Lake Erie was blue this morning, its glassy surface reflecting the clear sky above … one of the many faces of a lake that’s seen many faces.
The Great Lakes. Six quadrillion gallons of fresh water. One-fifth of the world’s fresh surface water and 84% of the surface water supply in North America. In fact, if the contents of the Great Lakes were spread across the continental U.S., it would submerge the country under 9 feet of water. We drink from it. We fish in it and we play on it. And all of this activity contributes to our wellbeing in one way or another. The Great Lakes shoreline measures 10,900 miles/17,549 sq. kilometers of which a quarter mile of beachfront runs right in front of my house.
The lake has always been my compass. My creative work space and my “true north”. I toss my questions to the wind, and slowly, rhythmically, answers begin to coalesce on the swells and return to shore like waves of inspiration … and somehow I feel more, shall we say, directed.
And, I’m not the only one. Every morning at first light I walk my two Labrador retrievers to the beach and I see others like me drawn to the water’s edge by some unexplainable force. People of all shapes and sizes, all walks of life, staring out over the wide expanse of water thinking their thoughts. Walkers, runners, swimmers and cyclists. Children playing in the sand and seniors doing yoga on the shore. From neighbors to cross country travelers, people come from near and far to experience the power of this place.
So what is it about water gazing that makes us feel better? Some will say it’s due to our primal beginnings, our nomadic instincts to find water, food and suitable hunting grounds. Others talk about connecting with nature. Some feel a walk on beach helps them feel like they are a part of something larger than themselves. In truth, probably all of the above play a role. Whatever your take, I think we all can agree that water is an essential resource that maintains us physically and sustains us emotionally and it should be protected for a multitude of reasons.
I have recently returned to my hometown by the lake after years of being away. I have to laugh at myself, because almost immediately, I fell back into my same routine. I’m up early and out with the dogs. Two hundred yards and I’ve reached the point where sand meets sea, albeit a freshwater sea. The other day a piece of blue-green sea glass caught my eye and reminded me of similar walks I’d had as a young girl. It had been years since I’d noticed the kaleidoscope of colors that crunched under my feet on these sandy shores.
Huntington Beach was my childhood playground. When we were little, mom took us for family outings to the beach to collect shells and play in the shallow water. Later, in my teen years, I went to the beach for other reasons – swimming, water skiing, sun tanning and of course, looking for cute guys. More recently, I brought my own children here and watched while they created their own memories – playing in the waves and building sandcastles. But it had been years since I’d walked this quarter mile and truly appreciated its natural beauty. Now, I look to the horizon with fresh eyes and a new perspective.
The stakes are high for the Great Lakes that support over 40 million people who rely on this ecosystem as a source of drinking water, recreation, and natural beauty. Although the Great Lakes region has been a leader in natural resources management, significant challenges remain as the area faces new and emerging problems due to the effects of climate change. That’s why it is so important for people to experience the natural places in the region – for their own good and the greater good as well. Children need to grow up understanding the source of the water that flows from their tap when they fill up a glass or take a shower. This way, they’ll be more likely to conserve it in the years to come.
I’ll never forget the look on the young faces of a group of inner city children that watched the sunset from the beach this past 4th of July holiday, their eyes wide with wonder. In fact, the park was brought to a near standstill with people lining the piers and stairways as the sun touched the horizon, illuminating the lake’s surface with a light display that rivaled the community fireworks later that evening. We need more of that. It’s important for people to have those experiences in order to appreciate natural world. Crowded minds and busy lives often stand in the way, but we need to make it a priority in our families and in our schools.
One morning this summer on one of my daily walks, I saw a man being baptized by a preacher in the shallows of the lake just off the pier. I had to smile when he emerged, rejuvenated from the waist deep water, a small congregation of supporters clapping and cheering at his transformation. I think appreciating nature is alot like religion. We should treat the natural world with similar reverence.
A great resolution for 2016!
Thanks for reading.
“We have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received, and each one must do his part if we wish to show that the nation is worthy of its good fortune.”
– U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt