I'm not quite ready to let go of this ice thing yet. And I'll tell you why.
It isn't so much that this solid skin on Lake Superior has given anglers a new lease on lake trout. It isn't simply that it's cool to skate forever along a chosen vector. It isn't the boardless hockey games that broke out, the folks riding bicycles to work on the ice or even the otter that poked up through a pressure ridge.
All of that is refreshing. But I think the most important byproduct of our frozen front yard is the sense of awe that has captured hundreds -- probably thousands -- of us who have gingerly set foot out there.
We can't all be Will Steger or Paul Schurke or Lonnie Dupre, hauling off to one ice cap or another in search of adventure. We could be, I suppose. Nothing is stopping us. But most of us choose not to be. So our brushes with immense spaces and imponderable forces tend to be infrequent.
Yet that is the overpowering sense that envelopes us when we clamber through the heaved-up confusion of shore ice and suddenly find ourselves way too far from shore for a comfortable February swim. It is easy to feel humbled out there. You are reminded, casting your gaze down the lake at tiny figures in the haze, just how small a human being is in the grand scheme of the planet.
You don't get that feeling in the parking lot at the mall.
That perspective doesn't mean we humans are insignificant, but it's good to be reminded occasionally that despite walking upright, we are still just one more critter skittering around on the skin of the world. You skate as far as you dare in one direction and stop to look around. Hmmm. You still can't see Rossport or Wawa or Michipicoten. But those people on shore look so little.
Big place, this lake.
Or you're scooting along the shore and you hear a great groaning. You look around. A piece of ice larger than your dining room table and thicker than your mattress has just calved off the shoreline windrow. Hmmm. You look around again. How did that slab of aquamarine ice get shoved up there in the first place? What kind of forces are at work out there powerful enough to move that much mass? Go ahead. Try to pick it up yourself. You can't budge it.
This is good. We need to ponder forces of this magnitude occasionally. We need to put ourselves in situations where we can't fully assess the risk. We need to step into a pocket of open water along a pressure ridge once in a while.
Sure, someone could get hurt out there. We should be careful.
But we should also venture out on the edge sometimes, where we can remember what it means to be fully alive.
Sam Cook is a News Tribune columnist and outdoors writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (218) 723-5332.