Leaves were falling like golden snow from a maple tree in our yard. A peak-color canopy towered above as I made my way down the lakefront stairs.
Earlier on this Friday afternoon I had dropped the fishing boat at the dealership for storage, first giving the inside a once-over with a vacuum at a car wash. Now it was time for the pontoon. Each spring the folks at Plowman’s Marine deliver the pontoon, sparkling clean, to the launch here on Birch Lake. Each October I drive it to the launch to be picked up.
It rained most of this morning; now it’s just windy and cold, really cold. I cast off the mooring lines, push the boat away from the pier and sit down at the console. The cold engine is reluctant; I give the choke a touch and try the key again. The motor hums to life.
I back out from the pier, the lake water pea-soupy with a late-season algae bloom. Shifting to forward I turn straight into an edgy west wind that pierces my fall jacket; I wish I had worn a sweatshirt under it, and maybe a wool stocking hat instead of the ball cap I have on.
On take-out day I like to make a last circuit of the lake and remember the highlights of the season past. Not today; the wind is too inhospitable. I do cross the lake to follow the north shore to stay close to where the trees blaze yellow, orange, red, the color dial spun up to maximum.
Peak-color days like this are supposed to be pleasantly cool, just enough sun to heat the fallen leaves and release their cognac fragrance. This afternoon there’s no sun at all. I’m torn between dawdling to enjoy the color and pushing the throttle to get to the launch and out of the wind. I split the difference.
As I approach the lake’s west end the surrounding woods and hills block the wind. The water is calm as I pull up to the pier; the bow ends of the pontoons scrape on the sand. I loop a mooring line over an iron pipe pier post, unhook the hose from the gas tank and wait while the motor runs itself toward dry.
I hear a metallic rattle from Lakewood road and in a moment the truck appears, a long black trailer attached. The outboard motor still purring on residual fuel, I back the boat out from shore, then ease it onto the trailer, which the driver has backed into the lake.
I grab a landing net and an anchor as the pick-up driver fastens the tie-down. We wish each other a good winter; he drives away, and I give the pontoon one last wistful look. I carry the net and anchor to the parking lot where my wife waits in the car.
A week ago I gave the walleye fishing one more try. Now just like that the boat is gone, the season over. All that’s left now is to pull out the pier, stack the frame pieces and decking, and wait for winter. I hope the fall color lasts a few more days.
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]