In the center of the lake in Bigelow Hollow State Park there are five shanties, a few dozen tip-ups, a campfire, and four hungry and cold men. To me, it was all a very foreign environment. It’s common knowledge that I don’t enjoy the cold, but soon enough I found myself inching across the ice, afraid to lift my feet for fear of slipping. It took me ten minutes to find my way across the lake and to the small camp the boys had set up. Even then my journey was assisted when my boyfriend Phill came to help me, taking off cleats that hook onto the bottoms of your shoes and handing them over to me. I couldn’t help but notice that while I was bundled up in about five layers, Phill just had a long-sleeve t-shirt and jeans.
“We can take her over on the sled!” Keith shouted across the lake. He and Jared were coming our way, dragging a sled across the ice so they could get more supplies from their Ford pickup.
The camp they had set up was in the middle of the lake so they could watch all the tip-ups they had set up. On my long walk over to where they were set up I was able to see the tip-ups first hand. They were simply mental rigs that held the line over the water. If a fish tugged on the line a bright neon orange flag no bigger than three inches rose high to alert everyone that a fish was on the line. The tip-ups are braced over a six inch hole made with an auger that can either be hand grilled, or hooked up to an electric drill to make a hole in the ice that leads to the water.
At the camp the boys had set up their shanties to help block the wind. Shanties are basically tents made specifically for ice fishing. They are, more often than not, square, easy to assemble, and tall enough to stand in. They can be folded up to fit into a bag, and when it comes time to assemble them, all you have to do is simply pull it apart and it pops into place. All five shanties were put into a line, curling in around the campfire grill they had set up. The air was cold, and even with the fire roaring at our feet as we sat in a circle, it did little to keep us all warm. However the freezing temperatures didn’t damp the spirits of those around the fire.
“Ha! When was the last time you got laid?” Quinton kicks his feet up to the fire, somehow making a relation between sex life and ability to catch fish.
Keith and Jared looked at each other, knowing that Quinton couldn’t say much for himself, lacking any form of intimate behavior. It was to my dismay that Phill—my boyfriend—found it in himself to speak up at that very moment. I suppose around the campfire, there are no boundaries.
“Hey, as far as I’m concerned—” He would have said more, but when he reached out to wrap his arm around me I took liberty of slapping him on the shoulder.
As the only girl in a group of men, I thought I may distract them from how they normally act; that somehow the female presence will cause them to be more proper. I was wrong. It seemed the longer I sat, the more they forgot I was sitting at the campfire with them; which made the experience all the more enjoyable—if not awkward at times.
It wasn’t until I took out a box of Oreos that all eyes turned towards me. Before I had arrived ice-fishing I was instructed to bring food. I did not, however, bring enough to please their appetites because within a half hour the entire box was gone. They ate the Oreos as if it may be the last scrap of food they will ever encounter—and judging by how the fishing was going, that might have been true.
“They were on sale, buy-one-get-one free, but I didn’t think you’d go through the whole box,” I said. I watched hopelessly as they devoured them, clutching onto the four cookies I had managed to swipe for myself.
“And you only bought one?” Quinton asked, Oreo shrapnel around his mouth. That’s a question I’m still asking myself today.
Eventually Jared took it upon himself to cook a meal. Taking out Phill’s gas camping grill, Jared opened a box of thawed pierogis, tossed them in a pan, added a little water, and let them simmer on the grill.
“Is that how the box says to cook them?” I asked. I really knew nothing about cooking pierogis, as disappointed as my Polish ancestors may be, but the technique Jared displayed didn’t seem right. They kept sticking to the bottom of the pan and were slowly tearing apart.
Jared answered with a shrug of a shoulder and walked away to check the tip-ups to see if any neon flags were flying. Meanwhile I was left with a sizzling pan and no idea how to deal with the mess in front of me.
Eventually all five of us found our way into the largest shanty when the sun went down and the cold became colder. We each brought in our chairs and set up two propane heaters in the corners. The pierogis continued to cook outside on the grill while we warmed ourselves in the shanty, removing layers of our coats as the shanty grew warmer. At some point Keith took out four thoroughly frozen steaks and put them in front of the heater to thaw.
We had only been on the ice for just over two hours when Phill decided it was cold enough to head home. He packed up his shanti while Jared and Quinton stayed out on the ice, seeing if any of their tip-ups had caught anything. With quick goodbyes, the two of us headed for the promises of warmth from Dunkin’ Donuts hot chocolate.
“So they’re really sleeping on the ice tonight?” I asked Phill as we walked back to his truck. He replied with an evil sort of giggle, knowing the long night that lay ahead for his friends. I couldn’t help but look back at the camp they had set up, a dim light glowing in the middle of a frozen lake. “You should probably text them in the morning to make sure they’re alive.”