on my way, ready for lunch.
What to do next?
The chickadees and nuthatches have been emptying the feeder at an incredible rate. I venture out to deposit some more sunflower seeds. On a whim, I crouch down and hold some out. It only takes a minute for birds to begin landing there. Chickadees are eager to come to my hand, but nuthatches pick bashfully from the other side of the feeder.
They’re clearly unalarmed by my presence. Not tame, exactly, just not afraid of me as long as I don’t move— or sniffle my nose too loudly. Tiny claws help them perch, yet are barely detectable on my skin (which seems a cumbersome armor compared to their daintiness).
They flit around wildly; it’s exciting when two or three swoop in at once. Their wings make a dull fluttering sound around my ears. One lands on my hat, then hops down.
Another seems curious about this new bird feeder; he explores my hand and pecks at my thumb. Satisfied, he grabs a seed and rockets off again.
You know what? I feel like fishing now.
Yes, I didn’t buy suckers to watch them swim circles in my bucket. I need to try again. It’s sunny out and hopefully the kids will want to join in.
The sled hisses behind me as I beeline across the lake. For some reason I feel optimistic; maybe it’s because there are several hours left before the sun goes down. Hoping for the best, I stick a tip-up in the first hole, then go about drilling more.
There are plenty of active fish in one spot, so I fling my house up and climb inside. They are unusually eager to bite, though mostly small. A round, beautifully-colored bluegill comes up and I’d like to get a picture of him. Before I do, I glance outside to make sure there isn’t a fish waiting on my tip-up.
But there is. Hoping I’ll get another photo opportunity, I unhook the bluegill, send him back down, and dash outside.
The northern under the flag is a plump 21-incher. Just after I stash it next to the sled and get that line re-baited, my daughter steps onto the lake.
By the time she arrives, I’ve caught many more bluegills. She sits on the bucket and starts reeling them in. I can’t recall them being quite so cooperative on this lake in the winter. Too bad they’re not bigger.
Another tip-up goes off and we run out. When she begins playing the fish, my daughter can tell it’s a good one. It makes a few runs before it arrives at the hole. Two times the hook gets caught on the bottom edge. The second is enough to give that fish another lease on life, and we re-bait the hook.
Just as we begin to pack up for the night, another flag goes up. My daughter handily pulls up a 20-incher, which will also go for a ride in the sled. We finish gathering our stuff and head back feeling redeemed and refreshed.
It’s getting dark and suppertime is fast approaching. So I dump chili in a pot and put it on the wood stove, then grab a plastic bag and hurry out to fillet those fish.
Since they are just on the pliable side of frozen, it’s a quick job. An examination of their stomach contents shows they’ve eaten bluegills and crappies from one to about seven inches long. While panfish continue to inhabit that spot in such concentrations, I’m sure it will be just as full of pike.
Chili is getting warm by the time I get back inside. It stokes our internal fires and my son and I hatch a plan to bundle up and go out on the lake. Due to the absence of moonlight and clouds, stargazing should be at its best.
The snow conforms to our backsides as we wiggle into place. It’s cold at first on my back and legs, but that goes away. Maybe I’m going numb, but I don’t care.
Looking straight up, there is nothing to see but stars and blackness. My perfectly-molded bed helps me feel weightless, like floating in deep space. We say little as we linger there, contemplating meteors, galaxies, satellites, and distances too large to fully grasp.
A chill creeps in and my boy rustles his way back to standing. He says he’ll see me inside.
I wasn’t going to stay much longer anyway, so I follow him up the hill. We talk about what a treat it is to see the stars like that, and it dawns on me how much better this day was than the one I expected when I woke up.
I hope tomorrow can be just as ordinary.