On Thin Ice

on thin ice

I was eighteen when I read in the newspaper that writer Scott Young would be visiting in the weeks to come. It was at least his second time to the Yukon for the young writers conferences. I had mildly corresponded with him for the past year and found him to be an amazing old gentleman with a wealth of personal wisdom that he freely shared with the world, as though the world was actually his friend. I very much wanted to attend that conference, only we lived isolated and given the time of year, it would not be possible. It was mid April and the ice on the lake was deteriorating at a wicked pace. The week he would arrive was the week we could no longer safely use the ice for our necessary travel. I was not happy to say the least. I sent Young a letter expressing my regret at not being able to meet him finally. As the lines on his face were deepening with age, so were mine. There was absolutely no way I would be seeing him. While back at home, I listened to him being  carefully interviewed on the radio by Novak. I recorded it. Only to find out, that the machine had devoured more than half the tape. Somewhere after the middle, it was completely destroyed. I walked outside into the heat of the afternoon sun and was thoroughly convinced that the devil was trying my already damaged patience.

The next afternoon was yet more breathtaking weather to fill a person’s soul, even a disjointed soul like mine. I sat on the embankment of the creek and knitted with size zero needles and white wool, though doubtful that I can remember quite what it was that I was making, I remember how small the needles were.  On the side, I would occasionally reach over to a pen and piece of light cardboard and record my thoughts, without the useless help of electronics. It was really very peaceful out and I was beginning to take some positive control over my thoughts and feelings, rather than the other way around. In the very extreme distance, somewhere out in the middle of the lake, I could hear the minute vibrations of a single snowmobile. I strained my attention more, focusing with everything in me. I sat it out for a few more minutes, while I listened for it to fade, but it never did, and it was only advancing nearer to our small deteriorating bay. I went back to the cabin and told my parents what was happening. We all lined the front window in various states of exasperation. Binoculars in hand for improved vision. There was a particular atmospheric condition that made it now sound like there was a caravan of machines coming. It was not unusual after the snow had gone, for a single machine to sound like several.

We knew who it was. There was no one else we could imagine would be this irresponsible and ignorant. It was Ricardo on yet another incomprehensible mission. Around the corner he came. We were horrified. We were mystified. Though there are almost no words to describe it. The ice was entirely blue and unwelcoming….ominous.  The danger was so obvious. We had no idea how he made it that far but he was nearly home free. The shoreline was only a few hundred yards away when he stopped certifiably unannounced and stepped to the front of his snow machine. Something caught his attention. His head was bent down and you could see how he was studying something with substantial significance and then through the wavering heat mirage, he seemed to actually vanish for the moment. One could not be certain what they were seeing. The glare from the sun was so blistering. With binoculars you could see all that existed anymore, were his shoulders and head above surface. Suddenly you could hear him begin to yell in complete exasperation. It was a terrible sound. Absolutely horrifying.

Father looked at us despairingly and we looked back at him the same, not immediately knowing any action that could be taken. It seemed there was little or perhaps nothing that we could do to save him, while we could obviously not use the ice ourselves. My mother and I made my father promise that he would not go out on the ice if he was less than certain that he could return. There was absolutely no suicidal quack that was worth the life of my precious father. In the midst of our intensifying discussion, you could hear Ricardo wailing in the background, through our thin plastic windows; certain that we must have forgotten all about him, uncertain that we had ever actually heard him yelling. We had answered him but perhaps in his overriding confusion, we were quite audibly lost.

That afternoon was beginning to take on a challengingly fiendish twist. This morbidly paralyzing sensation was beginning to creep into me as I was absorbing the full possible repercussion of what was happening and the position that we were in. Now here we were literally being bathed in the brilliant beauty of the sun, while death was beckoning  from a sinkhole in the bay. I was considering what seemed this enormous contradiction. All the sunlight that was shining in the world would not prevent horrible situations from happening. That moment seemed to validate how danger could so easily seek out the least expected and opportune times to strike the unknowing and naive.

