Saturday, February 13, 2010


I wake up to a zesty day – well below freezing. But oh, the sunshine!

Saturday. Work? No. Not today. I may pay for this later, I may scream then at the intensity of work pressures, but when I see a glorious blue against a glittering winter landscape, I put away thoughts of a bookish day and head out.

My occasional traveling companion is on board. Today, we are travelers alright, even as we don’t really go anywhere. We are fully in vacation mode.

Which, to me, means that we give ourselves no easy breaks, no indulgences. Sure, as I watch the races and runs of the Winter Olympics, I have to think that my own push is the equivalent to another’s naptime. But hey, my typical winter hours have books and computer screens in them. Though not today. Today, we do what the northerner must do to stay happy: embrace winter.

I have a plan.

Let’s walk down to campus and see what the Hoofers are up to.

If you take the pretty route, that’s a five mile hike. But the Hoofers (UW’s lakeside sports club) are holding a series of winter events on Lake Mendota and driving down seems so terribly wrong. You want to hang with sporty types, you better work your own leg muscles. Cold temperatures notwithstanding.

At the lake, we abandon the path and take to the frozen waters.

It’s safe, right?
I know the answer, but I have to ask. What do I know about soft spots and cracking ice. (Later, an ice fisherman tells me: you need two inches to walk on it and eight inches to drive across it. Where are we at now? - I ask. Sixteen inches.)

The walk is slow. The lake has a lovely if a bit soft layer of snow.

Ed, my traveling buddy, hasn’t the footwear for this, but he never acknowledges the cold and so we stumble forward.


We come up to a pair of fisher guys.

A good fishing day? I ask
Yes, very good.
What fish?
Oh, northern pike, of course.
Of course. So you’re taking a lot home?
No, none. We can only take back fish that are more than 40 inches. Still, it’s been a good day. We took in and threw back some six or seven.
So nothing for the dinner table?
Oh, if you do catch a 40 incher, you don’t eat it! It’s entirely for the mantel!

There you have it, a definition of a good day: sitting on the ice until sunset, waiting for a fish.

He shows us how he sets the lines in drilled holes. And miraculously, at that moment he gets a bite.
They’re nasty fish. Big teeth. I’ve been bitten raw in the last couple of days.



This one’s no different. The live fish bait is still half way into the mouth of the trapped catch. They struggle to get it out. It seems a little like pulling out a piece of steak from an alligator’s mouth.


We leave the happy fishermen. Only to encounter the truly happy kite guy, Jason.

His brother tells me that since he started with the kite hobby, Jason cannot let it go.
Want to try? Jason asks.

Of course I do. But it’s not easy.
It’s like dancing with a partner. It feels great, doesn’t it?
Sure, yes, of course. But it’s delicate work and I don’t want to crash this man’s kite into the ice. How much does the kite cost – I ask, just in case.
This one, Nirvana, is French. $450.
My God. I hand back the reigns and watch Jason do an expert run at the dance.


Just off the Union Terrace (remember: we are on the lake) we come across the "submerged" Liberty.


It’s all a tad surreal: the statue, bikers taking a spin on the lake, aerial skydivers, zeroing in toward us.



I’m enthralled.

We find a Hoofer with a traction kite and he gives us a lesson on how to work the powerful wind sail.
Don’t ever let anyone come between you and the kite. It can wrap itself around the neck of an interloper very quickly.




We know to pull down the kites when the jumpers come at us.



A skydiver asks if I want to sign up for a lesson in the air.

No. Absolutely positively no.

Back on the shore, we watch a sculptor chisel away at Bucky.


The terrace is the place of the orange, yellow and green summer tables and chairs. Today, kids are pushing a puck around on a miniature ice rink.


The sun is low now and I’m feeling the cold. The walk home is a long four mile trek. We take a five minute break at the Rathskellar...



...and pick up the lake path toward home.


We heap sweet potatoes with leftover slices of smoked salmon and creme fraiche and settle in to watch the Winter Games. Or I do. My occasional traveling companion burrows deeply under a quilt. He claims he doesn't really dream, but watching him, I think his mind is running over the vectors of the kite's path.