Near my house there’s a place called the Twin Bridges. As advertised, it’s a pair of small bridges along Itasca County Highway 336 spanning a winding section of the Prairie River right where it feeds into Crooked Lake. It’s known locally as a place where, shortly after ice-out, you can angle for fish emerging from their icy winter refuge. There is about a week or two of really good fishing there, or at least there was in the ’70s when everyone started fishing this spot through the spring and summer. Honestly, I don’t see or hear about many actual fish hoisted from those waters anymore. No one there ever appears to be happy about anything.
But the people still come, park their trucks along the two-foot shoulder along the river and set up their lawn chair four feet from the center of Highway 336. They lean against the guard rail with a fishing rod while their children play mumbly-peg on the yellow lines behind them. And when cars approach on the road, decelerating as they round a blind corner, every camouflage-festooned soul on the bridge — sometimes two, sometimes 25 — turns and glares at the car’s driver for its intrusion.
I’m driving that car. Or at least, I’m one of the people driving the many cars on that road to and from town.
I don’t fish the Twin Bridges, mostly because I don’t fish anywhere if I can help it, but even if I did I’ve lived here long enough to know that there are no fish there, save for a couple weeks out of the year which are often hard to predict. Sometimes I see locals out on the bridge, and sometimes I’m pretty certain these are tourists. Either way, they share one common enemy: people who use the county highway to operate motor vehicles.
This weekend brings the opening weekend of the walleye and northern pike season in Minnesota, which is a state holiday of sorts — one requiring the attention of the governor in the middle of the legislative session — and a cause for many, many thousands of people to leave the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area to head north to my wooded neighborhood. They leave for an experience they can’t get where they live. Their happiness depends upon how closely their real experience matches their imagined one. I am here to kill that experience, just by being me.
If you heard about a bridge in the woods where you could fish your limit, you sure wouldn’t want cars driving over that bridge, frothing the beer in your can cozy. I can respect that, I suppose.
I’ve lived in northern Minnesota my whole life and this reminds me of this same phenomenon in reverse. The first time I saw the Minneapolis skyline, or the majesty of the Capitol and cathedral in St. Paul, I was amazed. Surely the people here must live some charmed life, flitting from one exciting escapade to the next. And then I found out that, pretty much, the folks there stay home and watch the same stupid shows on TV we watched. It was all very disappointing.
So when you’re driving up for the MN fishing opener, think about this. People live here. Not just to retire or run a guide service, either. Our kids go to school. We drive to work. We decide to run over to the gas station to pick up a frozen pizza because we’re tired, too. I happen to think it’s the best place to live, but am happy to let people disagree if they want. Just don’t give me that look, and next time I’m down in the Cities I promise to get out of the crosswalk before the light turns green. Deal?