Winter’s existential question: When is it safe to venture onto the ice at Brant Lake? What is the necessary thickness? For Coco, our three-legged, 45-pound Dog Of All Breeds, the answer is one inch of ice. However, if Coco spies a chipmunk on the ice she will scamper out at one half inch. Ice fishermen say the correct thickness is 3 inches. Then, augers and tip ups in hand, ice clamps on their shoes and the ubiquitous six pack of Naked Bear ale, the ice fishermen drill holes and drop a line. Ted, our caretaker, usually waits until he sees a red pickup truck traverse the lake. Why red? Actually, any color pickup truck will do. In contrast, I am the cautious type and prefer to wait for an 18-wheeler to maneuver onto the ice. To be honest, I have never seen an 18-wheeler on the lake but I always believe it is better to have a bird in the hand than an ice fisherman in the lake.
However, this winter the ice was reluctant to freeze. On Route 8 the Saturday green market had closed in October and erected a sign, “Closed For The Season. Reason…Freezin.” But the lake was not freezing. Nonetheless, throwing caution aside, when I noticed a cluster of fishing shacks hauled onto the lake I decided to inspect the days catch. Following the driveway leading into Point O’ Pines, I carefully walked offshore, onto the layer of ice that did exist and advanced towards a well constructed wooden fishing shack occupied by two men, icicles dripping off their beards, who had drilled a dozen holes and were waiting for the flag of a tip up to spring, signifying a fish at the end of the line. While waiting they watched a movie on their iPad (appropriately the movie was “Jaws”), and warmed themselves next to a portable stove. These were serious fisherman and, if successful, they would haul in a 20-inch trout and a mess of perch.
Continuing my travels, I passed a burly man who had caught a large pickerel–not very desirable to eat but a wonderful gift for Coco who had not yet located a chipmunk. Suddenly, I heard a rush of water and realized I was approaching an area not yet frozen. There, to my amazement, a man with red hair, wearing heavy snowmobile gloves and green waterproof boots, was casting into the open water with a minnow as bait. He was using a fishing rod normally used to catch bass in summer. In order to gain greater distance with the cast this intrepid sportsman moved closer and closer to the edge. Testing the ice. Testing fate. How close would he move towards the freezing water? Would he fall off his perch in search of a perch? I decided not to stay around and watch but I was certain that later in the day some stranger would bring home a report from his fishing escapade that would proclaim, “I caught six perch, two trout and a 5-foot, 10-inch creature, a denison of the deep.”
Would the “Adirondack Chronicle” relate a story of this indefatigable fisherman who advanced slightly too close to open water? And, since this is a corollary of winter’s existential question, would the local population debate when too far is too far? How indiscriminate are the risks we are willing to take? Is it worth it? And, do we wish the anxiety of spending our lives walking or floating on thin ice?