Ice Fishing

By Ellen Meloy

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“Another angler wanders over to our fishing spot. He chats about trout. Everything he says is untrue.”

I go ice fishing for the first time. I stretch out on a lawn chair in the middle of a frozen lake, don sun­glasses and Walkman, and open a book. I guess this is how you ice fish.

Excerpted from Seasons: Desert Sketches by Ellen Meloy by permission of Torrey House Press.

Seasons: Desert Sketches by Ellen Meloy

Ellen Meloy wrote and recorded a series of audio essays for KUER, NPR Utah in the 1990s. Seasons: Desert Sketches is a compilation of these essays, transcribed from their original cassette tape recordings.

Learn more about the book.

My husband runs frantically from hole to hole screaming about the fish pulling his lines, but I pay no attention. I suspect that today is the very day spring will make a teasing debut. I believe that unless certain rituals are performed very carefully, spring might not arrive.

Nearby, three men in full-body camouflage stare in­tently into a dark hole in the lake as if they expect a fish to leap out and bash its brains on the ice. Each time the men move away from the hole, they line up in single file, crouch slightly, and trot forward. The confident bob of three skull-hugging crew cuts tells me that they think they’re invisible, but against the blinding winter-white land­scape, their lush green jungle fatigues stand out like kelp.

Another angler wanders over to our fishing spot. He chats about trout. Everything he says is untrue. “Trout are bottom feeders,” he proclaims. “They molt this month.”

I’m too preoccupied to respond to this nonsense. I am thinking that ancient peoples engaged in elaborate dramas to keep winter on its seasonal course. They believed that unless they did so, the world would remain forever in night and ice.

We have now rounded winter’s bend. Today’s bright sunlight could be spring’s first tease. The camouflage trio trots about as if the frozen lake were a boot camp in Guatemala. “Trout lips are inedible,” rambles the chatty fisherman. “You have to cut them off.”

Spring is challenging winter’s bite, but it’s a weak and precarious spring. A grave and holy vigilance must be maintained. And here I am stuck on the ice with survivalists and fishermen’s lies.

March 15, 1996



Ellen MeloyEllen Meloy was a native of the West and lived in California, Montana, and Utah. Her book Eating Stone: Imagination and the Loss of the Wild (2005) was a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist for nonfiction, and The Anthropology of Turquoise: Reflections on Desert, Sea, Stone, and Sky (2002) was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. She is also the author of Raven’s Exile: A Season on the Green River (1994) and The Last Cheater’s Waltz: Beauty and Violence in the Desert Southwest (2001). Meloy spent most of her life in wild, remote places; at the time of her sudden death in November 2004 (three months after completing Eating Stone), she and her husband were living in southern Utah.

Header photo by Yury Remko, courtesy Pixabay. is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, art, commentary, and design since 1998.