The black birds were spotted in Roseau, which means they’ll have made their way to The Angle in a week’s time. In the right light, the subtle iridescence of purples, blues and greens makes them anything but black, but regardless, we lump them into one dull category and spend the warmer seasons loathing their existence. They scarf down the deer feed. They commandeer the bird feeders. They rest busily all in one tree, calling and clucking, turning our yards into a tropical-sounding aviary.
I love closing my eyes and imagining the color, heat, and humidity of the tropics; the song of the black birds takes me there. An eye-blink later, however, I’m back in my unbecoming layered-up layers and my winter boots are making my feet sweat, such is the variety and unpredictability of this many-named not-winter-not-spring season.
But, the black birds are emblematic of spring. So, I love ‘em. Roseau, point them north.
Robins are just days away too. This past Sunday I spotted their scouts a mere 20 miles south along The Angle road. We were going slowly enough to see them clearly because the road required it. To use the words of someone who drives it five days a week, “it’s bumpy.” Full stop.
I’m going to avoid labeling it good or bad. It is what it is.
Every year in the spring, for what seems like months, our ONE point of entry is best experienced vicariously. If I were in the car repair business, our road would be a boon. Since I’m not, the ride to town is gruesome. Washboards and pot holes are laid out like gaping wounds from a billy gun blast. Like an impassable mine field that takes no prisoners. Like a muddy, road-sized Wack-A-Mole game where every vehicle wins, big-time. We do our best to pick out an avoidance route, threading our way gingerly through the worst ruts and holes so as not kill ourselves by hydroplaning, I mean muddy-washboard-planing into a great white pine or the rare oncoming traffic. The slow and torturous pounding our bodies and vehicles take each mud-season is enough to make the less-hearty want to move away.
We voyaged out onto the ice this past weekend. Dog, kid, camera in tow, we had no official business to attend to other than I simply wanted a last trip out on the ice. We mainlanders have the luxury of…how shall I put it…not risking death whenever we want to go somewhere this time of year. I suppose no matter where you live there is risk each time you walk out the front door. The black birds look on as falling coconuts in the tropics kill far more people than lake ice does. Here, the island-dwellers at The Angle have got to be ice-saavy and employ a modicum of bluster in this between-season season.
On the ice, we went close to the open-water’s edge. The ice-road, having been plowed of insulation all winter, freezes deeply and remains well-intact far after other areas open up. But for Mergen’s Point, a high-current area that is also a shallow-reef graveyard of lower units and prop blades, the ice-road would remain viable all the way to Oak Island for a while yet. The road is already nearly impassable at Mergen’s.
I wanted pictures for a story series I intend to work-on, so we drove to Minnesota Point for a view of “The Flats” and then out to (but not across) Mergen’s, where we watched a curious otter basking on the ice. Then we drove back to the open spot around Flag Island Resort’s breakwater. Current is always the serial ice-killer, but wind and rain strike one-off devastating blows in their own right when they come.
More than any other label, this is “worry season” for many Angle residents. In this little corner of the lake, there have already been four vehicles (that I know of) that have gone through the ice (and been recovered). Each instance had very specific circumstances due to location and ice-conditions, and no one was hurt. Resorts are checking ice daily weeks before now, and often they make the financially-painful decision to close-up shop early for safety’s sake. Some years, The Angle’s winter tourism season comes very quickly to a close.
Still, many locals have fish-houses yet on the lake, and while ice can never be fully knowable, locals know where to go. Locals know how to watch the ice. They know what the colors mean and how the structure and integrity can change drastically with day-time thaws and night-time freezes. Locals have a pretty good grasp on what’s a risk and what’s not.
I don’t know any of it. I don’t even know if I write about it correctly. Don’t come out and take pictures of the Mergen’s otter just because I did. I had a guide. He’s been learning the ice for over twenty years. He gets his bulky “float coat” out this time of year, just in case.
But oh, how the grandparents worry about the ice. It’s almost as if worry has its own season in all of life. The youngsters needn’t worry because the old-timers seem to do enough of it for everyone. I once heard worry described as praying for the worst possible outcome. Yes, that feels true. I worry a little about a few things, but not about the black birds eating the deer’s corn, not about the impact of potholes on car maintenance, and not about the ice when I’m with my guide.
In the grand scheme of things, I’m always with my guide. We all are. So, use caution, I suppose, but don’t be too careful. Living is risking, after all, and just like everything, there’s a season for risk.
Safety third, Angle goers.
(Published in the March 21 Warroad Pioneer)