I spent one weekend in love with ice. One weekend, out of an entire lifetime. That weekend found me in the Cayman Islands. It was hot that weekend, sunny, too. I left the dark cold of Wisconsin in the morning and was snorkeling in those warm, bright waters by early afternoon. I spent that afternoon swimming, and the next day too, alternating lounging by the pool trying my best to look as though I was a cool adult and splashing over the reefs anxiously like any child would. By the afternoon of that second day it was clear that I had burned off the first several layers of my skin. I have heard that women can pay big bucks to have that done, but I had done it honestly, and cheaply. I had burned my face to a degree that I had never experienced before.
By that next evening, I was in pain. I was red, burnt, and blistering. I took to holding ice cubes in my hand and rubbing them all over my face. Any ruse that I had kept up that might have otherwise presented me to the masses as a suave ex-pat was wiped away with each pass of the ice cube over my cheeks, my nose, my chin. I was supposed to meet some girl at some place off the resort that evening, and I didn’t. Instead I stayed home, ice cubes at the ready. The next day was more of the same, and instead of splashing and sunning, I spent my time in the pool, huddled in the shady spots, pulling ice cubes from my drink and rubbing them on my face.
That weekend, I loved that ice. It was important to me then, but it isn’t important to me now. It is early December going on mid January, and my disdain for ice is nearing its seasonal high. I hate ice most when it is spring time, when the flowers are thinking spring, the trees are thinking spring, even the air is spring- yet the ice that smothers the lake at those late dates stifles any proclamation of true, uniform spring. Today the lake is entirely ice free. I am rooting against science for it to stay that way. I know I have opposition, those that wish to ice boat and ice skate and ice watch, but I also have allies.
The Bald Eagle has returned to Lake Geneva. There are several of these magnificent, terrifying birds around. They soar high above the open water, scanning the surface for any variety of duck, of which they have thousands of choices. Perhaps a brown one today, maybe one of those little black ones tomorrow. Those black ones can’t fly well, so they make for easy eagle treats. Maybe later that day one of the colorful ones, just because they are flashy and bright and the eagle can see these so much better. This is what the eagles do, and they’ll be flying, terrorizing, until the ice covers the lake. I am aligned with the eagles, as they surely don’t want to leave this place either.
The small fishes, and the large fishes, they don’t want the ice to come either. The elusive lake trout, those shouldery monsters that swim the deeps of this great lake are mostly impossible to catch during the spring, summer, and fall months. There was a time this summer that I read about fly fishing for lake trout in lakes during early December, at such a time that they leave the icy depths and take positions in rocky shallows to spawn. That dream was partially responsible for me leaving my boat in as long as I did, but that dream died when I realized that winter fishing is for someone, but not really for me. These fish that are usually difficult to catch are caught by the bushel by the ice fishermen in the know, so I’m certain that the lake trout wish to see the ice kept at bay.
Brian Gates, a fisherman of fame to those of us who appreciate the history of the Geneva Lake angler, once told me that ice fishermen on Geneva harvest as many as 500,000 perch, bluegills, and crappie during any given ice fishing season. That’s a lot of fish, and while I cannot begrudge the meat eating fisherman his quarry, I can root against him. Open water means no ice fishing which means more fish. I have numbers on my side now, and it’s me, the eagles, the lake trout, and at least a half million panfish marching in solidarity.
Alas, while I do not appreciate or need the ice, I know some do. I’ll fight it this year, but I know I won’t win. I know the ice is coming, and if there is an ice age in our near future, maybe we should just embrace our evil icy overlords in hopes that they’ll be kind to us during their reign. For now, let’s take a stab at ice up. For the sake of this competition, we will consider Geneva Lake to be “iced up” when ice stretches from Conference Point to Black Point, and covers at least 90% of the water in that imaginary line. Geneva Bay will succumb to ice soon, perhaps by Christmas. The narrows will be next, and then Fontana and Williams Bay. Even when this ice is present, the strong currents of that main body will fight to keep the water moving, and the ice away. When the cold has beaten those currents and the ice covers that stretch, ice up will be declared.
So send me your best guess as to when this ice will take up residency. I will scrounge around this office for a special prize for the winner (old beat up copies of Summer Homes For City People are becoming highly collectable, like Ken Griffey Junior rookie cards).