Tuesday, January 28, 2014

While fishing for walleyes I snagged a truck

Spring is fifty three days away. 

We heard this while the weather news was on and the national map on the TV screen showed bands of ice poised to glaze over half the Southeast. 

The mention of spring in the offing was surely intended to inject hope as the end days of cold January play out and a new forecast repeats the old. 

My hunch is the suggestion of spring around the corner succeeded in its aim. It generally works to have a goal to concentrate on even when it may take awhile for it to come into actual focus.

Being given a definite number of days which separate us from spring, but also lead us to it, lifted spirits for many of us. 

It puts a statistical handle on winter. From this light it makes it bearable. It becomes surmountable with relative ease when you have days to count off one by one, however painfully winter has dragged on to this point. 

If you're anywhere in the eastern United States this winter you know it's been a long and unforgiving season. Winter has persisted until its start is lost in the vapors of cold air that keep blowing from the Arctic. 

By the calendar this punishing regime of below normal temperatures began in December. The pattern, as established, is relentless. It's tested the patience of otherwise indestructible winter types who take the cold in stride. 

Adding another layer, shrugging and saying This too shall pass has lost some flavor with them. It's put these more cold-resistant colleagues in the same boat as those of us who weeks ago called surrender to the chill.

Earlier I happened to catch CNN as a reporter was on location in Minneapolis. In this weather segment a local person, bundled up against what's been a battery of below-zero temperatures, gave her comment on the frigid state of things.

It feels like winter has gone on forever she said. She struck me as someone making the best of a tough situation and being honest about it too.

I liked her remark. It indicated a good natured acceptance of something out of her control to change except by the attitude brought to the continuing situation.

Turn to any TV channel and there's a kind of fascination with the rigors being put up with this unremitting winter in the Midwest. 

With the polar vortex calling the shots this year the Pacific zonal flow, which favors more seasonal winter temperatures, doesn't have a chance. With the forecast stuck at the North Pole the parkas east of the Mississippi River stay hanging in the closet by the front door.

CBS TV evening news cast the cold weather parked over Minnesota in a softer light and cheers to them. The story, which aired yesterday, was about an ice fishing contest held at Brainerd in the central lakes area.

It was a well done story. It caught the essence of the hearty way of life that deals with severe conditions and makes sport of it. 

The gist of the story, as I took it, was that cold weather doesn't get in the way of traditions that keep the Midwest strong. In fact, cold weather is part of the tradition.

The ice fishing contest, a yearly event, was an active scene of confident ice fishermen as the cameras panned over the lake ice.

The scene reminded me of a famous line from the popular Lake Wobegon show. It took looking up the exact words to get them right although they were in my head, remembered, in a fairly similar version.

The precise wording is: "Welcome from Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average."

The words are those of Garrison Keillor and they're appropriate for the ice fishing event which is close both geographically and in spirit to the imaginary Minnesota community he has created for his radio audience.
The virtuous and hard working citizens of Lake Wobegon, who come to life for millions through the brilliant monologues of Garrison Keillor, would very much approve the endeavors of this convocation of ice fishermen bent on winning a truck, for the biggest fish caught, as grand prize. 

In fact, look around and you might see some of the Lake Wobegon citizenry among the contestants. It's the kind of challenge they thrive on. 

They're versed in the kind of homespun truth that tells them it's worth believing that a good day on the winter ice, a little backslapping among old friends and a spot of fishing luck might combine to let you drive away a new truck.

Hard packed snow, cold conditions (evidenced by the no-nonsense outerwear that collectively was a sports clothing catalog of winter survival gear), the small circular holes of clear frigid lake water (the holes drilled by ice auger, the essential tool of winter fishermen) and the rosy patch at the horizon, which may have been the low late afternoon sun, contributed visuals for the TV story. It came across very Minnesotan and full of life.

Ice fishing as sport and pastime may have baffled a small portion of CBS viewers. Some may have questioned its fit in a news program format. For lots of us, however, the story brought levity and something more.

People joining forces to have fun together, thumbing their noses at Mother Nature, or invigorated by weather too raw for plenty of us, is a refreshing antidote to news with an often grim thrust.

The main point in the ice fishing story could have been one of many. I took it as this, that Minnesota is a rather pristine and rugged place with a good deal of outdoor room for having a good time. 

Minnesotans brace for the weather which comes with the territory. They are its equal even in its extremes. They put up with, they put forward, and unify with the elements. They have great enjoyment in it.

True class has to do with rising above ever changing vicissitudes. It has to do with modesty, hard work and endurance. Sometimes, as at the Brainerd ice fishing event, class is exemplified by gusto and a definite flourish. 

And that modesty thing that pairs so naturally with class? Minnesotans do it reasonably well. 

Don't be surprised if someone gives this answer when you compliment them on their new 2014 GMC. "While fishing for walleyes I snagged a truck."

Ro Giencke - January 28, 2014

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