Friday, December 16, 2011

Ice by Steve "Guido" Downing

This week on Between You and Me on KAXE (Saturdays from 10am-noon) we talk ice.  People have taken to the lakes this winter because our our lack of snow and reignited their passion for all things ice.  Check out the KAXE Ice Skating facebook page here

Here's Steve's story:


            The hands-down best ice for skating is a lake that has frozen fast, overnight, when the lake was not generating even slow-motion waves, and before there’s anything more than a dusting of light fluffy snow. This sort of alignment occurs no oftener than once a decade. It’s as impermanent as a Martini. You must act right now, not tomorrow.
             Right now, between you and me, imagine that I’ve just pushed off from our house onto Shoal Lake, north of Grand Rapids. My skates are sharp. It’s a beautiful morning, sunny, no wind, cold enough that the lake is still making ice but not so cold that your eyelashes and front-brain freeze up.
            I  strike off into the southeastern bay, where the lake is outlined by gravel pit and swamp, no other houses. I’m about twenty yards from shore, on perfectly clear see-through ice, that looks to be four inches or so thick. The lake’s only six or eight feet deep here in the bay. Suddenly, something catches my eye down there, under the ice. I put on the brakes. Wheel around. Drop into a squat. There. It’s a boat, an old-timey wooden row-boat. Gunwales, seats, ribs: all cloaked in dark underwater moss. I first saw this sunken boat a few summers ago, from the canoe and kayak. Then it seemed to somehow fade away. Last year, it simply was not there, not anywhere. I presumed wind and current had moved it, or someone, implausibly, had raised it. But here it is, more or less right where I remember first finding it. I go down to all fours, for a better look, working on new theories. I’m sure the boat was closer to the surface the last time I saw it, from the kayak, so maybe the mystery is related to changing water levels, or maybe to processes and conditions on the lake-bottom or the underside of the boat.
            As I’m working through this, on hands and knees, my face probably an inch off the ice, I see…a dog. A dog, underwater, alive, swimming, with a mouthful of sticks, passing over the sunken boat, headed for deeper water. This so startles me, I jerk up, not quietly. I might even speak in tongues here, just for a second, hard to tell. The dog reacts. Its head swivels up. One eye registers my presence. It blinks, kicks, does a little course correction, and is gone.
            Of course it’s not a dog. It’s a beaver. Which only enhances the impact of the encounter. For one exceptional moment, I participated in that animal’s unexceptional morning. It does feel like a privilege. A beaver, on its way home after a hard day’s night doing dirty commerce, gathering provisions for the clan. Is it too much to hope for, that it might be able to stop and have a drink with the gang at the local watering hole? Too much to hope for, that it’ll get into some excellent trouble, moral and physical, between here and hutch?
            Suppose it does stop at the watering hole. Would it share with the gang anything about the exchange we, it and I, just had?
            Guys, you won’t believe what happened. Up top. This old four-legged-four-eyed geezer is staring down at me. At first I think it’s a dog. I’m serious. A dog. I wink at him. I do. I wink. The geezer flat-out has a stroke….
            And so on. Bar talk. Between you and me: I’m fine.

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