How do I describe the big lake to you in the face of a hard north wind that waters my eyes and takes my breath away? How can I even begin to show you what I see? OK, I’ll try, because it’s worth trying. And please forgive me if my efforts fall short, for even a picture doesn't capture the feel of a place-the magnetic pull, for instance, at a certain location by the Dead Sea called Jericho, or the aura of the Grand Canyon at sunset. I can look at pictures in the National Geographic where the best are published, but will I feel the depth of the gorge in the pit of my stomach?
Lake Huron is a shimmering mirage, a frozen landscape of jagged ridges and valleys—waves caught in the freeze-frame of February. At first glance it appears solid, like a snow-covered field, but then the undulating movement of the surface in sync with the swells below it, captures the eye. Like the sands of Dune, the whole thing is heaving with the power of what lies beneath. It mesmerizes like the head of a cobra. I cup my mittened hands around my eyes to block the wind and stare. Further out, in open water, jagged ice floes peak the horizon like sailboats. This monster of a lake with the reach of an ocean has always amazed me.
One lone ice fisherman walks the bank with his backpack and his pail and walking stick. He tramps carefully in cleated boots. He is prepared, bundled up like a Sherpa guide. I am not. I don’t have my camera (so you’ll never believe this), I don’t have my long underwear, and I don’t have my boots. What I am is crazy, and what I have is a new haircut with caramel highlights still damp from the salon, hidden by the scarf wound tight around my head for this impromptu walk on the breakwater. When I realized I was only three miles from the lake, I knew I would keep going. How does anyone turn their back on this water? I’ve never been able to figure that out. I’ve never been able to do it.
I wrap my scarf over my mouth and walk along the railing of the breakwater to where the sand turns to ice, afraid to go further, afraid I’ll slip or my scarf will blow away and I’ll be tempted to chase it, afraid I’ll fall off the edge onto the shifting ice.
He is Fred Bear. It says so on the back window of the pickup truck I parked alongside. Just drill that hole his bumper sticker encourages his fellow fishermen. With the bad economy, ice fishing is on the uprise. It doesn’t cost anything and you can bring dinner home. I like a man bullish on winter, one who can bring dinner home. There are only the two of us out here. If I get in trouble, will he save me? If I get frostbit, will he unthaw me?
I start back for the car. I can’t keep up with him. I walk past park benches and frozen fountains. I walk past the restaurant that used to be the summer hot spot. The view was destroyed when they built the marina and extended the breakwater and now it’s shuttered, like the dancehall and the roller rink. Only the lake is still the same.
I walk past his truck with the bumper stick innuendo and hop in my little Ford and turn on the heat. I shake out my hair and laugh. The damp tendrils on my neck are frozen stiff. Oh, Fred, if I had my long underwear on I’d go out with you and help drill that hole.