Dec 21, 2011

Solstice Pike

Author's note: This is the second part of my 'rare solstice' series. Part one was Solstice Wolf (June). -am
This is not a rare fish, but a rare result when you know the whole story. I have been fishing Lake Puckaway for seven winters now, dedicating numerous days each 'early ice' to this massive lake me and the boys half-jokingly refer to as "big, shallow and evil."

December of 2006 was really good fishing, and December of 2008 was some of the best ice fishing I've ever experienced. But in 2007, '09, and '10 we didn't catch squat. December on Puckaway is an unquestionable indicator. When you catch fish in December you will catch them all winter, it seems, and when you don't, you might as well not fish there until summertime. This evil lake has a definite 'switch' in the winter... it is manic-depressive... feast or famine. And it is most definitely evil. 

I will not go into the official file, but there is ample evidence as to this lake's evilness. We are all convinced the waters and surrounding land are possessed by an entity we simply call 'The Father'. Nothing comes easy here. And you might ask, Well why don't you go fish somewhere else? This is a reasonable question. However, the state record northern pike was caught here, and whenever we are able to overcome the The Father's sinister defenses, we have earned amazing rewards. Not state records, but we've caught the kind of fish here that make you keep coming back even after two straight winters of catching absolutely nothing. We are not chasing reason, but something more like unlimited potential at great risk.

Since I've been living here I've been keeping my eyes open for omens: Would it be a good winter or a bad winter? It seemed every other day I would swing the other way. Things would be going really good for me, I would be feeling an electricity, and then the next I would be feeling gloomy and questioning why I had even moved here.

And then there is the squirrels and the cat. 

There are hardly any regular gray squirrels here. There are lots of black squirrels and albino squirrels. I see them all the time. It's somewhat disturbing but mostly I laugh. It seems when I see a black squirrel on my morning jog the day is depressing and when I see an albino I have a really great day. If I see my turkeys and deer it will be a so-so day. And any day I see the black cat I might as well just not go outside. I think I am becoming like the lake, living here full-time... I am developing a polarizing switch of sorts. I like it here and often thrive on the solitude, but it is really lonely sometimes and I become suffocated by the emptiness of this existence. Especially when I can't fish, when I am stuck inside with my ... thinking. So now I guess I'm predicting my life on some kind of self-fulfilling 'critter sighting' scale. It works for me.

I awoke on the shortest day of the year and just knew I was gonna see that cat on the porch again. Finally I got up and made some coffee and I knew I couldn't sit inside again, so I got my gear together and went outside. And right away I saw the albino squirrel. Hey buddy! He ran off. Then I got to the lake and somehow it had added a few inches of ice overnight even though it barely got below freezing. I decided to go out by myself, and I eventually found myself on Jerry's Reef, or close enough I figured. As described in the previous post, the ice had formed and then broke up and melted, and then refroze earlier this week. The result was strange fields of heave ice, where huge blocks of original ice had been caught in the secondary shell. It was the thickest ice out there, much safer than the smooth stuff, so I put my traps amongst the heaves and got some reading done (Hell's Angels). 

At noon I heard the emergency siren in Princeton so I had a shot of bourbon. The air was calm. Around 12:40 the sun popped out and I noted this. 'Light changes' often spark a bite, for whatever reason. You can't argue with the data. And sure enough, at 12:49 I looked up from Hell's Angels and the middle flag was up. I trotted over and the line was not moving. But when I looked down the hole I could see the line was waaay off to the side, and then as if on cue, the spindle began moving again. Muscle memory took over and I quickly set the hook and landed the little pike. It was only 25 inches but nice and fat and feisty...

But as I've said, it was a fish that filled me with excitement for what it represented. I knew exactly what a December pike would mean since I got back here. And then at 3 the sun peaked through the clouds again and another flag popped... And I missed this fish but it was most certainly another strike, and so as I watched the sun set on the Winter Solstice I started doing the calculations. The data was very promising. I knew we were looking at a special winter. I texted the boys the good news, and I felt hunger and was satisfied, so I picked up the traps and marched home.  

