Now, this tradition, as is usual with most tradition, came about by pure happenstance (and some would say complete accident). For, Allister and Soloman began, as is usual with most beginnings, knowing nothing of ice fishing. The two were, after all, only boys. And their choice in time of year, came not by way of weather, but by way of inspiration. This inspiration, as is usual with most inspiration, was birthed most suddenly from a boggy spell of boredom.
The winter had been a most unforgiving one. Snow had pelted the homes and streets, signs and mailboxes, so that it looked and felt more like a new crust than a blanket. A new skin. The frigid temperatures had made it harder to stay outside for more than ten minutes. And thus, children's half-finished wintery projects decorated yards and fields. Snow angels with one wing, the solid bottoms of snowmen standing without chest or head (the more fortunate ones given the attempt at recognition of twig arms or button eyes), tracks that led halfway down hills and then swerved dramatically to the side (sometimes these side-bound tracks led to an unmanned toboggan, whose desperate owner had long since abandoned it for the warmth of home).
Allister and Soloman, once safe and warm inside, found themselves pressed against the windows, gazing at a world they wanted so badly to be a part of, but which would not compromise. They dreamed of Admiral Peary and his trips across the frozen north and imagined his dog sled mushing through the front yard. And when the skin began to melt, when streams began to trickle through the crust, when the sun finally overpowered the clouds, Allister and Soloman sprang to their feet. It was an instant leap that brought boots and mittens and hats and scarves with it.
They bound for the door and, once outside, they felt the boredom melt away. For a moment, their minds burst into the wide open that comes with inspiration, a care-free free for all, that led the two running and rolling in circles through the layers of snow around them. Then, at once, as if on cue, they focused. Their view honed on their grail. A light flared in their pupils that each one recognized and, without a word, they knew. Allister ran to his backyard shed and Soloman ran to his home across the street. When they met again, they both carried their fishing rods and a stool. It was simple. Before the winter melted away, they would find comfort in it, would be one with it, like Admiral Peary. They set out to do a most common spring-time activity, that of fishing, to prove their adaptability, to make themselves perhaps immune for next year and the years to come so that snowmen and snow angels could be finished. And, of course, fishing was also common in the winter. But, remember they were just boys at the time.
And thus, they found themselves on Culver Lake. Their pupils still a-glow, they tiptoed across the ice to the very middle. All around the snow seemed to be retreating like a cowardly avalanche. Soloman had realized halfway there that they had forgotten bait and had managed to find two acorns softened and weighted by the dampness. These they baited on their hooks and without so much as a "what now?" they both took their mittened fists and punched a hole in the ice (this should give some early cautionary sign). They dropped their lines into the tiny watery voids, sat on their respective stools, and waited.
Now, Allister would always say it was Soloman and Soloman would always say it was Allister. But, someone made a wager that they could catch a fish first. And having not much else to do but wait, the other accepted. And so engaged in this friendly wager were they, that they did not notice the ice begin to separate, did not notice that they were pulling away from each other, that they were now admirals of tiny icebergs with a water-logged acorn as their only anchor.
Such is the mystery of time, that neither Allister nor Soloman could recall how they managed to stay so focused even as they drifted farther and farther away and Culver Lake melted more and more. But, whence they felt the tug on their lines (Allister would say his tug came first and Soloman, of course, would claim the opposite), they snapped back. They pulled on their rods to reign the fish in and realized how far away they were. The sun mirrored mightily in the water. The lake had all but melted clear. A small army of tiny icebergs held fast, courageously standing their ground. And Allister and Soloman were trapped. All around them lay hypothermia. And knowing not what to do, they were boys remember, they simply sat on their stools and attempted to reel in their catches.
And this is when the miraculous kicked in. For the fishes pulled with all their might back. Pulled so hard that the blocks of ice, from opposite ends of the lake, began to budge. Both boys tugged back and the fish tugged harder. Another yank from Allister and Soloman and their fish burst forth as if out of the starting gate of some great derby. And the icebergs followed the lines which followed the fish, who swam straight towards the middle, towards each other. Allister and Soloman screamed and yelled with equal burst of fear and excitement. And, when their fish seemed like they would collide in the middle sending the icebergs crashing into each other soon after, they must have caught the other's fishy eye and saw the challenge, saw the light in the fishy pupil. For, instead of colliding, they took simultaneous and sudden turns away from each other and towards the shore. A race had begun. Allister and Soloman's icebergs coasted past remains of melting icebergs. And, even as their own chariots began to melt, the fish pulled them closer and closer to shore, neck and neck, and berg to berg they were.
If there were a camera propped, perhaps someone could have named a winner. Allister and Soloman would, of course, argue in favor of their own catch. But, this can be said. When the fish touched the shore with unparalleled aquatic speed, they swerved around so quickly that what was left of Allister and Soloman's chariots slammed into land and threw the boys and their stools into the air to land on the ground at precisely the same moment. They dusted themselves off and giggled and remained giggling as they watched the fish drag their rods deep beneath Culver Lake.
For some twenty-five years, Allister and Soloman met at Culver Lake as winter dripped away, to relive their experience. To feel the spirit that Admiral Peary must surely have felt as his dogs mushed through the impossible. And it never ended the same. They would catch nothing or the ice would hold all day or the ice would melt right away and they would find themselves having to swim back. Twice, they were too stubborn to do so, staying long enough in the frigid waters to catch hypothermia and frostbite in three toes apiece-which had to be amputated (very much in the spirit of Admiral Peary). And, after twenty-five years, they finally stopped.
Magic is something that cannot be recreated.