Savoring the 612

Jumping in


As with most things in my life, I just jumped in the first time. I knew myself well enough to understand that if I thought about it too much or just took it one step at a time that I would only be prolonging what I knew I wanted to do.
In the footage my wife took on her phone, you can hear the hoots of gawkers and astonished peripheral commentary. You can hear me wrestling control of my breath back from the Smartcar-sized patch of open water that determined and whimsical souls cut into Lake Harriet shortly after the ice was deemed thick enough to support the weight of modest crowds. You can see me make my way to the five-foot step ladder laying in the sand on the bottom – setting it up for the exit I knew my body would be telling me in very short order that I needed to execute.
I knew that the ladder had been tipped over by the last person to use the ‘Dipping Hole’ because I had read that it was protocol – like leaving kindling and a modest stack of logs for the next person to occupy your Boundary Waters campsite after you strike your tent, pack up the canoe, and shove off toward home. If the ladder is inconsiderately left upright and the temperature is cold enough, it will freeze into the new sheet of ice bound to form overnight or during any period of inactivity. If it lays on the bottom, all one needs to do is smash or cut a new hole open. I loved that when I learned it – a definitively North Country form of thoughtfulness for an endeavor that, from my perspective, is one of the best ways to eliminate thought.
Despite the fact that most of my youth had been spent relying on my body – swimming, skateboarding, scaling bluff country trails to climb into tree stands to hunt deer – something about me had been particularly hard-wired to live a life inside my own head. Usually wanting to be anywhere other than where I was, I indulged my imagination with books and films and music and drawing as my go-to forms of escapism. I overthought everything, and to my detriment, spent a lot of time less than present. When I left my hometown in Winona County to move up to Minneapolis, the concrete carnival of our Twin Cities metro area gave me back all of the energy I put into it – which was a resource I needed as I stepped into the cacophonous morass of restaurant kitchen work.
However, for all the victories and fireworks life as a line cook and, later, a chef provided me, I woke up decades later to the realization that it was taking a lot more than it gave – because I had allowed it to do so. Living a life in my head had never really gone away – and because of that I had taken for granted the body I had relied upon to carry my mind.
I know I’m not alone in that. When we channel our passions into our livelihood and our loved ones, we accept all manner of reasons to defer attention to the flesh and bones we ride through the amusement park of life.
The abrupt halt to my work in restaurant kitchens due to the lockdowns of the pandemic made me re-examine all of that – made me ask myself just what I had given up to arrive at where I happened to be standing. I didn’t like the view. I didn’t like how I looked or how I felt and I really wanted to change a lot of things about the vocation I had chosen to pursue. I knew that all three of those things could only be changed by changing myself, so I gave it a shot. I began returning to a Yoga practice. Meditation. Free weights. A more mindful diet. Time spent outdoors that reconnected me with Mother Nature.
The latter impacted me most. I got greedy for my time on Minnesota’s myriad trails and waterways – our free-of-charge, stride-measured, all-weather therapists. I began to understand that my body had rekindled its romance with Mother Nature - that the duress of heat and pressure and folly in a lifetime of restaurant kitchens hadn’t been a punishment from having turned away from her when I left Winona County. Those years had just been proof that I was worthy of her love.
When we really love someone, we know we need to love them far past when they are at their best. We need to love them when they are moody and nasty, lazy and hungry, indifferent, luscious, sharp, and brilliant. We can only really do that, really feel love, when we offer up all of those parts of ourselves. What better way do you show the object of your affection – or yourself – who you really are?
Jumping into the exposed liquid of a frozen lake wasn’t a box I wanted to check off a bucket list or a desire to reap the physiological benefits our species has been harvesting from the practice since we’ve walked upright. To me, it was simply a way to find out if my body could love where I lived – even if my mind tried to tell me that where I was, chest deep in ice-fishing water, wanted to kill me.
That first time I jumped in to Lake Harriet, that first time I discovered that my mind could tell my body to reclaim my breathing, was the first time in a long time that I reclaimed a state of what I can only describe as harmony. I kept focusing on that breath. Long and slow. Deep into my lungs and my belly, just like my meditation practice when I was at home sitting lotus on the rug (warm next to the furnace vent).
I didn’t concern myself with how long I was in the water. My wife’s phone later proved about three minutes, but I let my body tell me when it was time to get out (mostly because my fingers and toes were in serious pain). My mind agreed. All together we made our way back to the ladder I took the time to reposition when I first leapt in.
There are dozens of studies that document the scientific, physiological explanations for the euphoria I felt as I climbed up the rungs and on to the edge of the ice. I can tell you that part of it was anticipation of the hot shower I would fire up as soon as my wife drove us home, part of it was proving to myself that I had accomplished something extreme on my own terms and my own volition. Strongest, though, was the realization that I still wanted to push myself out of the rut I had allowed my body and mind to slip into - and now I wanted to do it again. Jumping into the water of a frozen lake had reconnected me with joy. I wanted to do it again and again. I was greedy for it.
When I finished climbing out and gave it a gentle nudge to tip it over and let it drift back toward the bottom, I thought of that ladder, the journey and the protocol that came along with it, as a stairway to heaven, ready for the next seeker to find it.


1 comment on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

  • lisacar31

    Beautifully written. As a fellow “dipper”, I enjoyed hearing all the thoughts of embracing your experience.

    Tuesday, February 21, 2023 Report this