Just off Highway 3 between Faribault and Northfield is a gravel pit. After the gravel is dug up, it is sorted into various sizes. Part of the sorting process involves washing the gravel. The waste water, bearing a heavy load of sand and silt, is diverted to a settlement pond next to the gravel pit. This pond, shallow and muddy, is home to muskrats and turtles and ducks. It must have some fish in it because a blue heron sometimes stalks its shores in the summer months.
In winter, of course, the pond freezes. I’ve been driving by that little pond almost every day for ten years and have been puzzled every winter to see the same strange phenomenon. A hole appears in the ice at the same location and of the same size. It is a rectangular opening very precisely cut. Its dimensions are of a door or a grave. It is usually marked at its corners by small branches stuck in the ice or at its sides by branches lain on the ice.
Someone cuts that hole every year and keeps it clear of ice through most of the winter. I have never seen any person there. I have never seen any tracks near the hole. No ice fishing shanties, no bait buckets, no bullhead carcasses – nothing to indicate its purpose or function. The ice removed from the hole is not piled nearby.
What is it for? Obvious care has been used in cutting and maintaining this little hole on this little pond in this little county. But to what end?
I suspect, but do not want to believe, that its purpose is something wholly mundane. Probably the gravel pit operator checking the water to satisfy some arcane environmental reporting rules. The reports sit on a shelf in St. Paul, unremarked. But that could be done with a tiny round hole. No need for this neat three-by-six foot rectangle.
I suppose the hole isn’t part of some occult sect’s full-moon ceremony (torches, incantations, iced beverages). And it probably isn’t a portal to another dimension, where the soul is made of clean #2 gravel and veins run thick with silt.
It wasn’t made from under the ice by an especially intelligent and exceedingly neat breed of beaver.
Maybe there’s a sauna just on the other side of the hill and at night a bunch of wrinkled old Swedes lubricated with schnapps come steaming out of the sauna and plunge through the hole.
Maybe there’s a local version of the Loch Ness monster in that pond and the hole hides a remote video camera designed to capture the beast on tape. It was probably on Geraldo. I should watch more TV.
After considering dozens of possibilities on and off for a decade, I’ve settled on a simple but intriguing explanation: the hole is made by someone with a subtle, slightly warped sense of humor – it is there just to make the rest of us wonder why in hell it’s there.
As such, it’s a public service.