On Tuesday the Wall Street Journal carried a story about the depressive effects of long winters, noting developments in Norway that intend to keep cold-weather suicide rates at a minimum.
OK, maybe not suicides. But the blues. That’s what the Norwegian town of Rjukan hoped to chase away when it propped $1 million worth of mirrors on a hilltop last year to reflect sunlight into its otherwise dark town square.
It’s worth noting that Rjukan sits at 59 degrees north latitude, about the same as Juneau, Alaska, while the Twin Cities cohabit considerably farther south, at 45 degrees north. So relatively speaking we should be better off. Yet in Minneapolis-St. Paul on Friday the high is expected to be about 34. With clouds. Whereas the good citizens of Rjukan will bask in temperatures near the mid-40s. Beneath reflected sunlight.
The issue arises because winter has lost its appeal, and I really want to be fishing over azure water with turtle grass waving. Preferably my vantage point would be the bow of a shallow-running boat with a spotter swinging a push-pole from a platform astern. Then again whether I am alone or in the company of trained gibbons I couldn’t give a rip. I just want to be warm, fish tailing and a long line flying.
Minnesotans unaware that much of the world conducts its business as usual during winter are better off than those who at various times have flown the coop to points south in January, February or March. It’s the latter bunch that comes to know firsthand that in many locales bikes can be ridden in winter, rods can be cast and stop signs obeyed without the benefit of ABS brakes. As eye-openers go, this is Timothy Leary-grade stuff, and once you’ve experienced it, you’re constantly looking for more hits.
Years ago when I drove a truck I could load for Houston in January and be smiling already five hours down the road, in Des Moines. Four hours farther south still, in Kansas City, I was downright giddy, and by the time I angled into in Tulsa, euphoria reigned. And it wasn’t the truck stop hookers who knocked on my sleeper that amped my mojo. Nor was it my vintage ride, a twin-stick Cornbinder that cascaded plumes of black smoke through rusty pipes. Instead, for reasons both mysterious and obvious, with each declination of latitude my attitude improved, an observation Jimmy Buffett has strummed to the bank over many years, pedal steel pitched perfect.
But it wasn’t until I fished the Caribbean in winter that I fully appreciated the come-hither caresses of island breezes. The sweet song of a fly reel backpedaling against its drag added to the allure, and come evening fresh conch and vodka gimlets didn’t hurt. These first outings occurred decades ago, in the Bahamas, before Great Exuma boasted scheduled flights from Miami and a Four Seasons Hotel. It was then that Dick Hanousek of St. Paul and I rented a room there a few winters running.
This was just off the Georgetown Harbor, and for transportation Dick and I slipped a guy a few sawbucks at the Peace and Plenty bar in exchange for his jalopy Datsun. Each day, depending on tides, we drove the rent-a-wreck to a far end of the island and descended from there in wading boots onto an endless flat of shallow water that shimmered aquamarine. In the company of stingrays and nurse sharks we split up, walking and casting, our eyes peeled for bonefish, the hot sun beating down, before finally seeing each other only as specks in the distance, our rods sometimes bowed and held high. Fish on.
Also in the Bahamas in the shank of another cold Minnesota winter my wife and I rented a house on South Andros. Lathered in pastels, the encampment wasn’t fancy but it boasted seven miles of beach either way. Our two boys were young. But they could cast, and for four days running we contracted with a local guy and his skiff to guide us among the island’s vast mangrove archipelagoes. One angler in the bow at a time, we took turns casting, an appealing exercise. But kicking back amidships and soaking in the heat while deferring to the boys’ competitiveness was rewarding also, and at night with their mom to ward off sand flies we built bonfires on the beach with coconut husks and watched the sun disappear behind swaying palms.
Back in the U.S., not too far from the Bahamas as a roseate spoonbill might fly the distance, and similarly bewitching, the Marquises Islands in late winter welcomes moveable feasts of daisy-chaining tarpon. Angling visits there are especially otherworldly when headquartered on a mother ship swinging from its anchor chain, with flat water stretching to tomorrow and beyond, and skiffs tethered astern for sweet runs on dank mornings.
Yet the attraction of these duty calls can’t be only fishing. Rather a life well lived transpires in syncopation to itself, an experience here, another there, until the mind’s eye can summon the present and past as one, all of it one big dollop of ice cream, exclusive of seasonal duress. Or so we can imagine.
A week ago I fished through 30 inches of ice and had a swell time. This week I’m wondering just how much room there is on the old company credit card.
Absent that, Des Moines is only five hours down the road, and I’d love to double-clutch that shopworn Cornbinder one more time between here and there. And Tulsa? A no-brainer by morning.
In winter particularly, it’s important to keep moving.