“Hey, Ernold I see you’ve hung curtains in your see-through shanty,” my buddy, Clutch, called from the pool table.
They weren’t curtains. They were vertical blinds. But I was sure the distinction would escape all the Grotty’s Tavern regulars staring at me open mouthed, expectantly awaiting my reply.
“Maybe you’ve got a Laz-y-boy in there too,” Clutch plowed on. “Some doilies on the end table – hmmm?”
How could I explain to a whole room full of flannel-shirted fisherman how I came to use my wife’s catalogue-ordered hothouse for my ice fishing shanty.
It started one Saturday afternoon, my blue fingers trying to suck warmth and color from a bowl of steaming chili. The final score for a morning on the windswept ice in front of our home: Fish 0, Frostbite 20.
“Honeeey,” my wife, Mudge (short for Magenta), called in her I’ve-got-a-project-for-you voice. “Where’s the best place for my greenhouse to get the most sun?”
If you know my wife, that’s not really a question. She’s looking for buy-in. She knows she needs me for assembling and lifting and hauling – all that. And she would just as soon I did it with a happy heart.
Ha! My interest in her project, at that moment, matched the tingling and burning in my thawing extremities. “Whyn’t you stick it right out on the ice in the middle of the goldarn lake. No shadows out there.”
“What a great suggestion. Thank you, dear.”
Four hours later, I stared out our frontroom window at the newest addition to Mudge’s gardening domain. A fisherman emerged from his windowless shanty blinking in the bright light before dragging his sled homeward. He stopped in front of the metal frame structure, late afternoon sun pouring through the clear plastic cover, and studied the architectural anomaly that had magically sprung up while he was cocooned in his outhouse on skids.
“Mudge,” I called sweetly (I needed to change my tune about this project). “You know how I get all grouchy in the winter?”
“No, it’s Sunlight Affect Deficiency something,” Mudge corrected.
“Whatever. I was thinking maybe I could use your hothouse to catch a few rays on the weekend. Who knows, I might be more cheerful around here if I spent more time in the sun.”
“Certainly, dear. How thoughtful of you,” Mudge remarked as she paused on her way to the basement with a bucket of kitchen scraps for our vermiculture box.
Another inspiration. “And by the way, why don’t I just keep the worms right out there with me? That way I can keep an eye on them.”
The next day I trudged out to my snowbound tanning salon. Pushing aside packets of Salvia Officinalis and Lavatera Trimestris and who-knows-what-all seeds and trays and starter soil, I slid the worm box next to my lawnchair. Then I stripped down to my shorts (for appearances sake) and dangled a line through an unobtrusive hole in the floor.
Angry footsteps scrunch, scrunch, scrunched across the ice.
“I saw that,” Mudge announced, yanking the door open. Goose bumps ran up and down my naked limbs in response to the blast of chill air and my first nibble of the day. “You’re fishing.”
“Wait and see,” I backpedaled. “I’ll be a different person this winter – a little sunshine, a little fishing.”
“That’s not why I bought this greenhouse, Ernold,” Mudge persisted, oblivious to my tightly reasoned rationale for co-opting her oversized cold-frame. “I need to get my Dame’s Rocket on its way, not to mention my Dipogon Lablab and Gomphrena Globosa.”
So, in case you’re wondering, that’s how I got around to hanging the vertical blinds. A man needs some privacy when he’s fishing. I mean, what’s the good of getting out of the house if you’re going to leave yourself open to constant scrutiny. Defeats the purpose, if you see what I mean. Finally, after some negotiating around watering, thinning sprouts and harvesting vermicompost, I was able to hang the blinds on the side facing the house.
A couple of Saturdays later, following an especially warm and sunny week, I slogged through ankle deep slush to my tanning/shanty/nursery looking forward to a morning of sun and surf. As I got closer, I paused, squatted, not sure of what I was seeing. Worms floating in space? Inside, icy water threatened to swamp my boot tops. A jumbo perch swam around with his mouth open, gobbling up redworms as they floated over the top of our worm box. We were chumming the lake with our vermicomposters. A slabby bluegill snatched himself a wriggling treat. My shanty had become an aquarium, a scaled-down Sea World. A chunky sunfish brunched on our esinia foetida. How could this have happened? Is this what they mean by the ‘greenhouse effect’? What would I tell Mudge? The basement of her hothouse had flooded? Fish swam up the drain? After a moment’s thought, I did the only sensible thing I could do. I grabbed my fishing net and a camera.
Back at Grotty’s, I didn’t bother to dignify Clutch’s taunts with a response. I simply passed around a photo of thirty two monster sunfish and seven perch resting in a bed of fresh snow.
Awestruck, Clutch asked, “What’s your secret?”.
“Peas,” I replied to the suddenly quiet crowd in the tavern.
“Canned or frozen?” Clutch asked.
“I prefer canned. But frozen works too.”
Clutch gestured anxiously – and?
“Well, I put three or four around the ice hole…”
“…and when the fish comes up to take a pea, I grab him.”