Hookers and Holes

I took the SUV as a sign. The blue sky, the wind chill warning, the photos on Facebook of ice fisherman with their coolers: it all makes for a lovely day at the lake, and it was, but when I saw the red Ford SUV pulling out of a gravelly drive, a pony-tailed woman on a cell phone behind the wheel, and the words, “Mobile Escort Service” emblazoned on the side, I knew it was also going to be a weird day at the lake.
Funky snow
I guess fishermen get as lonely as the next guy, right? Blech.
Okay, yes, it’s entirely possible this was the kind of escort that follows a large truck from the fracking fields to the gas plant. That actually didn’t occur to me until just now, after several uncomfortable hours imagining a diminutive woman in heels knocking on the creaky door of Big Curtis’s ice shack. 
The desert of ice and the approaching cirrus clouds
In 35 years I’ve never seen the ice stick around for eight weeks. Moreover, this blog has given me wonderful occasion to walk on it every ten days. I thought perhaps I’d go back into the woods today, that maybe everyone is tired of my ice walks. But here’s the thing about ice: it’s constantly morphing into something new. It’s as undependable as my husband at the grocery store. (“You wanted pads, right? These say “Poise”. Is that okay?”) At the moment, because of this extreme, lengthy cold, it feels as solid as the ground. When I jump on it, it neither echoes nor vibrates. And, hidden as it is under the crusty snow, it may as well be a sleeping cornfield. Yet, when the jet stream changes and warmer air arrives or a different sort of snow falls, it’ll be a foreign place again. 
I keep putting off her haircut for these hikes.
In my photos it always appears to be same lake. I’m so glad I’ve got words on my side to explain to you how vastly different it is from visit to visit. In January the ice was glassy and new. Two weeks ago it was windswept, and the snow was thin and spread out as on a blustery beach. Today the ice looked like a desert. There’s no snow on the trees, and we endured a weird snowstorm last weekend that created this Piedmont Sahara. Four inches of snow fell and then it began to rain/sleet/ice. The result is a snow cone, and in places it looked popcorny. The thin crust on the top of the snow cover gave way when I stepped on it. Temperatures have been so cold for so long that the ice can handle a fleet of Hummers. I transitioned from terra firma to the surface of the lake and had every intention of walking right across the cove to the other shore. We rarely get to do that; temps have to be below freezing for about two weeks. Our temps have been below zero for so long that all the melanin has left my skin and my butt now blends in with the bathroom tile. 
The solidity of the footing lulled me into a false sense of security. I walked along and suddenly crack!A tiny canyon shot horizontally across my path. I promptly shit my pantsdid a foul-mouthed two-step as I hustled my buns back to the shallows. My heart beat out its terror in my chest and my throat was dry and I felt the adrenaline surge diminish all the way down in my legs. It made no sense! The ice is every bit of ten inches thick. The Piedmont Facebook page was awash with ice fisherman this weekend. How could it—how dareit—crack under my weight? 
And so Nature gets a kick out of the silly writer who thinks she has it all figured out, who assumes there are rules, that 35 years of ice walks confers upon her a PhD in Piedmont Experience, giving her the rights and privileges to assume her way through all things wild.
I know nothing, Jon Snow.
The cracks seemed to follow me wherever I went. (Way to scarf that lemon paczki this morning, fatty.) I walked on the ice because I had to, because the snow-cone consistency of the land-snow made it impossible to navigate. Every ten minutes a crack tore out from under me heading off in an endless streak of horror. Even though my brain knew that the ice was thick enough to hold a gaggle of grumpy old men and their fishing huts, my body reacted with adrenaline and a sprint for the shore every time it uttered a noise. 
The mysterious hole

I theorized that there’s so much ice that it had nowhere to go, no choice but to crack. It’s almost a foot thick, if not more. It couldn’t have dropped me no matter how many delightful Polish pastries I consumed. Water expands as it freezes. It’s so heavy, so massive, that it inevitably tears itself apart.  Canyons open up, exposing stratifications like the sides of Pennsylvania hills when they’re blasted for an interstate. It heaves and sighs and bitches and complains when the temperature fluctuates. And, in places, it spouts its frustrations. I came to a hole in the ice that had frozen over. This appeared to be a very deep hole, and I could look down into its blackness. Ice fisherman’s plunder? Couldn’t be—there were no tracks nearby. As I walked along the shoreline I encountered many of these frozen holes. (And the wind chill today was probably around zero so I had some frozen holes of my own.)

