A column about history, culture, policy, and things in between.
Oil - it has been a significant and consistent part of our news cycle since Hurricane Katrina, and rightly so.
But there is precious little talk about another liquid resource that is going to become even more valuable in the coming years - water. It is disappointing that not one political figure at the local or State level is talking about the need to CONSERVE water. There is only talk about if and when to tap into Lake Michigan to feed our largely irresponsible and slakeless demand for the stuff.
Given the need we have to conserve water, and my life-long love of Lake Michigan, I believe it is useful to cast her in a different light; a light which depicts her as more than just some communal well. Last week we were blessed with yet another wonderous family vacation on her eastern shores, and our collective readiness to pillage her was much on my mind even as we enjoyed her boundless depths abnd beauty. Below is a reprint of some ruminations about water and Lake Michigan that I wrote one year ago:
The easter shoreline of Lake Michigan from Grand Haven to the Mackinaw Bridge is some of the most spectacular country in America. The Indians of the upper Midwest named the Lake "Missi-Ken", meaning in their lyrical speech - large lake. And so they gave name to the Great Lake and to the State.
We spent our days there same way we have for the last several trips - sailing, biking, boogie-boarding, body surfing, sand-dune climbing, kayaking, hiking, and camp-firing on the shore. Our morning entertainment consisted of bike rides to the Lake and to the artesian well to fill our containers for the day. Nocturnal entertainment consisted of huddling on the beach to watch the sunset over Lake Michigan, marveling as the sun plunged down the horizon like some great, incandescent eye, illuminating the sky with hues of peach, orange, magenta, and violet, so lush and vibrant as to shame the canvas of Raphael.
The Shawnee Chief Tecumseh was a great American, and sadly, too obscure a figure in our history. He grew up in the forests and on the river banks of what is now southern Ohio, and often tried to give verse to the feelings he had for the land he so loved. Despite his eloquence it always eluded him.
Like Tecumseh - all I can do is recall images and sensations: a bobcat darting across the trail of a deep woods hike, stopping briefly to freeze us with his penetrating gaze. Watching your children lay hands on the tiller of a sailboat, and just as you taught them, reading the sails as the mylar lufts and gropes for the wind, all while remembering the terrified shrieks of their first sail. Seeing them gaze at the towering Sleeping Bear Dunes as we cruise below them, jaws agape and souls humbled by the sight. Watching the wind suddenly quicken as it gathers over the surface, and the mad scramble to reduce sail before it strikes the spinnaker and main like an invisible fist, heeling the boat to the gunnels. The soft-green and beige of the dune grasses as they gently yield to the caress of the breeze. The thigh-burning, lung-busting effort of ascending the mighty dunes, and the rollicking, limb-flailing descent, often hurtling twenty feet with a single leap. The taste of the artesian well water after a long run in the sun - sweeter than any ice-cold Gatorade. The images of my son summersaulting in the surf like some bronzed, human dolphin. I could go on..............
Try as I might I cannot capture the essence of what this land and water hold for me. How does one convey the memories of a lifetime - memories seared like a brand onto the skin of my consciousness?
Always - always I will hear Missi-Ken calling to me. The primordial sound of the surf in its ageless assault upon the shore, and the matching refrain of the water's retreat. The lonely, plaintive cry of the gulls as they lilt and bob above the surface, their calls mixing with the pounding surf in a soul-piercing, other-worldly texture of sound.
Perhaps our son captured her essence best while perched atop the dunes one golden evening. Staring out at her vastness, I watched as its majesty laid hold of him and slowly quieted his spirit. And I could only nod my agreement as he murmured, "it's not a Lake, Dad - it's an ocean".
I love Lake Michigan. And my love for her has helped teach me to respect and conserve water.
Think about it.