Father worked genius under pressure. Possibly from his army training. He decided that he would take hold on our small canoe to slide across the ice with a length of rope inside and a single paddle. He used the canoe to support his weight as he walked the distance near to Ric, stopping short to throw the rope. It did not help that he was five feet around the middle. It took a while for my father to load him into the canoe and he floundered about in the needle ice awhile before successfully climbing aboard the boat. We watched them sitting there in the canoe exasperated, hardly moving, talking for some time. I cannot imagine what must have entered my father’s mind when Ric decided to crawl back another route to rescue his double track snowmobile, after being safely gathered up into the canoe. As they were both still sitting inside the canoe, you could recognize them in lengthened discussion, and then Ric stood up, stepped out of the boat onto the forbidden ice and made his way back to his precious and thoroughly dilapidated piece of equipment. We were paralyzed by his behavior and equally mortified that we even knew him. Our pity for him was waning somewhere in the proximity of where our respect for the guy was draining.

Sitting in the canoe, my father watched him. Against all odds, he was able to turn the machine around and speed it across the bay, crashing it onto the other shore which was a bed of jagged boulders. We thought he had terminated himself from the terrible collision. He did not move at all for ten minutes, lying there unconscious for that next while, in among that jagged shore ice and sharp rock that cradled him like a reprobate savage. We saw movement. With bursting incorrigibility, he began to actually walk again. For some time, we watched him ramble along the far shore like the abominable man, weaving in and out of the boulders that filled his pathway the more than one mile back to us. He was in completely undaunted pursuit of our home, which had been his original and preferred destination.

We had long welcomed my father back from his canoeing expedition, when Ric finally wandered into our yard about an hour later. There was blood over his forehead and down his arms, a gash grand enough to deserve several stitches, and the insanest thing, was how he walked into our yard as though it was any other gainless day for him. I met him at the edge of our property and secretly wanted to thrash him with a piece of firewood. There was a mildly mortified countenance on his bushy face, turning ostentatious as he reached into his woolen jacket and zealously pulled out a Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young hardcover for me. Not as impressive a as he had intended I guess. He was trying to soften the moment. This guy’s sense of priority and proportion was perplexing. Weeks before I had ordered the book from the library. He boastfully explained how he had guarded it with his life all the while that he was submerged in subzero water, feeling obligated because our local lady librarian had made him promise that the book would be safe in his delivering hands. This man was infamous and had himself an unequaled reputation. He actually had a history of people rescuing him from the waters. The great experienced bushman had already been saved from going overboard by two women on two different lakes. Very difficult to feel sympathy for someone that careless.

We proceeded to pour coffee down into him and he repeatedly assured us that he had actually weathered the entire ordeal well. No argument from us. We had nothing to seriously concern ourselves over, as he had come through it with satisfying colours. No flying colours. Apparently he was some kind of super breed. We were hoping that he would indeed wake up the next morning as we did not want to bury him in our back bush.  It was his notion to start out that night on his long journey by shoreline back to civilization. It entailed more than thirty miles for him and we eventually convinced him to wait the evening through, even though we didn’t want to bury him out back. In the morning if he was still coherent, he could borrow a rifle and set out to walk that distance back to where he came from.

Conveniently evading him until the late evening, he eventually explained how he nearly brought my friend out with him. How they had met at the local bar and Ricardo had offered to bring him out on that beautiful April afternoon of slush and overflow and breakup. They had agreed to meet back there at noon. I had not a clue who he was talking about as I really didn’t have any friends. I wondered what he had been smoking. I certainly did not have a friend by the name he had given. Finally, he referred to him as my writer friend; who had been asking around where we lived. You could hear a pineneedle fall. I felt like stone and I lost most of the circulation in my limbs; my feet were tingling more than was good. He said he was an older fellow who was visiting for a conference. In how it developed, when Ric returned to the hotel bar, my writer friend was nowhere to be found. Ric waited but eventually had to leave alone, ever anxious for adventure. I was beginning to learn to expect the unexpected in this life and realizing I needed to be grateful for the missed opportunities. There is some purpose in everything.

2009 By Ambrose 


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