12:30 pm, Tenney Park Locks

The Tenney Park Locks are open only Thursdays through Sundays these days, so you’d expect more of a crowd, but not today. “I’ve only seen one or two boats out on the lake all day,” says Jerry Volk, who is the — lockmaster? I forgot to ask him what his title is. “It’s the weather,” says Volk, who observes that we’ve been about one month ahead of the usual weather curve all year long.

He’s at the lock’s office to operate the machinery should any boats come through, in any case. However, in the absence of seaworthy craft, Volk has grabbed a pail and one of those metal sticks with the pokey things on the end of it and is heading out to the breakwater to pick up trash.

Volk, an LTE with Dane County Parks, works only at the locks, Thursday-Sunday. When he retired from Oscar Mayer, he wanted to get some sort of position where he could be outside, and, as he’s a longtime lake-explorer and scuba diver, this spot seems perfect for him.

Volk says he used to find a quite a few objects on the lake floor around the lock area, for instance bottles from the old Fauerbach Brewery. He seems to know a lot about the parts of Lake Mendota you can’t see — there are places in the lake called bars where the floor of the lake comes up from the usual 60-foot depth to 10 feet, he tells me. One of these is called Dunn’s Bar, and is out some distance from where we’re standing at Tenney Park; Volk describes this one as looking like a saddle. There’s another called the Brearly Bar that’s somewhere off James Madison Park that rises up much more precipitously, like the wall of a building, as Volk describes it to me.

I’m struck that there are so many parts of Madison that I know nothing about. I’m a landlubber, I confess to Volk. He nods as if that’s nothing he hadn’t figured out already.

Is he expecting more boat traffic today, toward evening? He shakes his head no. “Not with the weather like it is. But,” he offers as the day suddenly brightens, “the sun is coming out.”

– Linda Falkenstein

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