Ice Tribe

Written by: Alexia Springer

As the year ends, it’s important to take some time to reflect. The full Moon coincides perfectly with the last few days of our calendar year, adding to the benefits this reflection process gives us. Going into 2020 some of my goals included developing friendships, getting involved in the community, and participating more in local and statewide events. And then came COVID….

As someone who is relatively new to Ely, my goals to expand my personal circle and become more involved within my community felt completely crushed. The impact of COVID has been challenging to my mental health. We’ve been more isolated from people, travel less, and have not eaten in a restaurant in nearly a year. Many of these things are not unique to me. Everyone is feeling this, at least to some extent.

One thing we have tried to do as a family this year is spend more time outside. We already spend a lot of time outdoors in normal years, but it seemed even more important to prioritize fresh air and sun. Living close to a lake, I find the daily changes and transformation process along the year fascinating. This year it has been amazing watching the lake freeze without all of the snow.

When Shagawa Lake first started to freeze along the edges, there was still a little snow on top of the ice. The ice was pretty thick so my husband, Alvin, decided to bring a shovel and his skates down on our normal walk. We ended up clearing out a nice wide and lengthy section near Semers beach. Twice a day we walked by. Within the first couple days there was someone out there skating, having fun. It wasn’t long before other members of the community were helping shovel to maintain the rink’s surface. All of this started happening when Minnesotans were asked to go the extra step and not socialize with anyone outside their households. Sporting events were shutting down again, gyms and aquatic programs were closing, add to this the political drama, as well as the inevitable dark, cold creep of winter, things were seeming pretty grim. So shoveling yards of snow just to be able to glide on skates, and be kissed by the sun was a bright spot upon us.

It seems like a few days got away from me…those few very cold days. At night I could hear the distinct noises of lake water turning to ice. And then one sunny afternoon I heard something different. It was an echo coming off the lake. My two year old and I decided to get dressed and go investigate. As we got closer, the sounds of laughter and ATV’s grew louder. There were a dozen people skating around on the makeshift rink. The rest of the lake had finally frozen over and people were venturing further out onto the lake. There were a few people skating together here and there, one person doing grand figure skating moves further out, a few ATV’s were zooming around. Although we didn’t have our skates, we decided to walk to the island where, from a different viewpoint, we saw a group of kids playing hockey, a couple skiing, and a scattering of ice huts with people fishing.

The sight almost brought me to tears. Here I was, accidentally in the midst of a community gathering on the frozen lake. Everyone was having a great time outside, socially distanced, and keeping safe. We were all enjoying the sun, the ice, and a brief mental break from all the stressors we were currently facing. It was the first in a long time I felt the warmth of community around me.

Since that day, someone decided to plow a loop around Miners Lake. Many other area lakes have been skateable as well. It has brought such a renewed sense of excitement and fun into our community that was desperately needed. Thank you to everyone that has helped shovel or plow the skating areas. Although the snow is here now, winter isn’t over and there is still ice underneath all that powder. With snow we can now participate in regular winter activities such as snowshoeing, skiing, fat biking.

Although COVID came and seemed to ruin all my dreams for finding community this year, it seems upon reflection, it has just changed the ways in which my community is formed. Instead of spending time with friends and family in person we now communicate virtually. The App Marco-Polo has been a fun new way to connect by getting to see someone’s facial expressions in conversations that are at our convenience instead of just through text message and phone calls. Instead of meeting people out in restaurants or events, we’re meeting outside in parks or on the trail. Most of my outdoor encounters with people have come by chance, both at the same place at the same time by coincidence. There is something special about that. I hope to continue to find myself in the middle of an accidental lake soirée, and I hope to find you there one day as well.

Ice walking











Here are some ways Ely Folk School can help you get outside and find your ice tribe:

Tracking Animals in the Snow with Steve Engel, February 2
Winter Forest Studies for Kids with Sunshine Gardner, February 4
Learn to Cross Country Ski with Jacki Fisher, February 6
Learn to Snowshoe with Jacki Fisher, February 7
Night Hike for Kids with Sunshine Gardner, February 7

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