The frozen lake is rimmed by hills, covered with birch and evergreen. An island rises out of the white plane. Its trees point to clouds; the sun, low, casts island shadows, tree shadows, on the ice. The sun is low in winter. There are no birds, no insects, no sound but the crunch of your boots in the snow. Strangers are lucky to meet on the ice. Advice, freely given, may lead to a honey hole. A guy in a small four-wheeler, traveling across the lake towards the west, veered towards me. I stood up and waved. He pulled up a little closer, and stopped. “Any luck?” he asked.
“One good-sized perch. That’s it,” I told him. “How about you?”
“I usually go snowmobiling, but the snow has been pretty crappy lately, so I decided to go fishing.” He looked at me through thick glasses, with pale blue eyes, set in an ashen face framed by a few days growth of gray whiskers and a warm hat with a bill.
I gave him what little information I have; the bad news. “I’ve been watching schools of fish swim under us all day long. I caught the perch off the bottom about an hour ago.”
He grinned, knowing futility when he heard it. “They were catching walleyes over there at sundown the other day.” He pointed to the left of the island. “See where they were over there?”
I looked where he pointed. “Well, then, I’ll probably try fishing over there tomorrow. Thanks.” The pale blue eyes continued to regard me, revealing no judgment. He spoke up again.
“What kind of bait are you using?”
“Minnows on red hooks, at different depths, and a few other lures.” There were a few breaths worth of silence. “Are you from around here?”
“You bet. I live on the other side of the lake over there. How about you?”
“I'm from Mankato.” He nodded. “Do you work around here?”
“Oh, yeah, I work over at the mine in Babbitt. I take the ice road across the lake to get to work.” With that statement, a gray grin flashed, but then he took on a serious demeanor. “The ice is pretty good on that road. I wouldn’t wander off it, though.”
“Don’t worry about me. I parked back at the public access and pulled all this out here.”
“Well, you could have driven as far as the end of that road there.” He pointed to the right of the island. “There’s plenty of good ice out here. I just wouldn’t drive a car off the road.”
“No, probably not a good idea.”
The wind picked up a bit. The two of us measured it with bare faces. I spoke up again.
“You know, I really like it here. One of these days I’d like to move here.”
The ATV guy brightened a bit. “Hey, you know, they’re building a new steel plant over at Hoyt Lakes, at the old LTV place. There are going to be some good jobs there.”
I looked at him blankly. “Well, I work on computers.”
“I suppose with computers, you can work just about anywhere.”
“I suppose.” The wind blew a little harder. “I think I'm going to take off in a bit. Maybe I’ll come back tomorrow afternoon and try for some walleye.”
“OK, good enough. Hey, if you’re ever over on the other side of the lake, drop on by.”
“OK. See ya’.”
He turned, and drove away, heading westward.
I never got his name.