The lake in Lake Hallie is narrow and shallow but not without its excitement… especially when the ice freezes. Patti See tells the news from Lake Hallie.
Our neighbors in the three houses directly across the lake from us have lived on Lake Hallie longer than anyone. They have never driven on the frozen lake, a testament to their respect for the springs that feed Lake Hallie and create thin spots even in the coldest winter.
Neighbor Helen says that my husband and I live “across the street.” The lake is narrow enough for us to yell from her house to ours, like talking from one basketball hoop to the opposing team’s. When the lake freezes, we ARE across the street.
Helen has lived on Lake Hallie for 71 of her 78 years. She still talks about when one of her new neighbors, Dave, moved in next door in 1967: that spring the frozen lake melted along the shore, though there was substantial ice further out. He sat in his boat wearing a life preserver and “ice fished” in the open water. She says, “It was the funniest thing I have ever seen.”
Now Bruce and I are the newbies here. We watch the neighbors for cues: when to walk on the ice in December, when to stay off in March.
When we see Dave’s next door neighbor, Larry, glide to the middle of the lake in his pack boots, measure the ice and put in his fishing tip-ups, we know it’s safe to stroll across the “street” and visit.
In March our insurance agent calls to see if he can park in our driveway for the annual ice fishing contest. When he arrives early on Saturday morning, Bruce warns him of the pockets of open water along the shore.
This guy’s livelihood is risk management. Who better to decide when NOT to walk on thin ice?
Bruce stands at the window and watches Mr. Agent step off the dock and take tentative steps.
“He went in!” Bruce shouts to me. “He’s up to his waist.”
Before our agent pulls himself out of the lake, my phone rings. “Your friend fell in,” Larry says. “No one should be out on the ice today.”
“Yep,” I say. “We told him.”
When I witness newsworthy events out here on frozen Lake Hallie, I call Larry or Dave, who see exactly what I can but from a slightly different angle: otters playing in open water, an eagle lurking over an ice fisherman’s abandoned hole.
When one or the other answers the phone, I no longer feel compelled to say, “It’s Patti-from-across-the lake.” I simply launch into: “Are you looking out your window? You should be!”
One time we watched a leather-clad dude pop wheelies on his motorbike up and down the perfectly smooth lake. Another time we stared at a muskrat diving into the frigid water to bring up weed after weed and eat it on the edge of the ice. The muskrat threw its leftovers onto a slimy pile, like a cartoon rabbit eating carrots and discarding the green tops.
Once I saw a guy wearing a bright red jacket pedal a black mountain bike in his knee-high rubber boots. I could only watch, dumbfounded, as he pulled a sled with a child lying face down. This was mid-December, and we’d recently had rain. I would not have set foot on the lake, much less ridden a bike. Pulling a child. On a sled. Should I call my neighbors or social services? I snapped as many photos as I could as these strangers glided across the ice.
I couldn’t see the kid’s face—hood up, belly down on his round “saucer” sled and flying over a thin sheet of ice clearer than an ice cube—but he had to be grinning.