By Sarah Dahlheimer
We enter the spear house and our eyes slowly adjust to the dim lighting—a stark contrast to the blinding white landscape of the frozen Lake X. James takes a lighter from his pocket and ignites the propane heater, and it whistles and then hums as it gets going. I close the door and already there’s warmth away from the frigid winds outside.
My stomach twists with excitement as I scan the interior where the walls have been spray painted black. A towel hangs over the door as a makeshift curtain to block any cracks of light from entering. The darker it is, the easier it is to see to the bottom. My first time in the darkhouse, I walked bravely across the hinged trapdoor in the middle, not knowing what it was; I even stood on it. Now I gently walk across. I know it’s safe, but I am careful just in case.
There are two chairs. James will sit in front of the door, and I’ll sit directly across so we can face each other. As soon as I sit, James flips the trapdoor open and ties it up against the wall, revealing a four by three foot hole in the lake ice. There’s a thin layer of glassy ice that we clear out of the hole with an ice scoop and dump in an extra bucket. A few of the stubborn icy shards always escape and float aimlessly in the water.
Ten feet down I can see the bottom of the lake. There is dormant, black vegetation mixed in with sandy patches. The water is mostly clear with a green tinge compared to the snow-covered ice. Light seems to come from the hole, and already perch are passing through. The skinny, striped fish fade in and out of the vegetation with perfect camouflage.
James sets up the teaser with a red spoon. He drops it into the hole and we watch it go around in circles. He then harnesses a large sucker minnow and drops it down to swim around, too. All in hopes of attracting pike that swoop in like sharks and attack anything that moves.
James makes sure the spear is ready and the rope secured. We wait with anticipation and remember previous times out on the lakes and rivers of northern Minnesota. We watch the perch, for they are the watchdogs. If they scatter, maybe a monster will be darting through.
Sarah Dahlheimer is a senior at Bemidji State University. She will graduate in May with a BFA in creative and professional writing, and a certificate in electronic writing. She grew up in the Bemidji area and enjoys writing about the different aspects of life found here.