Stepping onto a frozen lake for the first time in the winter always freaks me out. It freaks me out so much, in fact, that just watching people skate around in Howey Bay after we'd been having relatively warm winter weather prompted a week-long series of dreams involving me falling through the ice and attempting to crawl my way back out with waterlogged hockey skates on my feet.
So when we were on our hike this weekend with our three canine houseguests and Daisy, my chest began to tighten as the four dogs rushed off the trail that runs along the lake and onto the frozen ice. Four inches of ice is enough for ice fishing and ice skating, five to six is good for ATVs and snowmobiles, eight to 12 inches can handle cars and small trucks, and 12 to 15 is necessary for bigger trucks. But Red Lake, its channels, and the other bodies of water in the area all freeze differently, so unless you drill through the ice to check its thickness, you can't know for sure how thick it is.
Charlie made his way out on to the ice with the pack, but I stayed behind.
"Come out here," he said. "I promise you it's fine."
He did a big jump on the ice. I began a longwinded argument about safety and blah blah blah. A few minutes later an ATV and a snowmobile flew past us in the middle of the lake. That was enough assurance for me.
So the dogs skidded across the ice, chasing each other, sometimes pausing to get a good lick of the snow-dusted ice. As flakes fell lightly from the sky, we trekked behind them, big smiles on our faces, knowing that we would finally have a peaceful night because this was going to wipe them out.
Winter is just about the only time you get to enjoy wide open spaces in Red Lake since the area is so densely forested. It's a different world here when the lakes freeze.
After the high-energy hike, I left Charlie with the three dogs and took Daisy for a leisurely skate around another lake with a friend. ("We drilled and it's six-inches thick," she assured me.) As we skated around a bend, we came across a large patch of clear ice. The water was black and there were tiny frozen air bubbles that made the whole scene look like a starry night sky. It's these unique northern experiences that I try to hold on to when I'm having one of those days when all I want to do is get a sushi dinner and go to a movie theatre (and not see anyone I know at either of these places).
Last night we sat on the couch with the Christmas lights on, drinking wine, and gazed at the four snoring dogs sprawled out on the floor and felt pretty damn satisfied. Food, love, and play. That's all they needed and really, don't we all?