Back daylight, today belongs to the darkness.


Dec 15, 2011

First ice, no ice [+video]

The boys came up to The Fort last weekend for our annual 'first ice' trip on Lake Puckaway (The Puckopener), and we just barely had ice. This will be my seventh winter of keeping general logbooks of the things I do (primarily outside), and every year so far we have had walkable ice (1.5 inches or more) by December 10. Some years are creepier than others. For as much as I ice fish, going out on the ice for the first time each winter is alarmingly unnerving. I have never really* gone through the ice and I don't ever want to, but I do take some chances. And this week's weather is proof of that.

Yesterday it reached 50f here in Mecan, Wisconsin, and it rained for 24 hours straight. These are two of the primary enemies of ice, naturally. But ice has resilience! We could all learn a thing or two from ice. I always say, based on the scientific data of my logbooks (of course), that "it takes a lot to make ice and it takes a lot to melt it, too." Well it might not be purely scientific but I've found lots of truth in that 'rule'. I've been ice fishing in t-shirt weather in the spring. Long-term trends matter a lot more than current conditions.

Anyways, so then the wind picked up today. And that shot any ice fishing plans I might've had for this weekend. The lake is nearly wide open again, so we'll need two or three really cold and calm nights to get back to square one again. Frustrating. I have a winter to live here full-time and we're now two weeks off the normal pace. More time to write, I guess.

Since the ice was so scary last weekend we didn't go very far out and so we didn't catch any fish... but we did enjoy the ice nonetheless. And so I present my newest video project: Slidin'!!!!! [warning, there is some cursing in here, sorry, I got excited]
* - Going in shin-deep on shore in the spring doesn't count.


Dec 14, 2011

Best Albums Ever

One of my favorite things about the end of the year is ‘best of’ lists, especially for music. I always seem to find an album or two that I had not heard of that eventually finds a permanent home on my iTunes. Since I have an older laptop there is no way I can keep every album I have on iTunes, so I end up with a constantly-rotating A-team and an external hard-drive filled with stuff I may never listen to again.

The other night I decided to clean up my iTunes, and then I dug through my archives to bring some old favorites up to the A-team once again. This got me thinking. Every album on my current iTunes is something I could listen to start-to-finish, but what are my all-time favorites? Without a time limit of some sort this list could take a week or longer to build, so I decided I would trust my gut through a course of rapid-fire cuts.

First I scrolled through the 209 albums currently on my machine and pulled out my favorites over the course of about 14 minutes. The only rule: one album per artist. I kept it simple, going on estimated total plays with weight for total plays in 2011. This left me with 21 albums... Then I quickly (5 minutes) widdled this list down to my top ten (in bold):

Antlers - Burst Apart
Arcade Fire - Suburbs
Avalanches - Since I Left You
Beck - Sea Change
Bob Dylan - The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan
Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago
Deathcab For Cutie - Plans
Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca
Dr. Dog - Fate
Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues
Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins - Rabbit Fur Coat
My Morning Jacket - Circuital
The Notwist - Neon Golden
Postal Service - Give Up
Spoon - Give Me Fiction
Talking Heads - Fear of Music
Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend
Ween - La Cucaracha
Weezer - Pinkerton
White Stripes - Elephant
Wilco - A Ghost is Born

Then I gave myself another 15 minutes to consider which of these ten would be in my top three, but I didn’t really need 15 minutes. I weighed many things in making these final cuts, but each of the top ten had deep meaning for me, and I would happily sit and listen to any of the albums in the top 21 every day for the rest of the month year.
This is what made the final three the Best Albums Ever (other than great artwork) (in alphabetical order):

Avalanches - Since I Left You (2000) 

Highlight track: Frontier Psychiatrist (this video is amazing as well, despite weird screenshot)
Why: I stumbled onto this dance/electronic album while I was DJing at 90fm in college. It is widely considered one of the top ‘sample albums’ of all time, in that each song is electronically quilted together from strange samples across the entire audio spectrum. Plus it features great beats. For me, it represents late nights and the irresponsibility of youth, but I still love listening to it, even if it's daylight and I’m by myself, and I guess that explains why it stands the test of time.

