Sunday, February 7, 2010

Falling Through Ice

I’ve caught a couple hundred trout in Fetcher Pond these four summers I’ve lived in Steamboat. It’s my stocked go-to pond for casual practice of new flies and teaching beginners who visit us. I once tube-floated it, but bikers and hikers shouted out one-liners and laughed at me for my professional approach in amateur water. I’ve never seen another do it.

Fetcher sits beside the Yampa River. If I’ve brought my waders I can hop from a beginner pond to intermediate river, where the trout turn wild and expand to Browns and Cutthroat. Sizes can double too.

This morning, after some reading at a coffee shop, I took a walk along the Yampa for reflection, to see what I could see. A narrow inlet flowed between the ice-pack and boulders covered in marshmallow. At Fetcher I noticed tracks on the pond and a small snow sculpture in the middle.

Walking on ice is walking on water. I pondered the novelty and shuffled out on previous tracks, toward the sculpture. Have people been ice fishing on the pond? I wondered.

A small section on the edge had been brushed of snow and I edged toward it, hearing water flow down the outlet, pouring under the thick sheet of ice. I surveyed the shore, standing where my fly has floated a thousand times.

Gravity tugged.

You know the warning they give you in the movies when the ice is thin? The protagonist walks across the frozen water, the ice cracks, and the camera zooms in and follows the ice shattering like a web on a windshield? This wasn’t like that. One moment I pictured myself on shore back in summertime, the next I was waist-deep in water, no transition, no warning, no slow-motion. My arms caught the rim of ice my body had made, my shoes and socks immersed, the water seeping through my pants.

What now? The water felt more wet than cold.

I pushed myself up. Expecting the edges to peel under pressure, I crab-crawled backwards, likely dragged by Jesus on whose name I called.  Did my lack of faith draw me down? I stood up again on the ice. 

Shuffling briskly to another part of shore, I scaled the snowy bank and glanced at the open mouth that tried to eat me. I looked at the Yampa River. I wanted a longer walk. But wanted to avoid writing a silly headline on the free local newspaper: Man Hospitalized from a Winter Stroll After Falling into Pond.

I drove home wet, feeling the fiery cocktail of caffeine and adrenaline in my blood. That jittery mix shook my hands while I hung my dripping socks. Time to stoke the fire.
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