Potluck Blog


VFL Essay 21: "Frozen Wonders" by Jared Rubado

Skating back and forth down North Long Lake in a peaceful winter night. New Year’s night with the hockey team with the lights shining down on us like we were on the big stage. Not a game, but just a bunch of guys goofing off.

We were playing a fun game of tag when I slid to dodge a hand. When I slid from the tag, I swiped a bunch of snow with me. I got up and I looked down at the ice. After a while, I noticed that there was a fish, frozen in the ice. It was frozen upside down in an awkward position. I called the team over and their jaws dropped like a waterfall. I didn’t know what the big deal was about a dead northern frozen six inches in the ice. I’m not much of a fisherman, but I thought it was average size. I hazily looked again and finally saw it. The eye was moving. Soon, all the parents were on the ice getting a glimpse of that strange fish. I wasn’t sure if it was alive because it was in the middle of winter.

I wonder all the time how that fish was frozen in the ice. I can’t imagine how a living fish could get frozen in the ice. I am still puzzled about that day. Everyone I have told this story to said that I was fibbing. I guess some stories are left unsolved!


VFL Essay 20: "It’s January’s End" by John Gengenbach

It’s January’s end. Funny how it works in northern Minnesota. Ely Lake is frozen over. Snow machines race across her. Sticks have been put in place to mark the muskrat lairs where ice is thin. Ice shack villages dot her surface. Season-colored finches feed-n-chat. A bald eagle sits majestically atop a dying birch. The air is snappy.

Standing on the shores of Silver Lake, though, one has to wonder. She’s open, she’s liquid, she’s steaming as if ready to boil. Still, a delight to the indigenous.

It’s January’s end. The sun is shining brightly and yet, locals scurry to warmer havens…or not. A canoer’s nightmare – a protruding rock – now adorns an icy cap that looks like a Mexican sombrero, or a winter-made toadstool growing out of the water. The surrounding trees – frosted – bow. An orange construction cone that was carelessly thrown in the drink now wears an icy, ballerina-style skirt.

It’s January’s end.


VFL Essay 19: "From a Raft" by Benedict Scheuer

I lay here—bobbing atop the cool Shagawa water. The timber boards, worn by summer storms and idle winter frost, hold me in buoyancy above the gentle lap of waves. My bare back caresses the rough planks of the raft like a newborn in oaken cradle. With my arms and legs outstretched, rays of sweet honey kiss my tan skin as I meet the sun, truly, for the first time.

As the seconds, minutes, moments pass, little drops of water slowly glide across my chest and arms in little rivers—they hope to find the lake from which they came. I rest my eyes to inhale the scent of a shoreline forest. Exhale. My liquid armor drips back between the boards, back to the enchanting water.

The gentle drip alerts a walleye below and his luminous scales flash and dart with no apparent direction. He dances beneath me in sporadic feeling, and, though hidden with the deep, I imagine and know he’s there. With unexpected joy he surges towards the mixing waves. A playful splash flutters out over the rolling water. Quickly, my eyes sparkle to life and I raise myself, leaning on my palms in lazy posture. I scan the lake, my skin now dry, and though the shimmering scales shy from view, I smile gently with my earthly eyes.

I am human. I don’t live underwater. I don’t breathe through gills and I don’t eat bugs. For a walleye, danger bubbles from every sandy bottom, every rock, every sound. Countless jigs and lures lay camouflaged and desperate in their sinister attempts to strip the walleye of life. With shadows in constant scorn against him, his world—my lake—might as well be barren, empty and desolate. But it’s not.

As this final thought floods my mind, I rise to stand on callused feet. Taller now, I squint my earthly eyes for a glimpse of him. Smiling, I sweep my feet backwards over the rough planks. I hug my naked torso and my heart beats in sporadic feeling. With unexpected joy, I rush to the raft’s edge—the edge of my sanctuary. Arms raised and pointed as an arrowhead towards the sun, I close my eyes and surge into the air. For a brief moment, I am not human, but a fish. I splash as a playful walleye, blissfully unaware of the future.