Bob Dylan - The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (1963)

Highlight track: I Shall Be Free
Why: It’s hard to pick a favorite Dylan album, but this one stands out for a variety reasons. Rebellious and fun, dark and lighthearted at the same time, it is an album that changes with my moods and always leaves me feeling better. In a world where we are increasingly looking for the next big thing, and rarely happy with what we have, Freewheelin’ is a treasured heirloom, representing all that is good about American music created before I was born.

Wilco - A Ghost is Born (2004) 

Highlight track: Hell is Chrome
Why: This, for me, is the best existing example of rock and roll, and the first album I ever listened to 100 times in a row. Something here speaks to me beautifully. Whenever I’m stuck on a writing project, I put on the headphones and click on this masterpiece that so perfectly illustrates my transformative adult years... The blurring of traditional instruments with an electronic age, the pain of growing up with the hope of what will be. An album that can make you think or set your mind free to thinking.


Dec 5, 2011


How powerful is positive thinking?

I read two things this year that have me wondering... The first is from Bill Bryson's Short History of Nearly Everything (pdf):

"You may not feel outstandingly robust, but if you are an average-sized adult you will contain within your modest frame no less than 7 x 10^18 joules of potential energy - enough to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point. We’re just not very good at taking it out."

OK? So think of that next time you're tired.

The other was from an Aaron Rodgers interview on the reasons behind his meteoric rise as an NFL quarterback:
"An inch one way or the other and it might be a totally different outcome in the Super Bowl. Afterward, everybody was like, 'How did that happen?' But that's a play we've worked on for years. Years. That's where all this comes from - to be able to step into that throw, with seven minutes left in the Super Bowl, up by less than a touchdown, knowing it's third down and you have to make a play. I've thrown that ball to Greg, that same exact ball, 100 times in practice. Same exact route. So when I break the huddle, that's what's flashing in my mind. I've completed this throw in my mind 1,000 times before the ball even leaves my hand."

OK? So both of these passages startle me. I keep re-reading them over and over. I look at my hands and visualize this obscene amount of power locked in a white orb of light... Then I eat the orb. No matter how good I feel when I roll out of bed in the morning, I have not figured out how to use most of that power, but when I watch Rodgers play the game at a mind-bending level on Sundays, I wonder if he has somehow unlocked his orb. It seems like he is living a half-second in the future from everyone else on the field sometimes. So maybe there is something to this visualization he is talking about. 

I started digging around (not too deep!) and there's a story on Wikipedia about how the Soviets got the best results from their Olympic athletes when they used a 75/25 blend of mental-to-physical training. OK? The hockey player that spent 75-percent of his time training mentally was superior to his comrade who spent all of his training time skating and pumping iron. The story is cited from a book about karate, so I'll say it's 75-percent legit and move along to the money quote: "The Soviets had discovered that mental images can act as a prelude to muscular impulses." Awesome.

So I'm giving this a try lately, trying to unlock my white orb in everything I do. Yet the combination of jogging and dancing in the same weekend gave me sore legs! I still have this knack for drinking more beer than I really need. Sleeping in remains a guilty pleasure.

At the very least I am learning a lot about the New Thought Movement tonight, which includes kooky things like animal magnetism and metaphysical beliefs like the law of attraction. And of course there are books written about those topics and I'm getting too far from the main point. I am interested in the ability of the mind to influence future events, certainly, but maybe I'll get to that after dinner. On one hand I am certain that each and every choice matters (see last week's post), and that positive thinking really can make a difference, but...

The thing is: Life continues to startle me... And I like that. No matter how much you visualize, no matter how much you prepare, life and the people you share it with are unpredictable variables, all of them containing the power of thirty hydrogen bombs. That is a scary thought. Or maybe it's a thrilling thought.