Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Take it to the Tablet

Something scary happened this past weekend which brought about a realization for me. I am wired like a writer--think so much like a writer, that I have developed a strange appreciation for the hardships in my life.

No, I'm not crazy, masochistic, or twisted--well, maybe a little twisted. It’s just that my writer brain is always on. I find potential stories in anything, and writers are always told to “write what you know”. 

I’d never gone ice fishing before, and my boyfriend, Dave (an avid ice fisherman) took me for the first time on Saturday. I prepared for the cold weather—had even bought tall, insulated, cushy “40 below” winter boots and thick “40 below” wool socks for the occasion.  We went to Lake of the Woods, NY, where I spent my childhood summers with my family before our camp was . . . well, let’s say “sold” in the eighties.  This was the first time I'd been there in the still of winter.  All bundled up, we set out early with our tip ups, jigging poles, ice shanty, and bait. All prepared . . . or so we thought.

For days, snow dotted the skies, and that day was no exception.  By the time we reached the lake, the snow had died down, the temperature was 15 degrees with the wind chill, and we were fine—right up until we stepped out onto the lake.

I could see it in Dave’s expression that something wasn’t good. The top layer of snow acted as an insulator above 7 inches of ice.  In between the top layer of snow and the ice was one foot of heavy snow, thick slush, and ice cold water that sat on the surface of the frozen lake.  When I stepped onto the lake, my boot sunk deep into the mess and lifting it to take another step was strenuous. 

We managed to make it out to where the depths below the ice reached 25 ft, and Dave drilled five holes and set the tip ups.  It was then that I felt a little water had seeped into my right boot. I stayed in the shanty with my feet up. The wind picked up and hours later, we still had no flags. I began to wonder if all the fish had frozen to death beneath the ice. 

Before we packed up, we decided to trudge out farther on the lake to a tiny rock island, where I might get a better view of my old camp.  When we reached the rock, the icy water on the surface of the frozen lake had found its way into my boots, completely saturating them. Trying to be tough and lighthearted, I giggled, imagining the trouble I'd have keeping them on my feet as I trudged back across the lake.  I wasn’t laughing long. My feet were cold. Sure enough, as I struggled to make it back toward the shanty, my right boot stuck in the slush and came off my chilled foot. Now, wobbling and gripping onto Dave for support, I pulled it out and jammed it back into the sloshy sole.  Finally back at the shanty, I rested. That’s when I felt my feet tingling. I was losing feeling in them fast.

I panicked and Dave (who was wearing waterproof swamp boots btw), pulled me along trying to get me off the lake and back to the truck. My asthma kicked in and I began to hyperventilate.  My feet were completely numb.  They were frozen, literally. My brain told me to move them, to lift them so I could move my body closer to safety, but I couldn’t feel them anymore. I fell and I cried in agony.  I kept thinking about Titanic—at the end when Rose is floating on the piece of the boat and she’s icy wet.  She tells Jack, “I can’t feel my body.”  I kept thinking, “This must be what it’s like to fall through the ice and freeze to death.”  Pure agony.  Dave carried my limp body the last 25 yards off the ice and into the truck He cranked the floor heat blower, and I tore off my lead boots and sopping socks. Still no feeling.  Then, came the pain. It bit hard on my toes as the heat blew and slowly thawed them. 

As I sat there, suffering in pain while the feeling tingled back to my extremities and my breathing regulated, I fought with the urge to pity myself.  Instead, I realized I have been given a gift to understand one more aspect of the human condition. A new sense of knowledge that I will, most definitely, take to my writing tablet.


  1. This is why I refuse to take up fishing... I am in the been there done that group and will never do it again. In my situation the ice, for some reason broke to this day we can't explain it. Though it felt like it, I didn't loose any limbs.

    Good to know you can still wiggle those toes!


  2. Oh mi gosh, Jessica! Did you go through the ice? You know the agony I wrote about. So glad you didn't break any limbs and you're here to tell the tale!

  3. I think I would rather have a girlfriend with all her toes in working order than to go ice fishing! But I prefer doing things with my girlfriends that they, too, enjoy. Pleasure shared is more than doubled. Guess that makes me a dying breed. LOL. Glad you came away well and with fodder for a future novel! Roland

  4. The one time I went fishing I always had to throw the fish back, kinda defeated the purpose !

  5. Wow! I am so glad you are ok. I have always been against going out on the ice no matter how thick the ice is supposed to be. I lived in Minnesota too long and saw too many incidents that did not end well.

  6. I think that's an excellent way to look at things (especially scary snow and ice related things!) and it's very beautifully expressed, too.

    Every time something bad or embarrassing happens to me, I often think that I should be glad of the emotional experience, because it'll enrich my ability to portray characters--or because when I run out of material, I can pull that moment out to stick in a manuscript somewhere!

  7. Noelle - Yes I went right through the ice. We were in a part of the lake that was near a sand bank and the water wasn't as deep as it should be in the middle of a lake. Luckily for me the water was waist deep, and I was able to be pulled out had it been any deeper I don't think I be telling this story right now. Limbs freeze incredibly quickly in 40 below zero (celsius). WE think we might have gotten too close to the sand bank were the ice seemed to be weakest...

  8. My God, Noelle! Thank God you didn't have permanent damage! I was just reading about how extremities can freeze in just a couple minutes. Scary story. I'm so glad you're okay.

    Psst...today's the Bernard Pivot Blogfest. Hope you join in the fun!

    Love ya, sis!

  9. I've never been ice fishing, but I've experienced freezing toes like that. Not fun. Very painful! I'm glad you got it taken care of quickly!