waitingIce-fishing is not unlike art-making.

You go to your spot, drill down, drop a fine line and wait to haul a gleaming fish from the hidden current.

Be careful, though.

They’re slippery, these creatures, and you can fumble if you don’t concentrate, if you don’t know what you’re doing. That fine catch can drop with a plonk back into the hole and, simply, disappear.

Since I came home from my mom’s in Ontario, I’ve been out ice-fishing three times.

We have a shack (hut, in Ontario-speak) on the river across the road from our house.

We’ve caught some slithery mariah, and brook trout on Barbi, a lake not far north of us, past the 54th parallel. The water there is so clear you can see straight down to sandy bottom, the red and silver spoon flashing on your line.

It’s such a strange thing, isn’t it? Such a northern thing: to walk out onto frozen water and core out a hole, water surging loose, to look for food.

Our ice-fishing shack, on the Saskatchewan River

Our ice-fishing shack, on the Saskatchewan River

Yesterday, though, our shack came off the river.

It’s supposed to get warm later on this week, up to +9, so the snow covering the ice will turn to slush, freeze overnight, glue the huts to the river’s surface. We don’t want that. It’s better safe than sorry.

Last year, when the ice broke up, we saw a shack move past us on the river. It sat upright on a floe, sliding by, as if the people fishing were still inside, the season having taken them by surprise. It’s a detail that I put into my story, River’s Edge, which was long-listed this week for the CBC Short Story contest.

Stuff flows by in the spring, carried by those huge plates of ice.

My story is, I suppose, partially about the river, or it as a metaphor, about the strength of it, about the currents that claim us, regardless of our best intentions.

About how we manipulate those currents, get caught up in them, flirt with dangers we don’t understand. This is a theme, I think, I’m starting to realize, that echoes through a lot of my work (look at young Sandy, in Swarm, swept up in the tide of a collapsing society, the conviction of those who believe they’re right).

It’s a theme I’m grappling with lately, personally, as well, as I try to get a handle on a bout of depression that’s holding me fast even as the world around me starts to shift, to lose its stasis.

Perhaps triggered by grief or the isolating life of being a writer in the north, it came, and I feel a bit like I’m staring down some holes of my own, trying to decipher shadows and forms, searching for the bright glisten of hope.

Making meaning, I suppose, or trying to. Questioning it, more like.

But this effort, Eric Maisel claims, is the key to depression. “[F]or creators,” he writes in The Van Gogh Blues: The Creative Person’s Path Through Depression, “losses of meaning and doubts about life’s meaningfulness are persistent problems – even the root causes of their depression.”

I’ll get better; you, if you’re an artist, if you’re reading this, if you’re experiencing this, I hope you will too.

It’s not an easy path this one: drilling down with the auger, leaping back from that gush of cold, black water, attempting to clarify, searching to understand, that which cannot yet be seen.

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