Frozen flatulence?
Last summer in Russia several enormous holes appeared on the Siberian tundra, and scientists spent considerable effort trying to determine their origin. The fear is that the warming climate is causing methane trapped in the formerly frozen ground to expand and blow. I suspect that something similar, albeit benign, is happening at Piedmont. The ice is so thick that the air trapped under it has to go somewhere. Perhaps it finally blew, like my tire last week. The water flowed up through the hole and froze over again as soon as it touched the chill of the atmosphere.
The site of a weekend ice hut,
tracks from a rolling cart and the
fishing hole.
Are these holes a place where the pressure is releasing? For all intents and purposes, was I down on my knees sniffing an ice fart?
I ran for the shoreline like a weenie every time the ice burped or thwumped. I slipped a few times on slick spots. Maya had another case of the Leon Trotskies and I caught her dragging her butt on the ice in perhaps the least dignified posture ever achieved by a noble daughter of Rin Tin Tin. By the end of the hike I was certain that nature was out to get me. It’s the first time I’ve felt humbled by the lake. I had no answers, only questions, and though the bare hills revealed dozens of cabins I’ve never seen before, they were all empty and I felt incredibly isolated. It was me and the girls and a lone red-tailed hawk.
That’s probably why I decided to pee behind my mother’s boxwoods rather than fool with the frozen toilets.
Ice fisherman on 2/22/15
Who wants to tell my dad that his dock looks a little…askew?

Edited to add: When I told my father about the mysterious holes he said, “Well how do you know that they aren’t ice fishing holes?” I said, “There are no tracks.” He replied, “How do you know they weren’t covered by snow?”

It’s a good explanation. These mysterious fart holes, though…they were all right against the shoreline, in only a foot or two of water. I can’t imagine a fisherman would be in such shallow water, and I know the fish aren’t there. They’re down in the deep.

Bonus Entry: Chatty Writer Blathers Truth

*Please see the next blog post for the Official Nature Writing Blog Post of Week 6. This is a blather that I cannot keep in, because I blather.*

Now that I’ve spent a brief few moments exploring my senses and paying homage to the brilliant sun and a sky that makes me feel as though death would be nothing more than lying contentedly on a slab of ice alone (in a good way…sometimes lying on a slab of ice isn’t as much fun as others, say, after a hockey stick to the face or when you’ve just been pulled out of a morgue drawer), I can tell you what else happened. If you read this one, read the post below first. That’s the official one. It was all true and honest. So is this. Pam Houston and her 20% can go pick an ear.

When I left the house it was in disarray. School was letting out at 11:30am, and I had to make a 50 minute drive out, do my contemplative thing, and make another 50 minute drive home. AND make time to tinker with the toilet because it needs antifreeze and I had so much coffee that there’s no way I was going to get away with a quick wilderness tinkle behind my mother’s boxwoods. I left childen unshodden and a husband in the shower undoubtedly staring off into space having deep thoughts about man things like boobs and NATO.

When the girls and I arrived, they bolted for the lake. In the cabin I donned heavy snow pants, ski gloves, a balaclava that makes me look like an egglplant, and a hat over top of that. (I knit the hat myself, so I might as well have worn a paper towel on my head for all of the warmth it offered.)

I had my phone/camera out taking photos of the rock where I learned to jump as child. I was taken by the way it has a quiet cave underneath its eastern corner, and I always think I’d be the fat little bass that hangs out under there 5 days a week until the children come on weekends to throw sticks and pee off the edge. Being a writer, I can’t really just enjoy looking at a rock. I have to find meaning in a rock. Metaphor. Make a comparison. Find a symbol. Gah. It’s a rock that has an uppy corner. Shut up. You’re not a bass. You’re an ass.

