Most years I’m among the first, if not actually the first, to install a Birch Lake pier in spring. We’re among the few full-timers on the lake, so usually I’m in the water bolting the frame together as soon as the ice goes out.
This year I might have been last on the lake to pull the pier out. I had to wait, a long time, for some rainless days so I could put the pier board sections away dry. That happened around Oct. 24. Then I was gone for some days, and last Saturday (Nov. 2) I finally got to take the frame apart and stack the supports and rails on shore.
The conditions were far from ideal; cold wind, air about 28 degrees, low gray clouds, snowflakes flying, a few catching on the blue-painted metal. Under my hip boots I wore polypropylene long underwear, sweat pants and slacks. On top three layers of shirts, a hoodie and a jacket kept the chills out.
The lake lay in choppy desolation, reflecting the gray sky. In spring when I installed the pier, newly arrived loons serenaded from far across the water. On this day they were long gone, and not even a migrating duck dropped in.
I set the ratchet socket wrench to the nuts on deep-end L-section and loosened them so my fingers could twist them off. True to form I let the wrench fall into the water, about 30 inches deep. All I could do was reach down to get it and work with a cold, sodden sleeve.
It wasn’t hard carrying the rails to shore, but to move the supports I had to grip the poles; the metal about froze my hands and I had to move them in stages. I worked at it one section at a time, stacking the rails behind a tree, piling the supports in order against the foot of our hillside, first out in fall, last in come spring.
The first time I took out this pier, nine years ago, I got lazy and left the first section in the water. It’s just a few inches deep, I told myself. An ice shove won’t get to it. Of course an ice shove did; it bent the support section. It wasn’t too severe; able to straighten it just by bending it back to vertical, but I’d learned my lesson.
Removing the pier is a wholly different experience from bolting it together. It takes less time — no careful placement, no level-and-square work needed. It’s also a great deal less rewarding. There’s the satisfaction of getting everything out of the water and safely on land, but there’s no sense of anticipation for what lies ahead, as when I stand on the newly placed pier in late April or early May and look out over the warming lake.
As my last act I push a stick through each bolt hole in the shore anchor, marking them for spring. Then I lugged the pier bench up the lakefront stairs, all 57 of them, to the shelter of our lower deck. There’s nothing now except to wait for the freeze. I hope the ice fishing will be productive.
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]