Monday, June 30, 2008

The Wizard of Manitou

June 30, 2008
I think, if you can call Edison “the wizard of Menlo Park” then Dave Stowasser should get the nod for this lake—and particularly for Treasure Island.

The island was feeling the effects of serious erosion in the early 80’s, and the new owner turned to Dave to solve the problem. One of the first orders of business was to build a sea wall that could stand up to the ice pack in winter and the crazy waves from boats in summer.

How do you build a sea wall on an island? With great patience. Local lore has it that the first attempt at a barge substantial enough to move concrete ended up at the bottom of the lake. A hopper had been constructed in the middle of a great raft composed of empty oil drums. After the first loading and the subsequent submersion the conclusion—not enough oil drums.

The second try was successful and Dave and a number of young workers moved concrete by barge and wheel barrow through the months and through the winter. The winter work required sledge hammering ahead of the barge to keep the ice navigable. The end result is shown in the picture above—a massive sea wall which took one cubic yard of concrete for every stride upon it. Speaking of strides, it makes a wonderful sidewalk as well.

The second order of business--supporting the back of the sea wall without carving away the island to make a ledge. To do this the cottage was jacked up high enough to bring in a skip loader to work under it. The earth was dug out to make a back fill for the wall--and the cottage had the benefit of a basement!

Why stop there? A foundation was dug on the south side to accommodate a guest home (presently the site of Alice's deck instead), and of course--the trench was filled with more concrete from the barge.

The final touch? A tire was dropped from the skip loader--a belt was added--and it became a well driller--installing a new well down to one hundred feet. Not a bad season's work for the wizard!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Some Good News to Report

While we have been tallying eggs stolen, we do have a nice hatch from the Cedar Waxwings (we didn’t even know they were on the island), the little wren (who chose the hollow gourd again this year) and the ducks on the off shore hammock who have around eight little ones the size of my thumb. We’ve had two turtles lay eggs so far, but a hatch there will be some time off. We've been busy painting the house, so the kayaks are languishing in the basement. I'm looking forward to launching them so we can get a closer view of the ducks. They are well guarded by a forest of what looks to be (and probably is not) cypress knees.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Catbirds Were Right

After the mystery of the catbirds attacking the squirrels, more evidence has come to light. No eggs in the Cardinal's nest (we never could find the catbird nest). So, C put her trapper hat back on and we are now an island less two squirrels. That leaves two--but one may have taken a powder on his own. The female is still here, but she has become a pet.

It is amazing that a squirrel--who has seen his buddy in a trap just the day before, can walk into the same trap and get caught (these are live traps, remember). They just can't control their impulses--a lesson to us all!

We are now an island with two squirrels instead of four. This seems to be the magic number for our little ecosystem--which allows a rough harmony between squirrels and birds.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Dread Hydrilla?

I'm always happy to see a potential danger to local lakes eradicated--but I have to confess that it has been fun having a "private lake" for a time (while locals had free run on the lake--no outsiders were allowed in or out).

My theory is that someone introduced this potentially dangerous weed to the lake while freeing a pet goldfish some years ago. Once discovered, the state of Indiana mobilized its considerable resources toward complete eradication. In the process, happily, they wiped out nearly every weed in the lake! The chemicals used were never a threat to wildlife or people (they say you can drink it straight), but they made the lake the most weed free lake in America!

Back to the real world with the following announcement from the Lake Association President:

To: bob@bobdimond.comSubject: Hydrilla

Dear LMA Members,

I have been informed by the DNR that today, Wednesday June 25, they will be issuing a press release announcing the re-opening of Manitou.

A DNR contractor conducted an extensive plant survey last week and found no evidence of hydrilla. After considering the facts of the survey, Manitou will be reopened at the DNR launch site only. The DNR wants to restrict access to one ramp so that they can periodically monitor boats for weeds or hydrilla tubers.

Beginning this Saturday, June 28, boaters will be able to launch and remove boats at your convenience. Plans are to keep the lake open until Sonar treatment time next spring (early to mid May) then close the lake again for 6-8 weeks and conduct a similar survey. The LMA will likely need to man the ramp for the closed portion of next May. We will not be manning the ramp this fall.

Also this week, the DNR established another temporary rule to protect the ecozone known to us as "The Prairie". Beginning July 1, we can place the buoys and restrict boat traffic again. The LMA has been frustrated that this bureaucratic snafu has kept the prairie unmarked for the beginning of this summer.

