This past week is the one we’ve all been waiting for in the Duluth area. At least the one the ice fishers, figure skaters, hockey players, and dog walkers have been dreaming of all winter: a week of smooth-as-glass ice on the world’s biggest lake, also known as wild ice.
We’ve got it good right now with the 5 inches of crystal clear freedom that can take us where we want to go. The party on ice goes on all day, from the first rays of sunshine crossing the horizon (ice anglers stumble out into the blackness at dawn, hoping to get on the “morning bite”), until deep into the night (fat bikers getting their thrills flying across the frozen expanse to the light of headlamps). We can skate for miles, drill holes all day, and fire slapshots halfway to Two Harbors on this magic surface. We have the world’s largest skating rink right downtown.
This week I did something I don’t normally: I got up at 5:15 a.m. Twice. To go fishing before work. It was the kind-of-crazy commitment that other ice-lovers know well: Don’t wait for the weekend when the ice is this good, go now! Wild ice is a commodity that comes when it wants, and it can leave in a flash, too. Wait a day and it can be smashed to bits on shore, or worse yet, floated out to sea. My task was to work life in around the ice’s schedule because when the conditions all came together, all I wanted was to get away to a fast, fishy, fabulous world.
So, blurry eyed, lacking in sleep, I walked out onto that field of icy dreams to put in some “sitting time,” as my friend likes to call it, before work. That means to sit on a bucket and freeze into an ice sculpture while trying to catch fish.
This is not torture though. It’s refreshing to break from my routine and gamble on catching a lake trout or coho salmon that inhabit Lake Superior. It’s worth “sacrificing” sleep, money, and time for the prize of hooking into a Lake Superior salmonid. Catching one a couple hundred yards off of Interstate 35 in downtown Duluth is a bizarre, fulfilling experience.
But I don’t even have to get a bite on my line to reap nature’s rewards. There’s the beautiful sunrise reflecting off the transparent ice at low light. There’s the “space laser” sound of ice booming below my feet. There’s the camaraderie of all these other strangers on the ice with me who all have something in common: the sense to tune in with nature and drop everything and just get out when the ice is right.
This sums up life in Duluth and along the North Shore: wild ice is a luxury item, a rare jewel, a treasure. The ice is so precious, so giving, so fleeting that that I feel like a recipient of a Medal of Freedom. An award that I’m ready to celebrate.