On February 15, my wife and I were huddled indoors with Murphy the dog on a particularly brutal winter’s eve. The temperature had remained consistently at -25F, with a strong wind driving the windchill factor down to -35F. What made the night feel even colder still was the fact that we were at the far end of Madeline Island on Lake Superior. When the closest neighbor is a full mile or more away, the temperatures feel colder. The night is darker. But the “cosiness factor” is also more intense, and we went about the business of preparing our dinner with the comforts of a roaring fire and soft music to thaw any chills. The warmth and the mood on this night were not to endure, however.
The day had passed quietly. The severe cold had ensured that most people would stay indoors to indulge their warmer pursuits. Nonetheless, a group of eight snowmobilers had congregated out on the lake into a little community perhaps a half-mile from the point of our property. They had erected their portable ice fishing shelters and spent most of the morning and into the afternoon there, presumably with lines dropped into auger holes in pursuit of fish. Of note, a single snowmobile and shelter also had taken up a solitary position further out on the lake in a show of independence. We admired their sense of adventure while suspicious of their judgment on such a day.
At approximately 2:15 in the afternoon, the small congregation of ice fishers quite suddenly broke camp, loaded up their shelters and almost as if on cue left their location on the ice, heading back toward the mainland. The departure was so swift, and completed in such unison, that it gave the appearance of flight. We noted with curiosity the speed of the abandonment, until some twenty minutes later, when we could see the approach of a snowstorm from the northeast. Clearly, this band of fishers had been monitoring the weather reports and knew when to strike camp.
The storm swelled across the frozen lake within minutes, and the promised blizzard arrived without reservation. Howling snow and wind pummeled our front yard inlet- Devil’s Cauldron, so aptly named for just such occasions- and inside we instinctively stoked the fires in response. The night would be of storybook proportions, with the three of us seeking the warmth and comfort of each other. So we thought.
At 6:30, our doorbell rang. That would have been a surprising event in the best of circumstances in the middle of summer. But in the middle of a raging blizzard, at the end of Madeline Island, the ringing bell was nearly incomprehensible. Initially, I thought it must have been the telephone, such was the unlikeliness of the ring. Not knowing what to expect, I grabbed a Bowie knife instinctively and allowed Murphy to lead the way to the back door as I turned on every house and yard light I could reach.
At the door stood a young man, fully dressed in a heavy snowmobile suit but without helmet or gloves. His face glowed a cherry red, his blond hair waving uncontrollably in the wind. When I opened the door, his eyes opened wide and words poured from his mouth almost faster than he could form them. I could barely comprehend the predicament he presented.
“I’ve never been so glad to see a human being in all my life,” he gasped. “I need help.”
In the interest of length, Part 2 of this incident will be recounted in my next update, scheduled for one week from now. I hope you’ll come back to hear more of the story….