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What ice fishing can teach you about life

Ann Arbor writer Tamar Charney shares her thoughts about the connection between ice fishing and life.

Somewhere beneath the runways of the Toronto airport I found myself in a tunnel between concourses, contemplating something I’d never thought much about - ice fishing.

The walls of the tunnel were lined with Richard Johnson’s giant, colorful photographs of ice fishing shacks, lovingly painted wooden ones and utilitarian scrap corrugated ones. Shacks in the midst of snowstorms and shacks on shore in the summer. Shacks in bright sun and in darkness. But most notably, shacks in groups or alone.

In ice fishing, as in life, people often sort themselves out into those who travel together and those who walk alone.

Most pastimes require you to make that choice up front, poet or part of a performance troop, swimming or softball team. You might as well be signing up for Solitary Solace or Comradery of Companionship than the actual activity.

But ice fishing makes room for both.

You’ve got the community of the ice shanty village where groups of people drink beer and tell fish tales surrounded by friends.

For others, ice fishing is quiet alone time in a tiny shack, in middle of the frozen lake, in the middle of nowhere.

Ice fishing is something I mostly see from the distance of a lakeside road. For all my years in Michigan, I’ve only been in an ice shack once.

Some friends and I were skiing across a frozen lake. I can’t recall if we chatted up a fisherman or just opened up a shack somewhere out there. I do recall being instantly mesmerized once inside.

With the door shut behind me, the searing wind and bright sun were gone. In the center of the dark shanty was the hole cut through the ice, glowing an otherworldly deep blue. Forget the fish, the poles, the beer, the shanty towns, and the rest of ice fishing culture, I could lose myself for hours in that blue glowing portal to the watery world beneath the ice.

Years later, looking at the photographs of ice shacks in the passage between two airport concourses, I made a connection I’d long been missing.

We overlook something pretty fundamental when we sort ourselves out as someone who ice fishes alone or as part of the village. The things we do for fun are ultimately about connecting to something beyond our mundane lives. It’s just the form of it that varies. The connection might be with others, it might be to a deeper part of our soul, or with forces of nature just beyond our full grasp.

It's just so easy to notice shallow differences in how we live our lives, but harder to see the similarities that connect us all, that lie deeper down below the surface.

It definitely wasn’t a connection I expected to catch just before my flight. But one well worth making.

Ann Arbor writer Tamar Charney is the managing editor of NPR One.

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