Monday, February 16, 2009

Warm spell

A sunny February afternoon lured my wife Amy and I out onto the frozen surface of Pigeon Lake, near Omemee, Ontario (just across from Emily Provincial Park), last Saturday. Along for the stroll were Amy's sister and her husband, and their very tiny son, who is barely visible in his pouch in the picture below. The recent melt had reduced most of the surrounding snowdrifts to ragged, dirty mounds, but the shallow lake remained solid, and more than once the smooth ice surface conjured talk of breaking out the stick and puck.

At one point, Amy said, "it's hard to take a bad black-and-white picture." As one who has taken many a poor photo, in all conditions and light levels, I would have to agree, as simply switching on the camera's monochrome function has the effect of sweeping us all back to the twenties.

Many of the folks who live along Pigeon Lake pull their docks out for the winter, but some are permanently cemented to the bottom. Standing out on the ice and looking at their bare, weather-beaten frames, it's hard to believe they will ever see a boat again, let alone thirty-degree weather.

But soon enough, they will. And then, sweltering on the dock and reaching for the sunscreen, it will be hard to believe that sunny winter Saturday ever happened at all.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Winter break

It was undoubtedly the sunny Saturday afternoon that drew the ice fishermen out onto the frozen surface of Lake Erie near Oak Harbor, Ohio. There was a stiff offshore wind blowing, but other than that, the day was downright balmy. A perfect afternoon to try their luck. This is probably why so many of them ventured out that day -- 134 in all. We know this because that’s how many the U.S. Coast Guard plucked from the ice floe they were on when it cracked away from the mainland, opening a 100-yard chasm between the fishermen and safety.

You can read more about the harrowing day these poor souls put in on Lake Erie by clicking here.

It happened that I was on the opposite side of the lake last weekend, visiting some friends and family. As such, Ohio’s offshore wind was my onshore, which meant the ice was being pushed toward the beach instead of being pulled away. While we stood in the backyard and watched the Canadian ice fishermen try their luck, this wood carving, which my folks had a local artisan do solely by chainsaw, kept a silent vigil.

I counted fourteen fishermen out on Pigeon Bay at one point. They came on foot, towing sleds full of fishing gear, on snowmobiles, and even on ATVs. With the warm winters we’ve had in recent years, this scene seemed a flashback from my youth, and something I wondered if I’d ever see again on Lake Erie.

Before climbing into the car and heading back to Toronto, we snapped this beauty, looking down the shore toward Leamington. With the day’s bright sun, it was almost possible to envision the thirty-five-degree days that often scorch this part of the country in the summer, leaving the lake about the only place to find relief.

But today, we opted to not set foot on Lake Erie. It was probably for the best.