A Windy Tale

June 24, 2008

Around twenty years ago, Rochester was hit with a devastating tornado. You can find homes that have the plumbing comprised of copper in one half and plastic in the other, marking the line of demarcation the tornado took.

Now, there is an elaborate system of warning sirens around the lake. When the sirens wail, I’m always happy to have a big, deep basement (more aout that in another post).

About five years ago, we had our own, very strange little twister come for a visit. I was off the island on a sailing trip but the evidence to the tale told by my wife was clearly there upon my return.

A thunder storm had swept in as they often do, and my wife and her sister were watching the majesty of it from the family room windows. Suddenly the atmosphere became very dark and a big blow came in that shook the house for a brief moment.

Now I need to digress for a little tidbit of island history. Some time ago, long before we became the masters of this little place, a family must have enjoyed a very sweet Christmas here. Next to the front bell pole stood what had to have been their Christmas tree, re-planted after the season. It always bothered me a bit that we had a non-native tree here, but I was compensated by the memories it must have provided for the family that planted it. Next to that tree was another non-native oddity—a totem pole! It was rather poorly done, but it had stood in this position at least since the fifties and had become such a lake icon that I would not take it down.

Back to the storm. As the house shook and the sky went from day to night my wife and sister saw a great disturbance at the Christmas tree. In a few moments, things were quiet again—but the Christmas tree and the totem pole were gone. When I returned from my sailing voyage I was greeted by a three foot stump that was twisted like a cork screw. The totem pole had been blasted into kindling and was strewn all over the front yard. The bell pole, which stood between the tree and the totem (which were six feet apart), remained. The only other evidence of this baby twister’s visit came at the shore, where it had picked up a sizable deck boat, complete with lift and canopy, and turned it neatly upside down. Such are the vagaries of tornados. In eleven years, that has been our experience with the big blows. Happily, the other siren sounds have been false alarms.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Catbird Mystery

Quite a dust up this morning with the catbirds. We have a nice turnout this year in the bird population—and they have been living in harmony with the squirrels—as such things go.

Today, however, found the catbirds in a terrible state. They were very agitated, and when the squirrel came calling to the back deck they set off a row which brought in even more birds. The squirrel found himself under serious attack from not only the catbirds, but from our nesting pair of cardinals, and even the little hummingbird joined in!

As I write this, the squirrel is nowhere to be found and the sunflower seeds on the deck railing remain untouched.

Perhaps the squirrels got into the cat bird nest, or perhaps the big wind last night tossed the fledglings out—some things we’ll never know.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

June Moon

June 18, 2008
Full moons are magical times on the island. My favorite one comes in July, but this one is pretty special. It is close to the horizon, and throws shadows in the night.

The midnight air is perfect, and the lake shimmers with the moon beams—I wish it could stay forever. There isn’t the usual night music of frogs and toads this year. We had a wet, cold spring and all the night creatures are late to go into song. Even in the silence, it was a treat to walk the pathways and sea wall and take in this perfect night.

The morning found the buffalo fish mating—again! This is the first time I’ve seen them do their dance twice in a season. The first time, a month ago, I found most of the eggs washed up above the waterline after a particularly turbulent storm. Perhaps there was something that told them to have another go. They are large and fat, resembling some of the carp you see in the hotel coy ponds. They make great tangles of bodies along the seawall—it is nothing to see a dozen in one place. No one on Manitou fishes for them, but I’m told they taste a lot like catfish.

Bass are the big trophy fish on the lake. In the sixties the fishermen were content to fly fish for pan fish like blue gill and sunfish—now the bass boats rule the water. My sister-in-law lives on White’s creek at the entry to the lake, and expects to catch bass with a worm lure within the hour of putting a line in the water—some times taking as many as four big ones.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

The Year of the Critter

Always something different. One of the great things about this compressed space in which we live—the ecology seems to be working in warp time. Every action causes a very quick reaction.

This year seems to be the year of the critter. Cookie, my wife (known also as Carol west of the Mississippi) has put on her trapper hat. She said that it was the last straw when she saw two baby groundhogs swinging on her tomato vine—or what was left of it.

We use live traps and turn the little guys loose at the Judy Burton Nature Preserve. So far we have gathered in two raccoons, one possum, and three groundhogs. With a little luck, the next plant of tomatoes may actually amount to something! Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches do well for the raccoons, while the groundhogs seem to prefer apples in their traps.

Actually trapper C had great luck without traps on the baby groundhogs. She picked one up by the scruff of his neck and landed a second one with the fish net! She was certainly the first human they had seen and they were too eager to get acquainted.