I admit that in February, or at least in a normal February, with snow in my eyes and a chill in my heart the lake can be less than intoxicating. I can always look at it, from any shore, and see intrigue and excitement, but those views do change in the middle of a Wisconsin winter. If I feel this way, it’s certain that others do as well. From shore, the lake can be deceiving, particularly in winter. The deceiving part isn’t that the lake is something different than it is in summer, but rather that when viewed from shore alone the lake can indeed appear, for moments, as though it is just another lake. This is not the case.
Last week my wife sent me a text. It read something like this:
Why are you angrier (than normal) this week?
I don’t know why she had to add the “than normal” part, but add it she did. And so I replied with this:
I’m not. I just have too much to do and I’m not selling enough. And my back kills.
All of this was, and is, true. But if I had been brutally honest, I could have replied with the simple one lined truth:
It’s 75 and the boat isn’t in.
This was what was bothering me. Only that. By “bothering me” I mean “ruining my life”. Because when I look to the water in February and see just a glint of its glory, I assure you that when I look to it during a 75 degree March day, when the water lies still and not a single boat can be heard, I see that lake exactly as I prefer it. And when I see it that way from shore, I know I have to get on it as quickly as possible. So last week, in between working and attending what seemed like 62 baseball practices for my son, I worked on that boat. I scrubbed it. I polished it. I attached some new wires to some new gauges, and I replaced some worn plastic bits with shiny metal. Never mind that most of the electronics that I installed don’t work, they still look nice until I’m asked to turn them on.
On Friday, late into the afternoon, I worked, cleaning and scrubbing. And on Saturday morning when I met with a client at the South Shore Club and he commented that I looked tired, it was plain that my boat weariness was showing. I wasn’t tired really, at least not more than I normally am, but I was emotionally tired of looking into a big blue expanse and having no means to glide over it. And so later on Saturday, before the Irish feast and my daughter’s birthday party, I scrubbed a little more. And I dabbed some silicone in a few spots that might be prone to accepting the overtures of a watery summery.
Sunday morning, I was at it again. Content with the clean, now onto the polish. And once the polish was done, well enough done anyway, the batteries were charged and the fishing poles that I spent so much time coddling this winter were hung in the new rod holders under the gunwales, four to a side. Later Sunday, after some showings and much later than I had originally hoped, I followed that boat as it clung to the bumper of my dad’s truck. Down Baily Road and onto County F. Then to Highway 67 past Cobalt Farms and slowly down to the Fontana gas station. I looked away as the gallons filled, unable to come to terms with the amount of money being spent on fuel that will last but a few short weeks. When the Abbey Harbor ramp was closed, we drove north to the Fontana launch. Moments later the Johnson was spitting its blue smoke, and I greedily jumped behind the wheel and backed away from the shore. I was free. The constraints of shore were broken, and I was as a bird soaring over the blue, and for what was the first time since a cold day last November I was back home.
During winter, that lake can look like any other. You could drive by it and mistake it for just some midwestern lake. But if you were to join me on the water during a balmy March day, it would be impossible to continue thinking that way. This is not just another lake. It is larger than you think and the shore line changes with each passing winter. A new home here, some fancier landscaping there, a pool dug over around that bend. The lake is as magical to me today as it was when I was 12 and I’d whip around Conference Point in a boat filled with gas bought by my father. If you’ve considered Geneva Lake and then moved on to consider some other, lesser, embarrassing body of water, I beg you to steal away from work this week and take a boat ride with me. I’ll show you the lake that I know, and it’s likely to captivate you just as it always does me.