Even though life in and around Dollar Lake will continue on pace through to next Spring, our role in it has come to an end for yet another year. It was time for my wife and I to close the place up for the winter and bid it adieu until next April or so. It is a rite of passage as time-honored as the falling of leaves and the annual felling of deer.
For the resident White-footed Mice this initiates a season of celebration. They can cavort unmolested for 24 hours a day and blithely use the space behind the couch pillows as an eating lounge – without picking up the left-over acorn shells. The mystery creature that lives between the walls can now scratch away at night without evoking fearful comments from the female human bedded within. I trust that the lone ladybug that spent her weekend flying fruitlessly from light to light will now be able to settle down and squeeze itself into some crack for the dark lightless duration.
Even though I call our place the Muskrat Lodge – a small hummock placed along the shore occupied by a dues paying member of the Muskrat Defense League -the lake has been relatively muskratless this summer. Sure they made an eating platform under the dock this Spring and occasionally scattered some cat-tail chewings in the near shore water, but the ‘rats themselves rarely showed in the light, or even the dim light, of morning or evening. They retained their full membership in the nocturnal night club set.
As if on cue, however, one of the little fellows put in an appearance on the final full day of our cabin season. While a thin veneer of ice glazed most of the lake surface, this lone ‘rat pursued water plants in the open shallows at the north. Alternately dunking under and returning with a mouthful of tender plants, he perched atop the remains of a Spatterdock root to eat his fare. In typical muskrat style, he frequently stopped to groom or scratch at a pesky underarm spot.
I am certainly not saying that the ‘rat cared one wit about the human standing on the dock other than acknowledging that there was a human standing on the dock. When the creature spied me and directed a sustained stare in my direction I did not imagine it to be a farewell glance. No, it looked more like an “are you still here!” type of look. I am, after all, the useless part-timer in his world. At least our neighbor puts out corn. He plunged into the drink and retreated to the secrecy of the real muskrat lodge on this lake.
This morning, our packing up morning, the muskrat was back. In a lake as tiny as Dollar, his small erect form on top of his feeding spot gave him beaver-like proportions. He was a noble beast in a less than noble lake. For the moment he was the largest rodent in the area – out sizing the cabin mice, the shed chipmunk, and the yard grey squirrels. I never gave him a chance to snub my goodbye waves because he dunked early and disappeared from view before we closed and locked the doors.
It was only in the last few moments before leaving that I discovered the cause of his pre-mature exit. In short, he had been de-throned by a visiting monarch. A mature Bald Eagle drifted down from the tree line and made a low pass over the lake adjacent to our dock. It settled in the lofty branches of the scraggly White Pine directly opposite our cabin and scanned the place for potential prey. Bald Eagles are primarily fish eaters but they often add muskrats to their diet. Given the crappy nature of the Dollar Lake fishery I suspect that ‘rats might be the primary prey for such a visitor (thus the uber nocturnal ways adopted by the local ‘ratery). We snuck away without disturbing the bird and left the lake to its wild ways for another winter.
It is hard to say goodbye to the drooping cat-tail leaves and extended coffee mornings on the porch. It is equally hard to bid departure from the flaming red Michigan holly bushes in the surrounding countryside and the deep green Balsam Firs. But, you know what they say about absence…..