Archive for January, 2016

Ice Fishing

Our family had an ice fishing house many years ago. I’m giving a lot of credit here by using the word “house”. It was actually a little tar paper shack, big enough to fit a couple of folding camp stools and a small wood-burning stove which surrounded a hole in the floor, which surrounded a hole drilled into the ice. Even as a kid, I loved to fish, but I loved to drive the snowmobile more, and would go like the wind, staying close to shore and avoiding the spot where the creek met the lake. That spot never quite froze all the way over. I stayed close to shore not because I was told to, but because being on a frozen lake has always given me the heebie-jeebies. In case you didn’t know, even solidly frozen ice on a lake can creak and groan like an old Farm Woman attempting to get out of bed on a cold winter’s morning. My fears also stem from the time that a family friend went ice fishing and the car broke through the ice. Knowing that his car was going down, he tossed his son through the window to safety. Thankfully, all of them survived, but I often wondered if the son, who became one of my best childhood friends, fueled those fears with stories of the adventure. He certainly had earned the bragging rights! I don’t remember if we actually saw the car as it was pulled out of the frozen lake or if I heard the story so many times that it became part of my own memories, but each time I sat in that dark little tar paper shack, I waited to fall through the ice, or at the very least, trip and fall through the hole into the icy water. I even have a hard time watching the iceberg scene in the Titanic movie. You know the one where the frost-covered Leonardo DiCaprio slips off the ‘berg into his cold and watery grave while professing undying love. Heebie-jeebies. These days, things are a lot different in the world of ice fishing. Tar paper shacks are far less common, having been replaced by portable tents or even better, mobile fish houses on wheels, complete with kitchens, couches, and satellite TVs. No half-frozen bologna sandwiches and thermos jugs filled with lukewarm coffee for the modern fisherman or woman. One could probably live for days in a setup like that, but not me. I wouldn’t be able to sleep a wink, waiting for the groaning cracking ice to give way. My vivid imagination hasn’t changed much over the years. It is either that or an anxiety disorder. Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference. HE has started ice fishing this year with a small portable fish house. Of course he chose to start this winter, when I have had foot surgery and am stuck at home in front of the warm fire with nothing to do except worry that he is not home exactly when I think he should be home. The rewards of this worry are delicious, though. There is nothing that tastes quite as good as fresh fish caught in icy cold water. Perhaps next year I will join him and face my fears head-on.

Pictures by Dave Donnelly, photographer and fisherman extraordinaire.

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The Saturday Night Dance

There isn’t much to do on a Saturday night in a small town, but every so often in our small town there was a wedding dance at the old arena. Since everybody knew everybody around here, the dances were often advertised in the paper and we all went to help the happy couple celebrate. Our arena was a huge cavernous old building that housed a gymnasium and bleachers, the local library and the police station. The gym was used for basketball and roller skating as well as junior proms and wedding dances. When I was 17, a good-looking young man asked me on a date to one of those dances, and I was very eager to go. He must not have been quite as eager as I was, because he was late. Very late. So late, in fact, that I left without him, angry, hurt, and determined to go by myself and have nothing to do with him ever again. When he finally caught up with me, full of apologies and excuses, I kept my nose in the air, arms crossed over my chest, and pouted. For some strange reason, I thought of that long-ago dance last Saturday night, when I was lucky enough to spend the evening with my grandson Max, who is nearly three. After a Curious George marathon he took a bath in a tub filled with soap and cars, which he appropriately calls the “car wash”. I thought he would settle down and go to sleep, but he grabbed his harmonica instead and started to play. He took me by the hand and we danced and stomped around the living room with the exuberance that only a young boy and an old grandmother can have. We held hands and twirled until we fell on the couch, laughing. Once we (me more than him) caught our breath, we started all over again. I didn’t care that the curtains were open and that the neighbors, who might not see the small boy, would wonder why an old woman was stomping and twirling around the living room playing a harmonica. To be honest, neither of us even knows how to play the harmonica, but we made lively music and for a few glorious moments, time stood still. Sometimes, time can be an enemy and sometimes, time can be a friend. It can tear down old arenas until they are no more than memories. It can give you many minutes or hours or days with those you love but can it also turn 17 year-olds into grandmothers in what seems like only the blink of an eye. At that long-ago wedding celebration, I finally stopped pouting and agreed to have just one dance with that good-looking young man. As we walked to the dance floor, the music slowed. Time was my enemy at that moment, because I wanted that dance to go on for ever and always. I guess in a way, it did. HE was a really good dancer, and still is. I hope we’re both around to dance at Max’s wedding. I might even play the harmonica.

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About a week ago, we had a family seafood extravaganza which was a late Christmas celebration of sorts, and along with some great food, enjoyed some rather balmy temperatures. For those of you who don’t live in the Minnesota, “balmy” in January means 32 degrees above zero or thereabouts. The type of weather where one might just wear a sweatshirt and jeans, with a few show-offs wearing shorts and flip-flops. Back when I lived in the deep south, 32 degrees or thereabouts meant parkas and long underwear. On gorgeous days like these, I open the door to the coop and let the girls out to the covered chicken run if they choose, and a few of them do love to scratch in the snow. I haven’t let them free range in the yard this winter, because due to milder than usual temperatures, there have been hungry eagles flying around the neighborhood who are looking for dinner. I tossed the shrimp and crab leg remnants into a large feeding dish, along with a few other goodies. Chickens love seafood, picking and scratching at the crab legs, trying to get at any remnant of meat. It not only gives them some extra calcium, it gives them something to do during the long winter besides pick at each other. Just as the old saying goes, if you don’t like the weather around here, just give it another week or so. Today, with those sweet warm memories in mind, Old Man Winter blew in with temperatures that we haven’t felt in a year. It is the glacial, biting type of cold that takes my breath away and sends me to my bed, cowering under the electric blanket, watching reruns of Law and Order: SVU and surrounded by seed catalogues. Barney the Chihuahua agrees with me and stays burrowed under the covers, coming out only occasionally to look out the window to make sure there are no squirrels or bluejays at the bird feeder. Before I can enjoy this warm oasis however, I must care for the chickens. During the coldest days of winter, I have a heat lamp or two on a timer and keep the coop door closed. The water bowl is plugged in to keep it from freezing, and I change the water daily, adding a little apple cider vinegar to ward off disease. Today, when I went to feed and water them, I discovered that the girls must have had an extravaganza of their own. Perhaps I should say eggstravaganza. Crab leg shells were strewn from one end of the coop to the other, and they had managed to uncover and tear apart an entire bale of straw, making it calf deep and difficult for me to navigate around the coop. Hidden under the straw were frozen crab legs that when stepped on, made a crunching sound under my boots which sounded and felt almost like crunching eggshells. Wait a minute….those WERE eggshells! Instead of laying in their nice warm nesting boxes, the chickens had buried eggs here and there, under the deep straw. I stepped on several of these half-frozen land mines as I searched for hidden eggs, kind of like a crazy Easter egg hunt, Farm Woman style. To top it off, they tipped over the water bucket while my back was turned, causing me to have to trek back across the frozen tundra to the house to get more. Figuring the cost of the extra electricity for heat lamps and heated water bowls, combined with the price of feed, I could probably give up chicken farming and be able to afford to eat crab legs every day if I wanted to. Instead, I will head out there tomorrow and see what the chickens have been up to. Perhaps I’ll even get there before the eggs freeze.

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