I stood on the very end of the dock and looked up at the night sky above. It was thick with the northern stars, the sky so black that I could make out the distinct glow of light around each of the countless specks. The lake before me was utterly calm. The little island a couple hundred yards out and the shoreline of the big island behind it were black sillouhettes between the shimmering blackness of the lake and the deep black of the sky.
My neck was sore from looking up and it was late and I was all alone while everyone else in the fish camp slept or prepared to do so but I couldn’t yet turn my back on the sky and the lake and go up the hill to my bunk. The sky reached down into my heart and found a peace I had forgotten was there. It is such a sky that forces you to measure yourself not against any other man or any other standards except your own. To judge yourself by your own ideals. Self-reckoning as pure as the lake and sky.
Three days before, I had come north with my father- and brother-in-law for a long fishing weekend with some of my father-in-law’s friends as they have done every year for the past 15 or so. I was a young pup compared to most of the other guys and different in many other ways, but we had still united to some degree based on shared appreciation of a few days fishing on a beautiful lake.
Earlier that day the lake had been a bright, windblown expanse. After two perfect days of blue skies and calm waters, we had been forced to huddle in our jackets and seek refuge in small bays. Our anchor wouldn’t hold us in any open water. We were compelled to repeat over and over, “At least it’s not raining.” My hands had been made raw from the wind and the cold water, it became difficult to open my tackleboxes, painful to even think about dipping my hand into the minnow bucket.
Now, it was the last night before we would head home. There had been the fish fry earlier; walleye and some northern accompanied by tater tots, salad and corn. We all crowded into one cabin and ate. A few off-color jokes and stories were told and a fair amount of beer was drunk.
After dinner, my brother-in-law and I went out to have a last Backwoods on the deck and everyone left to their beds except Jonesy, a funny carpenter with a red nose who talked to us longer than I think either of us cared about fishing down on Mille Lacs and whatever else popped into his inebriated mind. I finally excused myself by saying it was time to hit the hay and we parted ways. It had been a lie, but I just wanted a minute down on the dock before I turned in.
So, there I was. I had my last can of Leinie’s in my jacket pocket but I didn’t drink it. I was fairly well bundled against the cool night, which was probably in the 30s. The stars gave the sky a texture I’ve only seen at those latitudes far from city lights. I told myself I had seen better on trips into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (the western edge of which was only 10 or 15 miles away). Hell, I could faintly see the sweeping searchlight from the casino resort on a bay of the lake eight or 10 miles off. But, even if I’d seen them brighter and clearer, it hadn’t been often and it would be a while before I saw it again.
Tomorrow morning, we would go home. I couldn’t forget that. It was good, I missed my wife and needed a break from trying to fit in with these guys, but the night sky drew me in. It was so peaceful and perfectly quiet. The dying wind of earlier that day still rustled through the tree tops, the water was glassy and reflected the starlight. I wanted to take it with me. I moved to leave but then turned back and stood a little longer on the dock, staring up at the stars.