There is a thin layer of ice that supports all of us in our daily lives — made up of myths, half-truths, and misconceptions. We walk about on it oblivious to the precariousness of our situation, and to the cold, deadly reality that lurks beneath. — “Falling Through the Ice,” F.R. Duplantier
Winter on the Wolf River: The two minutes of perfect serenity I enjoyed during my summer passages became a forty-minute ordeal.
It was this time of year, maybe even this day, 19 years ago, when I took that last step — and boy was it a doozy! I published an account of my brush with death in a January issue of The New American, the magazine I edited at the time. The following spring, it was republished in The Weyauwega Chronicle, our local weekly. That’s when I discovered that I had committed a macho faux pas.
According to the “Code of the Norsemen,” it’s okay to fall through the ice, but not to acknowledge publicly that one has done so. Most Wisconsin outdoorsmen have had this experience at least once, and with prodding will privately admit to it — but, in public, never! Evidently, it’s considered quite stupid to fall through the ice.
I, however, had at least two legitimate excuses. First, I was from New Orleans and didn’t know the first thing about winter hazards — aside from the folly of licking frozen flagpoles, of course, though I did get my fingers stuck to the inside of my mailbox once, and only once. Second (and this was something I discovered months later), it turned out that there was a dam, and hydroelectric plant, upriver from where I fell through. It was the opening of the dam the night before that had undermined the ice in a relatively shallow section of the river and made it precariously thin where it had been rock solid just the day before. The following year, I knew better than to cross there.