Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The sport of champions!

Driving along the winterscape here in the anti-hell of Minnesota, you get to see a lot of fun things. A deer might run by, and you ponder how it is that they stay warm when it's 30 below right outside your window. You'll often get to see a herd of fools on snowmobiles jumping drifts in ditches in a wind that can turn your earlobes to glass. Once a year in the small town where my folks live, they have a golf tournament. In the middle of winter. On the lake next to the town.

Just because.

But every December or so, you get to see something really special. Here in the north country, December is when foolhardiness kicks into high gear. One day you'll see a clear lake. The next, you'll see that several ice houses have sprung up, like some strange form of toadstools. The day after that, you'll probably have a city on the ice. All that's missing is a domed stadium and a city hall. In some places it's possible to have pizza delivered to you while you fish. I've done it before.

All those people have an obsession, and it goes something like this: first, spend a lot of money to buy a fish house, winter pole(s), tackle, auger, heater, and miscellaneous other things. You'll probably also need a 4-wheel-drive vehicle, because it's not fun getting stuck on the lake. If you want freedom of movement, you'll want a plow blade to mount on the front of your vehicle. Figure a minimum of $15,000 all told, and that's if you get shoddy equipment.

Then you spend a lot of time building and/or prepping the house, getting your gear ready, mounting the blade, plowing a path to a good place for your house, unloading the house, setting it up, banking it with snow (the only insulation handy), getting the heater started, drilling your hole and dipping all the ice chunks out of it. You've already visited the bait store and probably someplace for snacks and soda or beer. Finally, the moment is here.

You then put your minnow on the hook, drop the hook into the water...and watch the hole.

That's it. That's what everybody around here is so crazy about. Watching the hole. If you're lucky once in awhile the bobber will jerk down, and if you're luckier once in awhile you'll actually pull in a fish. More often you can just sit and watch the hole for hours on end.

Minnesota is renowned as a center of education and culture in the middle of flyover country. We have first-class universities, the best theaters in America outside of the coasts and maybe Chicago, some of the best city living to be had can be found in the Twin Cities and we're a very progressive lot all in all.

But something happens in winter, and we go back to basics. It's easy to imagine cave men sitting in the exact same spot, staring at a hole they've hacked in the ice with a spear, ready to catch dinner. It's a mystery. But there it is. Deal with it. Ugh.

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