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"Yippee. Another snowmobile ride."
We noised to the near end of the First Island in about 3½ minutes. I already had a plan.
"This time count to two hundred," I said. First Island is much larger and has virgin pine on it providing a thick canopy cover overhead. There was only a dusting of snow underneath, on the brown needles, just enough so that the boys could track me. I ran close to the trunk of the huge tree I had in mind, ran on to the edge of the island into the brown bulrushes along the lake, and stopped. A hundred yards away, across the bare white expanse of frozen, snow-covered lake, was the Bluegill Hole, with eight or 10 fishermen there. One of them was the Old Man with the red and black mackinaw. I sort of knew he'd be there.
Stepping backward, I retraced my footprints so that it appeared I had run into the bulrushes and suddenly disappeared. I backtracked to the pine and hoisted myself off the ground into the lower branches. The other branches whorled above me like wagon spokes, one axle for each year. I began climbing the large branches of the early 1900s.
The lower branches were sturdy and even-spaced and I climbed easily through the teens and into the 1920s, a time when Ernest Hemingway fished and hunted in northern Michigan. Then into the 1930s when my father first found the lake and rented a cabin—with kerosene lanterns because electricity was unavailable. I climbed through the '40s up into the '50s, when I was first introduced to the lake. The climbing was harder and more uncertain but I made it into the '60s, when snomovision came, and nearly up to the '70s, the era my son and nephew know. Here the branches were small and thick and treacherous, and I could go no higher. The view from that height was both exhilarating and depressing; there were so many cabins and machines on the lake. I knew there would never be another team of horses.
The boys were closing in on me. I could hear them coming through the woods breaking branches and quizzing each other as to where I would be. In a few years the lake would be theirs to use as they wished.
I looked down upon the ice fishermen. Activity seemed slow. I could see a mixture of artifacts, old and new: wool clothing vs. polyester, ice spuds vs. power augers, snowmobiles vs. hand-pulled sleds. Rock-and-roll music poured from a transistor radio. The Old Man pulled out what appeared to be, from this distance, a nice bluegill. I wondered if he had a television set at his home, where he lived alone. I certainly hoped so.