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The Lake Where You Live: Drifting into autumn

September 20, 2019 by Ted Rulseh

This could be a soft midsummer evening. After supper, as I sit on the bench at the pier’s end, it’s warm enough to go swimming, in fact warm enough to want to.

There’s been barely a breath of wind for days. Near the southeast shore where I sit the water lies nearly glass smooth; farther out there’s just enough breeze to burnish the surface. The fishing boats out on the distant rock bars have no wind to drift upon.

Soft gray clouds fill the northwest sky; from there broad, gray-white, feathery brushstrokes radiate into blue overhead. Yes, this could well be a summer evening. Except, that is, for a few details.

The lake and surroundings are nearly silent, so that I can hear, from far down the shoreline, the single chirp of a sparrow, and the plop of an angler’s lure hitting the water. It never would be this quiet in summer, even on a Tuesday evening, which this is. Aside from those of three anglers, there are no boats out, no one pulling a skier or tuber, no pontoon boat slow-motion party cruising. 

There’s no music coming from cottages where campfires send white woodsmoke skyward. The piers are still in the water, the boats moored alongside or up on lifts, but mostly they’re waiting to be taken out and stored a few weeks from now. For most seasonal lake denizens, vacation time is over.

On the mulched path from the bottom of our lakefront stairs lie, here and there, a fallen maple or aspen leaf, detached from its mooring short of attaining full color. Around the lake a few maples stand edged in gold, here and there a bough in full flaming crimson, just a prelude to the Technicolor spectacle that awaits a few weeks on.

The water, so clear back in June, now carries flecks of green on the surface. The Secchi disc read 17.5 feet back in may; it read 6.8 feet yesterday, the algae clouding the water and tinting it just slightly. A few fallen leaves float on the water and, here and there, an acorn bobs on tiny ripples.

The bulrushes down the shore from our pier no longer stand richly and uniformly green. A few of the tall stems have faded, and when viewed in full profile the rush bed carries a faint yellowish cast. We don’t see families of ducks anymore. Instead, now and then, a small flock sails in, three, five or seven. They stay a while and then are gone, somewhere south.

Perhaps most significant, here at 5:30 p.m. the sun, mostly hidden by the clouds, hangs low. Before 7 o’clock it will sink below the treeline; by 8 o’clock it will be nearly full dark, the walleye anglers perhaps resorting to red-lighted bobbers.

We are definitely, inevitably, drifting into autumn.

Ted Rulseh resides on Birch Lake in Harshaw and is an advocate for lake protection and improvement. His Lakeland Times and Northwoods River News columns are the basis for a book, “A Lakeside Companion,” published by The University of Wisconsin Press. Ted may be reached at [email protected]

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