Trusting the lake is easy now that I’ve done it with a group of people. A narrow path down to the lakeshore, then one, joyful leap onto the ice. It’s sunny this afternoon in lower northwest Michigan, where “sunny” means “not snowing.” I’ve got my snowshoes strapped on, trekking poles, snow boots, and a small pack with emergency provisions just to be on the safe side.
Green Lake has two small bays separated by a narrow peninsula. This much I know from the finger-sketch map an ice fisherman drew in the snow for my benefit. He says it’s 3 miles across and I’m determined to find out. Besides a small shanty village to the south, I have the lake to myself. No snowmobiles, no skiers; not even another snowshoe enthusiast in sight.
I move swiftly atop the ice, sometimes crunching over 2 inches of snow, other times up to 5. By and large it’s easy-going, as the wind has swept much of the snowfall off the surface of the lake or into small drifts here and there.
At first, my rhythm is rickety. Step, slap. Scrape, scrape. Step, slap. But then I find it, like a horse’s canter though not as fast: Step, slap-jab; step, slap-jab. Snow squeaks and compresses beneath my weight. Then there is the steady prodding of my trekking poles, sometimes hitting ice (Boink!), other times sinking softly into fresh powder (Shush!). Sometimes my poles slide or drag, their hiss sound muted beneath the snow.
It’s easy to fall into a trance, isolating one sound from another until the world is white and rhythmic and devoid of everything but cold and sound and steady progress to the west. A leaf carcass catches my eye, it’s autumn brown frozen in winter’s grip. I move faster, past the peninsula and toward the halfway point across the ice. Step, slap-jab; step, slap-jab…Slunk…creak… What was that?
Ice? Cracking? A deep breath. All movement stilled. The air feels frigid and I glance at my Camelback water tube, where a small icicle dangles from the mouthpiece. Two steps forward, carefully: Step, slap-jab; step, slap-jab…Slunk…creak. I realize I hadn’t listened closely enough to my own movement, hearing now the added syllables of gear shifting in my pack. I resume walking and laugh a little to myself, this new song of snow the sound of relief.
And so it goes, slowly moving forward, the mind settling into itself as the body takes over. I reach the far side of the lake and turn to retrace my steps. The sun slips further to the southwest, illuminating a ribbon of clouds across the sky. I watch these clouds, how light and real. I press my snowshoes into the snow, walking on water with quiet delight until the sound and snow become a symphony around me, their music pressing through the soles of my boots and straight into my heart.