April 12, 2024 at 5:50 a.m.

The Lake Where You Live

Resurrection

By Ted Rulseh, Columnist

One way to observe Easter Sunday is by going to church to celebrate the Resurrection. I have another ritual of renewal that I have observed for many years, no matter where we’ve lived.

On Easter Sunday, after the traditional ham dinner, I hop in the car and take a ride out to someplace where flowing signifies rebirth after winter’s ordeal. It’s especially important in years when paralysis by snow and ice lasts well into April.

When we lived in Manitowoc County, I would travel to one of the small dams on the East Twin, West Twin or Manitowoc river. Even if ice still gripped the area’s lakes, water reliably poured from behind those structures.

Now that we live in Oneida County, my favorite place to go is the Rainbow Dam on the Wisconsin River, fourteen miles from our house. On last year’s Easter, late in the snowiest hardest winter I can remember, our private road looked much like an old backwoods two-track, except the middle wasn’t grass but slushy ice. 

The town roads and county highways leading to the dam were almost completely clear, just a few deep puddles to splash through and some peninsulas of ice sticking out from the edges halfway to the centerline. 

At the dam I parked in a muddy lot and then walked to a rickety wooden stairway leading down to the river bank. An abstract ice sculpture clung to each side of the dam. Water poured out through the spillway, not with the force I expected or have seen in other springtimes, but still with a satisfying roar.

It’s the sound of water having made a change of phase, a high-volume version of what was happening back home on Birch Lake, and on lakes all over the area, on what was the first truly warm day of April, high temperature near sixty degrees. 

The river downstream ran free, the current vigorous, the water passing just below the fishing platform on my side of the stream. I watched the tannin-stained water pour out from the dam in a chaos of foam and spray before melding with the flow. For a few minutes I let the rush of water soothe me, blocking out all other sounds. A car passed on the bridge above; I heard it not at all. 

As always, a short visit was enough; it restored my belief that winter at last had broken, and my faith in the season to come. Back at home I slipped on insulated boots and went down to the lake, which I hadn’t visited in about three weeks. 

A foot and a half of snow still covered the stairway. As I stood looking out from the shoreline, Birch Lake was a portrait of stasis, not a wisp of breeze to stir the conifers. Far out on the lake, cloud-filtered sunlight reflected on water — not an opening in the ice, just snow melt spread on top. The only sound, besides the staccato rapping of a woodpecker, was the drip, drip, drip of water from snow melting off the neighbor’s pier and falling into a puddle on the ice below.

After that sobering reminder of winter’s persistence, I’m glad to have the memory of the dam and the roar of the river.

Ted Rulseh is a writer, author and lake advocate who lives on Birch Lake in Oneida County. His new book, “Ripple Effects,” has been released by UW Press. You can learn about it by visiting his website at https://thelakeguy.net.


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