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Lange: Got Ice?

11/24/10 5:55PM By Willem Lange
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(HOST)  This Friday is the Annual National Day of Listening. As part of this effort, commentator Willem Lange tells a favorite story about an old-timer and a spectacular case of hero worship.

(LANGE)  When I was teaching in the Adirondacks, many years ago, I spent the week of spring school vacation each year at the Upper Ausable Lake with old Bill Broe and a small crew of men, splitting and hauling firewood to the summer cottages around the still-frozen lake.  It was work I loved; we had a full-time cook in the kitchen; and Bill was probably the best storyteller I've ever known.

We had a pretty warm, sunny week one year and filled all the woodsheds and kindling boxes by Friday night.  Saturday morning we loaded our packbaskets and started down the ice.  It was a little over a mile to the foot of the lake, another mile across the carry to the head of the lower lake, and then another two and a half miles to the cars.  We were getting paid the whole day, so nobody was in too great a hurry to get out.

But when we got to the foot of the upper lake, we found the ice was melted back from the shore about fifty feet.  We'd have to hike way back up the lake to where the ice was fast to the shore, cross there, and then shore it through the woods back to the outlet.  Nobody wanted to do that, least of all old Bill.

Now lying on the bank on the other side of that strip of open water was a small green aluminum scow turned upside down for the winter.  We looked at it for a minute.  Then Bill said, "By god, boys, I got half a bottle of whiskey in my pack that says there ain't a man here can get that boat!"

Oh, I wanted so much for Bill to like me, and I yearned for an apprentice appointment into the brotherhood of the old-timers!  Bill didn't know it, but I'd been teaching Shakespeare's Julius Caesar just the week before, and I remembered what Cassius says when Caesar dares him to jump into the river: "Upon the word, accoutred as I was, I plungéd in."  So I set my basket down, took off my jacket, and began to slide my boots toward the edge of the ice.  I could see it trembling and bending; and then "Whoosh!" in I went!

My feet hit bottom; the water was only neck-deep.  I waded ashore, turned the scow right side up, shoved it out to Bill and the boys, and everybody ferried ashore.

We sat on the boat bottom in the sun, while I wrung out my socks and drained my Bean boots.  Bill rummaged in his basket, and pulled out the bottle of Jack Daniels.

"Good job, Billy!" he said.   I was dying of happiness.  "Good job!  After that, I think it's time we had a little drink.  Anybody know where we can find some ice?"

This is Willem Lange in East Montpelier, and I gotta get back to work.

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