It was the coldest winter prior to the enjoyable polar vortex we were all just trapped in for the past few months. It was horrible out for the whole winter. My father had enjoyed himself immensely. He was from Upper Michigan, and apparently, “stupid cold” was right up his alley. He would regularly run outside and throw hot cups of water in the air so we could eagerly peer out the window at the steam.
We planned ambitious sledding trips with thermoses full of hot chocolate, 3 pairs of gloves, 4 pairs of socks, 3 pants under your snowpants…I felt like Randy from A Christmas Story. “I can’t put my arms down!” We would lay out all of the clothes we were about to put on and get dad’s approval, then load up and roll out to the sledding hill. It was so cold your nose hairs froze together when you took a breath in, so we would stop every 2 or 3 times down and got a cup of hot chocolate. No one else was out. It was great.
After weeks of horrible cold and battering winds, all of the ice from Lake Michigan had been pushed up against the shore into icebergs. They were these beautiful white mountains just off the shore. They were jagged and snow covered, piled high. It was incredible. We would just go down to look at them, the way they gently contrasted against the cold water and slate gray sky behind them. They were amazing, and I was convinced that they were the only icebergs I would ever see. I was still in awe.
I had grown up close to the lake, and it’s like it’s always held my bearings. I’ve loved it like a family member. I’ve never lived in the same place for too long, but that lake has always been there. Even at a young age, like during that winter, the lake was a gem in my heart. To see it decorated like this made it like a diamond.
We sat in my dad’s truck one overcast day, silently staring at the lovely ghosts in the water. My dad looked at me and just casually said “Let’s go check ‘em out.” I didn’t question it. We got out and walked over to where it seemed like the shore should be. Then I remembered that where we were standing was close to a sea wall, and that we might be right on top of it.
“We might be close to the edge” I warned.
He looked out squinting, and not looking at me said “It’s been cold. It’s okay. Let’s go out a little ways.”
I was slightly apprehensive, “You sure it’s okay?”
He shrugged, like he always does, and said “Yeah, why not?”
He took a few steps out and then turned to me and said “let me go first. Put your feet in my footsteps.” We ventured out, one step at a time. I took large strides to match his steps. I was very careful to put my feet in his prints as closely as possible. I was only looking down, not looking around for fear I may miss my aim and step “outside the lines”.
Suddenly he stopped and turned, “Hey, if I go under, don’t try to help me. Go get someone.”
Red flag! Alarms were going off in my head. What! I nervously shot out “are you sure this is okay? Maybe we should turn back…”
“No, no, we’re fine,” he assured, “I just wanted to let you know that.”
It changed the tone of the expedition. But he kept going, so no matter if I was terrified and did want to go back, I wasn’t going to now. What if he went under? My thoughts were that I had to watch out for him, not that I might fall through, although that was also a concern, but I primarily had to stay so that I could stay close to him. I didn’t think he would come back with me.
We ventured on, despite my nervousness. One step at a time, I, too nervous to speak. I really hoped that whatever this ended up turning into was worth it. Time seem to slow and stretch, kept only by the pace of our boots crunching through the deep snow to the ice.
The ice wasn’t a sheet. Rather it was thousands of fragmented pieces piled on top of each other and frozen together. They crunched like broken glass when stepped on, and it only served to heighten the nerves.
We reached the incline of the particular iceberg we wanted to reach and climbed up. It was probably about a 12 foot climb, but we were probably already on about 6 feet of ice. We reached the little summit, he got there first and gave a “woah!”
I couldn’t get there fast enough, “what?!” “Check this out” he gasped in amazement.
I peered over the snowy little peak and the lake was smooth as glass. Not a breeze or a whisper to stir it. Absolutely silent. It was grey out, as it was overcast, but it was like a veil hung over the lake. The sky was perfectly reflected in the glass of the lake, all a soft misty velvet. It looked like a painting. Off to the side, a pair of geese were in the water, which I found completely odd. My father’s answer was “where are they going to go?”
I suppose that was a valid point. We lie belly down on the peak of snow covered broken glass, gazing into a secret world from our special vantage point.
Then I thought “I don’t know anyone else who has climbed an iceberg”
Dad gave my arm a little smack and said “Pretty cool, huh? Aren’t you glad we did this? You can tell your kids when you grow up.”
We shuffled back down, and the trip back to the truck didn’t seem so treacherous. I suppose I knew each fresh step didn’t spell doom. That’s always helpful.
He was right. I learned a lot from that little episode. I learned that with risk comes unimaginable gains, and you will never know what you missed if you are too scared to step out.
I have stepkids now, and I have told them about this. However, I only tell them “we were going out on ice and he told me not to help him if he went under”. Their horrified responses let me know they won’t try the same crazy garbage.
I can teach them life lessons without actually risking their lives.