The warmth of the sun called me out onto the ice and I decided to test its thickness with my own body weight rather than something sensible like a rock or one of my dogs. (That’s why I take two out there, right? Let’s be honest. I’ve got my ice-testing dog and my spare dog. They’re like birth control–it never hurts to double up because nobody likes an unexpected swimmer.)

My ego decided to come with me today. In my yoga class we’ve started this baloney of taking off all of our clothing, putting on some gaudy yoga pants and a tank top, going out into the snow and striking a yoga pose. And then we send them to each other and dare each other to top it. I wasn’t about to take off all of my clothing, but I decided to set up the camera, hit “record” and film myself doing a bit of eagle out on the ice. Wrapping my legs around each other, binding my arms was tough in so many thick layers, but I did it. As I retrieved the camera phone, again my vanity got the better of me and I hit “play”. There was my dumpy winter form on the beautiful ice, contorting itself into knots, and there behind me was my German Shepherd succumbing to an explosion of bloody diarrhea. Namaste, idiot.

Eagle ego: dog diarrhea
not pictured

That smart phone has an uncanny ability to reflect buffoonery every time. It calls me out like an overly-honest 4-year-old, the same one who appeared in the shower stall the other day to tell me I had some real nice flappy boobs, and how did I to go the bathroom without a penis anyway?

The commotion was happening along the shoreline. I was down-dogging on a slippery patch of ice uncovered by the wind, and for once there was no hot breath in my face. Again, as with a little kid, silence means they’re into something. When I regained my footing, Maya and Nugget were on the shoreline, digging furiously, and something was squealing. Chirping. Barking?

Boat pose: the only boat on the lake

Moving in snow pants and thick boots isn’t easy when you’re moseying; when you’re hauling buns it’s nearly impossible. I couldn’t get there fast enough, and when I did, there was blood all over the ice. Maya was smiling up at me with a beet-red mouth, and I couldn’t tell if the blood belong to her or the shrieking varmint who was hiding in the sand under the thick lip of the ice where it piled along the shoreline. Clearly, dog and beast battled it out and beast dove for cover. Unable to break the thick frozen barrier, Maya took a different approach and set to work digging from the other end, through the muck. The thing screamed.

WARNING: Some blood

From my angle I couldn’t see at all what it was, but only a few possibilities extended themselves on a such a bitter day: squirrel or woodchuck. The latter hibernates, but this seemed to be making more noise than I’d expect out of a nut-gnawer. Regardless, the critter tangoed with a big dog and probably lost a foot in the process. Most likely, its life’s pendulum would stop swinging within a day or two. Suffering animals prefer to hide themselves away, to make themselves small and quiet, and only in their most desperate hour do they call out in anger and defense the way this creature called out. I could offer it nothing but the peace in which it might die.

Instead I turned on my video camera and slowly inserted it into the crack in the ice, hoping to identify whatever victim lurked beneath the surface.

I had that coming, I’ll admit. Not only did I react with a distinctly anti-eco-feminine nancy-boy yowl when it squalled at me, I also caught it on film and feel obligated to offer it up on the confessional altar of Google’s favorite blogging platform as penance. My name is Laura and I tried to film a wounded weasel-thing under a block of ice because I was afraid it would bite my face if I looked too closely.

Bastard varmint.

The clock inched closer to the time of my required departure and the girls tore themselves away from the ugly scene. Happy to leave it behind, I took an extra 10 minutes for an ice savasana and received, in return, a hot tongue in my ear. Not the good, Saturday-night kind, either. The kind that smelt of resentful muskrat.

Up the hill in the house, I sat one more time on the world’s coldest toilet seat, not having been smart enough to turn on the heat when I arrived. But the car was still warm, and I loaded up the girls and drove out of the empty neighborhood, saying goodbye to the cabin for another week, and considering what I’d learned.

