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An ice fisherman put up this red ice shelter at a lake at Fort Kearny State Recreation Area last Sunday. Club Acrylic Scarf
Watch as we get a look at the aftermath of the snowstorm this past Wednesday.
As I tramped through snow at Fort Kearny State Recreation Area last Sunday afternoon, I walked softly. I didn’t want to disturb the world’s long winter nap.
Snow blanketed everything. Tree branches. Park signs. The little wooden bridge over a creek on the campground’s southern edge. I was the only one here. Even the restrooms were closed for the season.
The campground road was cleared down to the pavement, but the parking spaces at the campsites were buried under 10 inches of snow, so I had parked by the hike-and-bike trail and walked back to the campground to hike. I wanted to crawl into Mother Nature’s lap and snuggle under the trees and hug the shoulders of the snow-covered lakes.
I was wrapped up in a bright red fleece jacket, a snug wool hat, furry boots, fleece-padded snow pants and warm mittens. Sign posts at campsites were frosted with snow like a cupcake. It was all hushed and undisturbed.
A few pickups puttered past now and then, but none stopped until one pickup slowed, turned into deep snow beside the lake and parked. Two men got out. Carrying a black box of some kind, they clumped down to the lakeshore and out onto the ice. I stopped and watched.
Swaddled in heavy beige ice fishing suits, they walked out to the middle of that lake. I wondered if that ice was thick enough to hold them, but it didn’t crack, so apparently it was. They opened that black bag, pulled an ice auger and began to twirl that thing around and around, slowly, carefully, drilling a hole so they could go ice fishing.
I watched for a while and then continued on.
I passed empty campsites bedded down for the winter and latrines that were closed for the season. The cold sun hung overhead like a bare light bulb.
I passed by an abandoned pop-up camper near a few trees by the lake. The sleeping wings were propped open on both ends like shoulders, and a few odds and ends and a yellow plastic bin sat undisturbed on a nearby picnic table. I wondered whose it was and why it had been left there.
I veered off the campground road onto a road heading west. It was lathered in snow, too, but deeply dented by tire tracks, probably from a park vehicle.
I saw deer tracks and other animal tracks I couldn’t identify. I spotted cross-country ski tracks heading across a field to the north and felt an instant stab of jealousy because I didn’t bring my cross-country skis to Nebraska when I moved here 10 years ago. There’s rarely enough snow to use them.
As I walked, I heard soft whooshes of sun-warmed snow dropping off pine tree branches.
At last, I turned around and headed back to the campground. As I circled that lake, I stopped to watch the ice fishermen. They had erected a red ice shelter over that first hole, and not far away, they were using that augur to drill a second hole through the ice.
I remembered the ice fishermen I saw years ago one February at a lake near Rhinelander, in northern Wisconsin. That scene was a vintage winter wonderland of snowmobiles and Nordic ski trails and dozens of ice shelters dotting the frozen lakes. People there even drove their vehicles onto the lake. They knew that winter can be fun.
These Kearney ice fishermen knew that, too. Their red ice shelter on the lake at Fort Kearny stood out there alone like a proud red flag on the ice. I wondered how long they’d stay out there, how much they’d catch and how often they venture out in the winter.
At last, I headed back to my car. Except for a mother pulling her toddler on a sled near the picnic shelter, the place was nearly deserted.
A man parked, got out of his car and began to walk down the road. He had on a heavy unzipped jacket and no hat, but if he was cold, he didn’t show it. His eyes drank in the snowy wonderland. As we passed each other, we nodded. “It’s beautiful out here,” I said. He beamed and nodded. He didn’t say a word, but he didn’t need to. His smile said it all.
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An ice fisherman put up this red ice shelter at a lake at Fort Kearny State Recreation Area last Sunday.
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