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The Northwoods River News | Rhinelander, Wisconsin

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May 26, 2020

3/28/2020 7:27:00 AM
The Lake Where You Live: Rulseh ponders what matters most
Ted Rulseh

The evening sun dips into purple above the treetops, casting a mellow light across Birch Lake, where grandson Tucker and I, jig rods in hand, hunch over holes drilled in the ice. No one else is around. Earlier in the day, Tucker (7) walked around the edge of the lake with his mom and dad and dogs Bruce and Pizzy, while younger grandson Perrin (6) and I tended the jig rods.

Here on our winter lake, six miles from the nearest road that gets plowed down to bare pavement, it's easy to comply with the governor's request for social distancing. Daughter Sonya, her husband Chad and the boys have left now to socially distance back home in Plymouth.

Now life isn't much different than before the virus began taking hold, except we order groceries delivered instead of driving into town. Despite everything that has happened I can still have my fishing boat pulled out of storage on April 15 per custom, can still have the pontoon delivered after ice-out, can still plan on an opening-day quest for walleyes here on Birch, provided the lake frees up in time, a decidedly uncertain prospect if recent years are prologue.

So in many respects in this loner's lifestyle it's business as usual, though I'll miss the regular meetings of the groups I belong to and Noelle and I will pine for trips to our favored restaurants. We feel about as safe here as one could under current conditions, scary news notwithstanding.

But one unexpected blessing comes with social distancing in these trying times. Hardship has a way of focusing us on what matters. We don't just sit back and bask in our relative security. We worry for members of our extended family and for the many people we don't know whose lives have been upended, physically, socially, economically, in just these past few weeks.

Suddenly, for me, things like the next fishing trip, some new clothes, movies in theaters, basketball tournaments live and on TV, opening day of baseball, fade in significance. It's a time to appreciate just being alive and (I hope) still having some good, healthy years ahead. It's a time to hold close our son and daughter, the two growing grandsons, and all the family members and friends, new and decades old, who we hold dear.

It's also essential for those of us here in the north to treasure these lakes where we live, have vacation properties, or just visit for annual getaways at campgrounds or resort cabins. These lakes are to be nurtured and protected; they are in many ways as much a part of our families as the people we cherish.

At least that's what crossed my mind, and stayed there, as sunset cast its glow that recent evening on the deserted, incredibly beautiful snow-covered ice of Birch Lake, where Tucker and I waited for a tiny tug of a bluegill on a jig pole.

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

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