With the first flush of spring—the melting of the lake ice, the warm whispers of air against my face, the moist smell of the earth coming alive, the gleeful chatter of birdsong—my heart seems to leap and swell with a mixture of joy and gratitude. It’s almost as if I would raise my arms overhead to spin and shout with the wonder of it. Even the back and forth of cold and gloom, which seems to make up so much of our early midwestern springtime, makes the anticipation so much sweeter.
But since coming to Lake Mills and falling in love with Rock Lake, spring is also tainted with a deep-seated fear—perhaps that word is too strong—worry or apprehension— that this year might see a decline in the lake’s ability to delight us with her clear water. Have you looked down into the water lately? The green, floaty film of filamentous algae is growing. It grows on the bottom and clings to other plants. As it develops, it produces oxygen that gets trapped in its filmy tendrils lifting the algae towards the surface, eventually reaching the top and turning brown. The lake’s natural rhythm of flipping, as the water temperature warms, brings up nutrients from the bottom and exposes them to sunshine which further fuels algae. So, do all the nutrients flowing into the water from the spring rains and our fertilizer use.
Last week, I heard a resident blowing leaves into the lake for at least an hour. The droning roar seemed to proclaim; more algae, more algae, more algae. Another natural rhythm of the lake is the spread of a bacteria (called Columnaris) which can kill fish, particularly bluegills and sunfish, whom are stressed from spawning and the still lower levels of oxygen in the springtime lake. I know this happens every year, yet seeing dead fish floating on the water is distressing.
Rock Lake, is a beautiful lake. These glimpses help reinforce that even natural occurrences layered one on top of the other makes it difficult for a lake to keep its resiliency. We all have a role in helping maintain the lake’s health. Unfortunately, cause and effect are complicated, intertwined and amplified in unexpected ways. Some things we cannot control: the force of the rains washing chemicals and nutrients in the lake, the growth of bacteria or the increasing water temperature of the lake. Some things we can control: whether we choose to put chemicals on our lawns, leave erosion unchecked, add leaves to our storm sewers or directly into the lake, or transfer invasive species into the lake through our boats or fishing habits. I just know that I don’t want our lake to suffer a summer like what Madison has been experiencing—a stinking cycle of choking algae blooms that kill ducklings and make neighborhood dogs sick.
It’s fine to worry and even motivating, if it can change our behavior...listen. The lake is calling to come and enjoy the sound of her lapping waves, the angry scold of a swooping kingfisher and the crazy tilting dance of swallows chasing lake insects. Spring on our lake is a beautiful, quiet time. We should remember to linger along her shore or float on her surface. We are lucky to be here.