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On the Ice with Rose

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  • On the Ice with Rose

    Posted by KevinRoach

    On the Ice with Rose



    The day after Christmas I decide to do some spear fishing. I don’t really need the fish but must have the solitude and quiet after the clamor of the holidays.

    I load up the shack, chainsaw, spear, bait, chisel, firewood, stove, string and rope, and some balsam branches and haul it all out on the ice. I got two worthless dogs to help. One is too old and the other just a puppy so I end up hauling everything by myself. It took several trips dragging all that stuff a couple hundred yards out onto the ice.

    I cut a hole two foot by one and a half foot with the chainsaw. The ice is about twelve inches thick. Hard to lift that huge block out but I manage to pry and lift and finally tip it free. Then I position the shack over the hole.

    Each corner of the shack is blocked up with a chunk of firewood so it doesn't freeze to the ice. Balsam boughs are stacked around the outside and covered with snow. It makes a nice lightproof seal around the bottom of the shack. More boughs are put on the inside to make sure no light sneaks in under my feet.

    Going inside I can’t see a thing. The shack is as dark as I can make it. My eyes are accustomed to the bright sun and snow so I'm blind in the dark. It takes a while to adapt. The only light entering the shack is from the hole in the ice. It’s bright down there, like watching a TV screen in a darkened room.

    I build a little fire in my stove and soon its warm and cozy. I hang my coat on the door and start water heating for coffee. The shack is only five by six feet with a low ceiling. A simple framework of two by two lumber supports the tarpaper walls. One corner has a stove, another corner has a hole and a third corner holds a folding chair. It’s a tight fit. Just enough room to sit, my back to the door, staring down into the hole at my feet.

    A line dangles down through the ice with an eight inch trout hooked through the back. The water is about twelve feet deep and the trout is swimming at nine feet. My spear, a five foot steel rod with a five prong head attached sits next to the hole. Its rope tied to a nail in the framing.

    I wait...and wait...and wait some more.

    The trout gets agitated...something's approaching. He swims left, I look right to see what scares him. It’s just a crayfish walking on the bottom.

    More waiting.

    I hope a big musky enters within range of my spear. Walleyes I can catch in the spring, bluegills and bass all summer, trout are in the rivers. But those big muskellunge are caught in the winter through a hole in the ice.

    A musky will come in slow and stealthy like a submarine. Sometimes the trout don’t even see them. Its like they just appear in the hole, moving slow, mouth open, ready for that final burst of speed. I saw a musky once that must have been close to sixty inches, thirty-five or forty pounds. He came past just outside the hole. I could have tried a sideways throw with the spear but I figured he'd come back in. Maybe I spooked him, or he wasn't especially hungry but he never returned.


    I sit for hours staring down into a hole in the ice, waiting for that big fish that will feed us for five or six meals. Drinking my coffee, roasting hotdogs on the fire, smoking my pipe, saying a prayer and reminding myself what a damn good life I've been given. It’s warm and dark, my belly is full and I’m tired from setting up the shack.

    The hypnotic wiggling of my bait, the wind moaning across the chimney, and the cracking and pinging of the ice eases my mind into a contemplative state. I love the drifting feeling I get, my thoughts slowing, matching the rhythms of the frozen lake. I’m relaxed, comfortable.

    I guess I dozed off for I found I'm no longer in the iceshack. I know I’m in a dream. It’s a crowd scene. Three women stand in front of my family and myself watching some unknown event. The center woman wears a black blouse and long golden skirt. A powwow or ceremony skirt. Her shining black hair reaches to mid-back. She stands erect with strong arms and square shoulders, an athletic build. It takes me a moment to recognize her.

    "Tinser. Is that you?"

    "Hey Cuz." She says as she turns and gives me a hug, "We keep running into each other today."

    "I didn’t expect to see you here."

    "I know," she answered, "we must like hanging out at the same weird places"

    This was my cousin Rose, though I still thought of her by her childhood nickname "Tinser." I’d last seen her three months ago, just weeks before her death. Now she stands in front of me, looking great, in a ceremonial skirt.

    Tinser hasn’t stood in any kind of skirt for the past thirty years. Not since the night a rapist sat down in her car, a stranger with a gun and a lust for violence and domination. Tinser put up a good fight, a fight for her life, until the assailant decided it was easier just to shoot her. Shot the hell out her. Five or six rounds didn’t kill Tinser but left her in a wheelchair without the use of her legs.

    The bullets broke her back but not her spirit. She was still the happy and vibrant young woman she’d always been, with a bold, defiant streak a mile wide. She didn’t take no **** from nobody. Her smile dazzled, but it was best to stay out of arms reach if you pissed her off.

    The last time I saw her was about three, four months ago. She looked tired. Thin, with sunken cheeks and dark circles under her eyes. Kidney troubles, infections, and medications were wearing on her damaged body. I felt sorry for her. Of course I didn’t say that. Instead I told her how good she looked. She’d have verbally kicked my *** if she thought I was pitying her. Maybe she saw something in my eyes but the words couldn’t be spoken.

    Today though, in a dream, in a tarpaper shack on the ice stands a different Rose. Tall and athletic and beautiful, not the beauty of youth, but a strong mature strength and confidence. Standing proud and courageous in a ceremonial dress. This is the woman I failed to see, the real person inside that broken body. The spirit of Tinser. She’d come here, to a time and place in which I was most receptive, and given me a different view of herself.

    "Take care Cuz," she said as she turned and walked away.

    I didn’t catch any fish that day. Didn’t even see one. But I’d been given something precious. A vision of Tinser’s spirit. A final memory to replace the picture of her frail and broken body. Pride and courage to repair the pity in my heart. A precious gift I will carry the rest of my life.

    I pack my gear on the sled, sprinkle a little tobacco on the ice, murmur, "migwech cousin," and start the long walk home.
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