Here Back East

By Lenny Ackerman

The Last Ice Cover

I awoke at daybreak, the crisp air in the cabin still bearing the pine smell of the last burn-off in the great room stone fireplace. I had slept under the heavy quilt Patti ordered for just this type of cold spring weather. A wool beanie kept my bald head from freezing during the night. The morning sun reflected off the ice-covered lake through the cotton curtains that have been hanging in the bedroom window since my first visit to Camp Kabrook, before it even had a name. Back then they were old and in disrepair, but Katie revitalized them—washing, sewing and ironing them back to life, those old-fashioned curtains from another era that reminded me of my late mother — she would have done the same with them as she never let anything go to waste. I arose slowly and felt the cold shock of the wood floor on my feet. I hurriedly slipped on my fleece-lined moccasins and donned one of my old flannel shirts for a walk down to the dock. I decided to make a pot of fisherman’s coffee with lake water and eggshells—the eggshells an old camping trick to keep the grounds down.

I had arrived late the night before, my stay at camp only a stopover en route to the Restigouche River in Canada for salmon fishing. I expected the ice to have melted off by the time of this planned visit. Greg had given me a heads-up but on arriving so late on a moonless night I could not make out the white sheet of ice crystal across East Grand Lake. The grassy lawn from the house down to the dock was a spring green, in contrast to the wintry lake scene. The fire pit was stacked high with newly cut limbs — Greg’s handiwork. He had also moved the picnic table off the dock, up near the enclosed porch for storm protection. I crouched down at the edge of the dock, and with coffee pot in hand, tapped the ice, searching for an opening into the fresh lake water, but the ice was tight against the edge of the dock. I walked over to the wooded area where my nap tent is fitted during the season. There were small, deep pools adjacent to the large rocks that were not completely frozen over. I dipped the coffee pot into one of them and filled the pot to the brim. Back at the house I turned on the stove and ground the coffee beans, spooning them into the coffee pot. Next, the crushed shell from a fresh egg went in on top of the grounds. I filled the pot with the steaming hot water and hoping for the best, I waited. After a few minutes, I poured a bit of this black substance into one of my metal coffee cups and sipped the best and strongest and ground-less coffee ever. Whoa I did it. Now fully caffeinated, I put on my hiking boots to go explore the last ice cover of the season.

The ice on East Grand Lake is not like the glassy surface of the ice rink in Central Park. It is like course and heavy sandpaper. The wind from the northeast creates curls and dips in the ice. Tracks from vehicles and other devices criss-cross. Further out there are occasional drilled holes for ice fishing. I only venture as far as the entrance to my cove. I am unsure of myself and aware of the risks of walking too far out. I am alone, but calm. The wind whispers a song of happiness. I am in the place where I find solace. The air is pure. The little forest animals scurry looking for food and find the ice a major highway from point A to point B. I walk across the ice cove to my neighbors, Ted and Lori’s camp. No one is home. They are on Long Island. I walk around their main cabin. A small watercraft is covered with canvas. The wood pile is still damp from melting snow. I envision Ted’s dad who lived at this camp for many years after his retirement from Grumman on Long Island, waking up every winter morning to enjoy and breathe in the landscape. The war in Ukraine is far away and out of mind. The rate of inflation, the Dow, and interest rates are some 80 miles away in Bangor where The NY Times is sold. I am at peace.

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