Hmmmm. Where does this trail lead?
It leads to this little shed at the edge of the lake, between our house and the neighbor's.
What's going on? Poles and a shovel?
People on the ice?
(ta da!) the Annual Turning On Of The Aerator.
I already knew what was going on. Got an e-mail a few days ago asking if I would help. "Aerator party at 12 noon on Sunday." Got another, somewhat panicked, email the next day. "Aerator party rescheduled for 10 am Sunday. PACKER GAME AT NOON! CANNOT HAVE CONFLICT! PRIORITIES, PEOPLE!"
The aeration system in our lake is to prevent freeze-out. For those of you who do not live in The Great Frozen North, let me 'splain.
Actually, before we get too far, let me explain what freeze-out is, for anybody who hasn’t experienced it. It doesn’t mean the ice freezes all the way from top to bottom: it means the lake gets low in oxygen during heavy snow years. When snow cover is sufficient to limit sunlight penetration, you don’t have photosynthesis occurring. Everything dies under the ice. Weeds die and consume oxygen, and without sunlight, oxygen isn’t replenished in the system. Eventually, fish die off, too, because there isn’t enough oxygen to sustain them.
This is not a problem in deep lakes, but our lake is only 20 feet deep at its deepest point and about ten to twelve feet deep in the rest. It is deep enough for boating and swimming and floating and sunbathing and sitting-on-the-deck-admiring-the-view, but susceptible to freeze-out in years of deep snow pack, like this year.
The solution was to install an aeration system, which was done in the late 1980s after the last freeze-out. That little shed houses air pumps, and there are five or six good-sized (~6" diameter) pipes running out about a hundred feet or so on the bottom of the lake. When the pumps are turned on, air is pumped out through the pipes, bubbling up through the water and keeping the surface free of ice. The large area of open water is a danger to snowmobilers, though, so we must also put up poles and ropes to mark off the area, plus a warning sign at the public access. The aeration system was funded by the state Department of Natural Resource, and its ongoing operation and maintenance are the responsibility of the lake association.
But the poles and ropes must go up before there is open water. Where exactly to put them?
Although Mike and Marcia, who have been in charge of this whole effort for the past several years, last September mapped approximately where the pipes end, it is difficult to judge precise distances and angles and where the heck exactly are those pipes anyway? So the first step today, after turning on the pumps, was to drill some pilot holes. Any holes that had air bubbles coming up were winners; they were located over -- or very close to over -- the air outlets.
(No, we don't drill the pilot holes at the bank. I got a late start taking photos, so the holes were all drilled and the poles and rope up before I thought to get my camera. What you get is a re-creation, sort of.)
Success! See the bubbling water?
No? How about now?
Thar she blows!
The pilot holes were four inches in diameter. After an hour or two the successful ones were a foot or two across; by 3 pm they were ten feet across. Within a day or two there will be an area of open water 50 to 100 feet in diameter. The bubblers really work.
[digression] One year it was a day or so after the aeration system was turned on before anyone was able to drill the pilot holes and put up the ropes. The air was trapped under the ice and came through wherever it could. One such place happened to be about ten feet off the shore in front of our house. I watched from my window as Lucy inspected the resulting hole. She would sniff around it suspiciously, then leap! back! when a mega-cluster of accumulated air bubbles caused the water to spout several feet into the air. It took about 30 seconds to a minute for enough air to gather and cause a spout, so she had plenty of time to sniff and investigate and wonder about the whole thing. This happened over and over. And over. Until I brought her in. [/digression]
After we had three successful holes that told us approximately where the open water would be, Mike walked off a perimeter around it. Jan and her daughter (Jan's husband John is pictured above with the ice auger) and I followed with a drill equipped with a 12-inch-long, 3/4-inch-diameter bit and with several bundles of seven-foot-tall plastic poles. Jan -- and later, daughter -- drilled holes into the snow and ice, and I stuck a pole into each one. Marcia followed with a bucket of water scooped from the lake. She poured a dipper of water into each hole, where it would freeze and make the pole solid.
What's that written on the sticks?
The last step was tying colorful warning tape along the length of the rope to make it more visible to snowmobilers.
There were some hazards, namely water and slush on top of the ice but hidden by the snow. When there is so much snow on the ice, the weight causes the ice to sag, and water seeps up through cracks in the ice. The insulating layer of snow prevents it from freezing unless the temperature drops really, really low. Which it hasn't for a couple weeks.
Walking Slogging through this:
leads to this:
When I got home I had to thaw my laces with a hair dryer in order to get my boots off.
It might look as though most of the work was done by the female portion of the crew, while the men stood around and watched.
This was most assuredly not true. What it demonstrates is the bias of the photographer and the timing of her photographs. Like I said, the rope was already up by the time I got my camera; that heavy job, plus others requiring impressive feats of upper body strength, were strategically allocated to the males.
We leave the poles and ropes in place until long after the ice has melted in the spring. They all float, and generally wash ashore right in front of our house. In May Matthew gathered up last year's efforts and tucked them into the shed until we needed them again.
And today, when the job was done?
Mmmm, chili and beer.
And football. If you weren't watching The Game, the final score was 31-31, Packers. Or some such; unlike the rest of the crew, I am not a football fan (I finished one preemie cap and started another).
In addition to The Game, we had other entertainment.
Marcia and Mike have four dogs, friendly tail-waggers and ball-chasers every one. This sweetie is Maurice, a collie-shepherd mix named for the former astronaut on Northern Exposure.
In addition to the indoor entertainment, this guy kept stopping by to whammer on the trees just outside the living room.
That's a pileated woodpecker. It's about the size of a crow. One impressive bird, yessireebob.
All in all, a very good day. Perfect weather, lots of help, and a little party afterward. Good times!