Thursday, January 8, 2009

Written Tuesday, in Rhode Island: Today, we went to Walden Pond. Oddly--or so it seems to me--(given my eight years studying early American literature in Providence) this is my first visit to Concord or Walden. The day could not have been better; it is cold--40 degrees, maybe--but bright. The pond is frozen to 1-3 inches, and the paths around the pond are alternately damp and squishy or icy and very slick. Despite my shoes, which seemed designed for optimal slippability, and with the assistance of a stick, I did well; the Russian of course navigated himself with great confidence and no wipe-outs that I witnessed. I have read that the pond draws large crowds of swimmers and fishers when the weather is nice. No such crowds today. We had the path to ourselves for the most part, except for the 4 or 5 locals we saw walking for exercise and one couple who, like us, seemed to be there as off-season sightseers. However crowded the park may be during the summer, it seemed beautifully quiet today. The air was crystalline, the small fat birds (wrens?) were hopping around making their short, shrill chirps. We had a bright blue sky, a white wisp of moon all afternoon, and about 6 inches of snow on the ground--against which new green pine needles and the dark ice of the pond itself stand out. The pond showed its ripples through the ice, and wherever the ice had melted around the edges of the pond, we could see quite clearly the round, smooth stones at the bottom. I could easily imagine living in such rooms! I would like to come back some early, early morning in the summer.

The Russian and I share a softness for cold weather activities. Soon after we married, we went ice fishing at Mille Lacs, Minnesota. We scheduled our trip for my school's spring break, and since that was the final week in March, our visit fell just a few days after the day on which ice shacks had to be removed from the lake. Thus, had we come a week earlier, we would have had an entirely different experience. Judging by the left-behind stakes and other detritus of the hard-core ice fishers, the lake had been a veritable fishing city, with streets and neighborhoods. All of that was gone when we arrived. Indeed, other than an old man in a pick-up truck whose ramp we used to drive out onto the ice, we saw only two or three others fishing. Since the Russian had ice-fished in Russia, we had some idea of what we were doing and had come equipped with the short poles with jigglers on the ends, white buckets to sit on, and half-living minnows that the Russian pulled from gelling water and impaled on tiny sharp hooks. I wore special, ice-fishing boots--I could walk to Antartica in those boots--seriously. We wore ski pants and ski jackets. At the time, I had still a Toyota Tercel my parents bought me for college graduation twelve years earlier. I had visions of parking at some tackle shop and walking out onto the ice, our stuff piled up in the big white buckets. But, after haggling with the old guy in the pick up, and without comment, the Russian jumped in the car and drove directly onto the lake, the Tercel's tires crashing through the thin, top layer of ice into the 2-3 inches of water that lay below and nearly sending me through the window. That is, my response to the sound of ice cracking and water splasing beneath the tires was a squeal of panic and a mad rolling down of the passenger's side window (no power windows in the '92 Tercel). The Russian still thinks this is funny, as though rolling down the window would be helpful as the car plunged into near freezing water. As it turns out, the ice was frozen solid down to about 40 inches and only the top-most layers had melted the day before, refreezing thinly overnight. Oh, "ha ha, ha." My revenge was to eschew the Russian's many efforts to get me to sit with him in on a bucket and jiggle a short rod over a hole. Instead, I spent most of the morning hibernating, nestled into my down coat in the front seat of the car, itself sitting lonely on the expanse of frozen lake. When I did join him, I caught three perch right away, all keepers. Later, in the evening hour, when apparently the fish like to bite, I stayed in the hotel room and the Russian went fishing alone. He caught a walleye, which he brought, alive, into the hotel room to show me. Walleyes look angry and have teeth, which seems somehow out of the order of how things ought to work. Fish are soft, fluid, feathery in the water. They have no business having teeth. The thing looked as though it wanted a bite of me; ironically, he ended up the main component of, "oo-ha," a delicious fish soup the Russian whipped up two days later.
Wednesday: Went skiing in a storm at Okemo in Vermont today. Had the worst headache of my entire life.

Thursday: I am sick. My chest is tight and when I cough my whole body hurts but especially my head. I am also dizzy and slightly nauseated. My chest hurts all the way through my back, so that to sit here and type is itself excruciating. I am in a Borders Bookstore in Attleboro, Mass. The Russian is visiting a friend, a Syrian car dealer who helped him (the Russian) get his feet on the ground when he first came to the states. The Syrian is very loud and very fast-talking. I could not bear to see the Syrian today. Later we will go and see some of the Russian's other friends, and I will try to convince them that I am part human and not just a walking pulsation of pain.

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