VFL Essay 18: "Tranquility" by Linda J. Hommes

I have a favorite response when asked about the small lake that borders our farm in Aitkin County. “Well, the best thing is, on the fishing opener, no one is on our lake.”

Part of the Rice River watershed and called “27 Lake” by local old-timers, it is classified a “natural environmental lake” in the truest sense of the DNR designation. With only a few nearby landowners, adjoining state land and no public access, it does not offer the traditional recreational pursuits of most Minnesota lakes—no power boats, no jet skis, no beaches. What it does offer is serenity and abundant wildlife.

Though quite shallow, surrounded by fuzzy-headed cattails and sedge grasses, the lake’s population of tiny sunfish and bullheads provides fishing opportunities for keen-eyed Kingfishers, long-legged Great Blue Herons and, occasionally, a family of playful otters.

Canada geese, mallards, mergansers and wood ducks migrate here in the spring and raise their families throughout the summer. Loons are often heard with their yodels and mournful evening wails.

Early in June, hard-shelled nymphs crawl from their sheltered depths to cling to shoreline plants and trees and metamorphosis into ethereal dragonflies. Painted turtles sun themselves on partially submerged snags, and spring peepers hold nocturnal serenades.

Dependent upon ever-changing lake levels, an abundant stand of wild rice often covers two-thirds of the lake by August. In years past, Native American families came here to load their canoes with the ripening rice. Late in the fall waterfowl quietly ripple through the water gleaning the remnants.

White-tailed deer, black bear, red and grey fox find their way along forest paths to drink at its banks. Industrious inhabitants of a large beaver lodge are often seen swimming and tugging along small aspen saplings and birch branches during the early morning and evening hours.

In a secluded boggy area of the lake, wild cranberries ripening in September resemble red rubies as they lie nestled on a bed of sphagnum moss.

I enjoy the peace and quiet of this undeveloped gem most from my rustic cedar swing which sits beneath a wide-branching maple tree at lakeside. There I can daydream, listen to the whoosh and whistle of waterfowl’s wings, spot a muskrat bringing fresh cattail shoots to her home, or simply soak in the evening’s red-orange sunsets. This is tranquility.


VFL Essay 17: "Letter to Grandchildren" by Linda Knosalla

Dear Grandchildren,

Papa and I moved across the road from a lake for you. The little place sometimes seems cramped but you don’t seem to mind because here, childhood is on hold.

We take your hands in ours, one child on each side for me and the same for Papa and walk the road, which has settled down for supper. We point to the night birds over the water while the sun meanders down among the trees. It takes its time just like we do; we don’t want anything to end too soon. The mourning dove, the bald eagles, fish slapping while they feed and screen doors sing the evening, Boats tied to their docks nudge the worn boards in a gentle grump.

Tomorrow, we will lie on the dock and peer down through the slats to see what lives there, like a bobber lost last summer or the handle of a reel dropped long ago. I will tell you about when I saw a snake swimming. Maybe you will see a northern lying in the shade there like my brother did long ago. You will help me remember a time when my summers were spent getting wet, not in the chlorine pools of today, but among the soft shore weeds and minnows. My bunions will join your small feet as we slip them into the lake together.

Because I am your grandmother, you will wear a life jacket even though I never did. You will wear the sunscreen so foreign to me as a child but you will share some memories with me too. Like I did, you might find a tiny clam shell and a shiny rock and ask, “What are these?” Perhaps, you will pull up a long weed, whip it around and splash it down on the water. I did.

When papa returns we will go on the pontoon for a ride. Our older bodies no longer adjust to the movements of a rowboat. I hope someday you can learn to love a rowboat as I did. Taking my pillow and a good book, I would stretch out across one seat and let the waves rock me as I anchored in a quiet cove.

Finally at the end of the day, I will whisper my Grandma’s words as she kissed me goodnight, “How wonderful to be a child at the lake, remember it all.”

Love, Grandma