Nearly the end of April and at last the US Coast Guard Cutter Morro Bay has plowed a path through the ice-locked Portage Canal that separates the Keweenaw Peninsula from the mainland of Upper Michigan. One of several Great Lakes ice-breakers, engineers, designed these ships to heave down upon the ice to crack open a path. Ice like panes of flat glass float, bob, and eventually melt, exposing the deep clear water below.
Seagulls claim floating ice slabs, and their raucous cries signal the return of water birds to a place dominated by Lake Superior, greatest of the Great Lakes. On black-tipped white wings, they wheel over my home, announcing spring ice-out in Hancock.
In appreciation of our Coast Guard who brought us spring, at last, take a moment to watch the Cutter Mackinaw plow the shipping channel on Lake Superior last month:
Already, the earliest of those who fish the Keweenaw has returned. I’m eager to discover who they are, having once lived on a bog pond beneath a bird migration super-highway. Will I see old favorites or meet new species? It’s like waiting for the circus to come to town — I know the show will thrill me, but how will it be different from shows I’ve seen before? Even in one place, spring migration plays out fresh and new.
Just as much as I love the migratory waterfowl, the Hub loves raptors. He began to hear and see kestrels during his quiet time on the back deck. He thought he saw a sharp-shinned hawk last week. The big excitement for him resides on the Houghton Bridge which crosses the Portage Canal and connects the mainland (Houghton side) to the Keweenaw Peninsula (Hancock side). The pair of peregrine falcons has returned to their nest box (you can watch a live camera of the nest box action).
After Feldenkrais class at Superior School of Dance, I walked up to Milly’s for a slice of Detroit-style pizza and a fresh mixed-greens salad. The Hub met up with me, and after dinner he suggested we go look for the Falcons on the bridge. The sun didn’t set until almost 9 pm tonight, so we headed across the bridge and parked along the canal.
And that’s when I saw them among the frolicking seagulls — mergansers!
While the Hub scoped the nest box, I scanned the newly opened waterway with it’s floating panes of ice for a close-up of what turned out to be common mergansers. With black heads, white bodies and orange bills, I could readily spot them. I saw one female, too with her auburn head. She had the pick of a gaggle of males. Mating season is soon, but still, the land is covered in banks of snow. For now, they fish.
When we head to the VA hospital in Iron Mountain, we pass through Keweenaw Bay where the snowshoe priest, Father Baraga, is honored in a sculpture depicting his reach to the region’s five tribes. The Ojibwa fish year-round from ice-huts and boats on the bay. When we return, we like to stop for dinner at Carla’s where she serves fresh fish.
Last fall, my daughter Radio Geek (though I now see her author bio has evolved to a “through and through” geek) worked on a scientific look at fishing in our region from the perspective of the Ojibwa community who asks, “When can we eat the fish?” Fishers — recreational, professional, and feathered — can be susceptible to unseen pollutants. Research at Michigan Tech reveals the complexities of answering such a question. You can read Radio Geek’s article from the 2018 Michigan Tech Research Magazine).
I was never one to take to fishing. In fact, I have horrible memories of watching gasping trout cling to life in a creel or on a line. Then I met the Hub. Reluctantly, I went fishing but warned him that I’d sit on a sunny rock and read a book. But he taught me a humane method — catch and release. Eventually, as a writing intern to Montana’s Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, I covered Becoming an Outdoor Woman and learned to fly-fish, which is a zen-like activity that involves not actually catching fish. Well, the way I do it.
If you read my article from the olden days of my writing career, you’ll learn my first name is not really Charli. But Charli is short for it, and the name I’ve had since I was a baby buckaroo.
And yes, we’ll be going fishing this week.
I want to remind you to use the form if you’d like to publish in our weekly collection. It helps me tremendously to have the stories in one bucket instead of having to hunt high and low for them! But also share in the comments to take part in the community interaction. A “byline” names the writer — use a pen name, full name, or blog if that’s your preference. Include a title with your 99-word story (the title is not counted). If no title is given, I’ll dub it, “Flash Fiction.”
Also, we have one more month to go before you can request Rancher Badges. These support you as a writer in any goals or achievements you want to track. #CarrotRanchRocks is now live and if you want to participate, ask me for a rock prompt — I’ll connect you with a rock (or more). It’s the literary version of art rocks and also seeks to educate those interested in Lake Superior rocks. Not everyone comes up here to fish!
April 26, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a fish tale. It can be about fishing from any angle, about those who fish, or what might be caught. Go where the prompt leads.
Respond by May 1, 2018. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments.
If you want your story published in the weekly collection, please use this form. If you want to interact with other writers, do so in the comments (yes, that means sharing your story TWICE — once for interaction and once for publication). Rules are here.
Fishing Opener by Charli Mills
Harriette wrapped her arms around Ralph’s girth. He slowed down when the trail dipped and skirted puddles of brown snowmelt. A month ago, they had enjoyed the last snowmobile trek of the season. Now it was time to ride the four-wheeler. The couple had strapped their fishing rods, gear and a picnic lunch to the back. At last, mud splattered, the trail broke out of the trees and opened to an inlet along the shoreline of Lake Superior.
Ralph quickly geared up and headed up the small stream to catch trout. Harriette left her pole and fished for agates.