When a nature writer is in her chosen place in the year 2014, she may be doing any one of a number of things which do not include actual reflection. The intrusion of the smart phone into nature will prove to be the downfall of the deep thinker. Too great exists the temptation to amuse ourselves doing stupid-ass things that ultimately serve only to make us laugh, to give us an excuse to stare at our own faces rather than the face of the sun (actually, don’t do that – you’ll go blind). Hidden wonders wait under the ice for the soul un-tethered to her technology. A dog cannot find all of the gems in the wilderness for me. Next time I’ll have to look for myself, look at what’s before me.

For example, the log I smacked with my own face on the way back.

As I rubbed my split lip in the car an orange exclamation point lit up my dashboard, and an icon indicated my right front tire was low.

Low? That sucker was limp. Moreover, it was hissing. A steady stream of air was pouring out of the husk of its bulk. In the rubber flesh was embedded a tiny spearing rock. Like Dillard’s frog, a water bug had come up from under the tire and eaten out the inside, leaving a crumpled skin. Mother f*cker. This is because I tried to film a rat under the ice, isn’t it? As I crouched in the 3-degree air, it occurred to me that today was Friday the 13th. I wasn’t yet out of the shade of the hill, and the cell signal was at least a few miles away. Crap, I thought. Can I roll out of here on what little air is left or should I go back to the house and use the land line to call AAA or Shawn? I decided to gamble on the nearest gas station, 20 miles away.

As I emerged into the sunlight, I dared to pick up a little speed and thought I might just make it.

Rounding the bend, movement caught my eye and I slammed on the brakes as an inky black tomcat shot out of the bushes, crossing the icy gravel road in front of my car.

A better writer would come up with some conclusion. I’ll come back to this blog, soon, and write one. Until then, put that in your corn maze and husk it.

And then I got stuck behind the Amish.

Under the Belmont Sun

*Note: I’m going to try to be short this time. Try.

The weather forecast had me confounded this week. Friday is the sunny day, Weather Channel said. The catch was that Friday was a cold day. Last night I got an alert: Friday morning wind chills 10 to 20 below zero. I told my family it was a bad idea. Saturday calls for several inches and a low of 0. Sunday calls for a high of 10. As I hit the pillow I felt certain I’d get up and go to the gym and write my hind end off all day at home.

It’s a little chilly.

But when I woke up this morning I saw the dawn, unclouded, and had my long underwear on before I could stop myself. I love the sun. And I decided that I was going to bundle up and have a meditation on cold, and suck the marrow out of today.

I am so very glad I went.

Why does the weather over the eastern US trap stratus cover like a kid under a blanket? I could Google the answer, I suppose. Our region is so cloudy, and the clouds only pile misery on top of the obesity and poverty and meth problems and just plain ugliness of this area. But the sun was out, and there was nothing in the sky but it’s crescent nighttime companion, setting in the west, and this wasn’t a blue dome, as they say. This was a lifetime stretching above my head.

I thought I’d be tired of ice, but when I felt how solid it was, I was only energized. After so many cold days and such deep temperatures, it’s thick. It barely bubbled, and I might have walked right across the middle of our cove were I not responsible for 2 little lives at home. It’s thick. Thick enough to stroll right across. I walked 50 feet out from shore with nary a concern.

Snow, or sand?

The wind has been scraping at the snow covering. It looked just as the sand does, at the beach, when it’s packed down and hard. Little blips of bluster had been scratched from the surface, indicating a wind coming from the southeast, and in the strong white light of 9am it looked very much like the sugar beaches of the Gulf Coast of Florida where I used to live.

The sun’s warmth on my right cheek, Nugget’s butt on my left.

If it had been cloudy I would not have laid down, but I did. It was three degrees when I arrived, but there was no breeze and the sun felt warm. I had many layers, and snow pants, and thick ski gloves, and two hats, and the solar radiation blossomed in my chest and I could have laid there all day.

Because the sun came with me to the lake, I asked myself no questions. Uninvited memories kept their distance. Sun and blue, snow and silence. The warmth took its place at my side and in my head as today’s reason for being and being there. It was three degrees, and I was so warm. When I retreated into the shade of the woods, I felt such a longing to stay.

Windswept ice, thick enough for an ice hut
We don’t understand why you don’t want our tongues on your face when you lie down.
Savasana on the ice