Giving thanks

Near noon on Thanksgiving, the aroma of roasting turkey fills the house. The bird needs three more hours in the oven, and outside under a gray sky and light fog, the newly frozen lake beckons. I lace up my walking boots, slip on the winter jacket and head down to the lakefront. Conditions there have changed greatly since three days ago. The mild temperatures yesterday afternoon and through the night have set back the process of freezing. I don’t even need the stocking hat and gloves I’m wearing. The temperature is in the forties, and the melting continues. Far out on the lake a smooth sheen indicates melt water atop the ice. At the shoreline I step over a band of iron-stained water and make my first foray of the season onto the frozen surface.

As I expected, the ice over the shallows is sound. The thin blanket of snow on the ice has mostly disappeared; only a slushy trace of it remains. Here and there I spot series of near-perfect paw prints that I want to believe belong to foxes, but more likely were left by feral cats. I slowly venture farther out, carrying a stick of firewood I fetched from a stack son Todd made at the bottom of our hill years ago. I throw the wood on a high arc. It hits with a musical note, a sign of ice not yet firm enough for walking. Going out no farther than the edge of the bulrushes, bent over and turned brown, I walk slowly, listening for any sound of weakness underfoot.

I make my way along, one careful step at a time. Amid the rushes the ice is a mosaic of opaque, irregular chunks with clear ice in between. Farther down the shoreline where the rushes end, the ice is smoother and transparent enough so that I can make out the tan tone of the sand on the bottom a foot or two below. As I press on, the ice creaks, and I hear the hiss of a crack spreading out toward deeper water. I’ve gone far enough. Upon pausing and retreating to safer ice, I notice a peaceful silence, a characteristic of the winter lake before thicker ice brings on the whines of snowmobiles and the rattling roar of ice augers.

There’s no wind. The fog is light enough so that I can see the lake’s opposite shore, though the entire scene is a study in grayscale, all other color suppressed. I stand for a long moment, taking in the panorama, relishing the quiet. Then I turn and head up toward the house to help with the dinner preparations. Noelle and I are alone for the holiday; the kids and grandsons couldn’t join us. I’m still grateful, though, for the subtle beauty of this day and for having Birch Lake as company.