Lakes are Like People: They Need Respect, Too

I was visiting a little lake a ways east of Seattle yesterday. It was an idyllic setting, with the water just lightly ribbed from the warm breeze. Sounds of children laughing and paddles bumping against metal wafted toward me. Summertime on the lake. Delicious.

Cascade Mountain Lake
Cascade Mountain Lake

I’ve always been a lake lover. As a child, I raced and rolled down the sandy dunes bordering Lake Michigan. When I was a young adult, I paddled the Boundary Waters. And when I lived in Central Oregon, I relished those days when I could escape from the high desert heat to the clear alpine lakes of the Cascades. When I think of lakes, I think of refreshing joy and even peace. But lakes can be deceiving. When portaging between lakes in the north woods, we had to keep an eye out for scavenger bears. When I brought my own children back to the shores of Lake Michigan, I worried about the red flags and the undertow. Even the Cascade Lakes were known to have an evil side, claiming the lives of swimmers now and then. No matter how serene it may look, a lake is not always what it seems. It sometimes has a dark side. Of course, writers have known this all along. I went back through some books I’ve read recently to see what was written about lakes, and came up with nine interesting quotes about landlocked bodies of water. “The Klamath tribe still considered the lake a sacred site and I could see why…I could feel the lake’s power. It seemed a shock in the midst of this great land: inviolable, separate and alone, as if it had always been and would always be here, absorbing every color of visible light but blue.” ~Wild, Cheryl Strayed “The car stopped in the empty campground, around the shore of the lake from the highway. I left the car and stood in the moonlight at the water’s edge. What was my plan? Gradually, I realized my plan was to be cold. To see how cold I could get. A chill wind swept across the water to me.” ~100 Tricks Every Boy Can Do, Kim Stafford “They were disgusting creatures, nitrogen-based life forms that lived in the very darkest corners of the very deepest lakes where there is no light and the pressure crushes everything to sand; deep, dark places where oxygen would never dare.” ~ The Art of Racing in the Rain, Garth Stein “The building, the trees, the lake, could never again be the same to me as they were on that first day, when I was caught by their mystery and authority.” ~Dear Life: Stories, Alice Munro “Though the sun was actually setting behind us, the surface of the entire lake turned red as we ate our lobster bisque and raw oysters…” ~Guests on Earth, Lee Smith “Noelle!” she called, her throat tight, and she pictured the lake, and how it could take a person, and suddenly she was hysterical.” ~The Interestings, Meg Wolitzer “Behind Jack, the sky was clear and nearly black. The lake had an eerie, phosphorescent sheen from the reflection of the city lights.” ~The Damnable Legacy of A Minister’s Wife, Me 🙂 “The tractor fights against its watery grave, but to no avail. Steam rises from the lake, which bubbles and burps, but eventually digests its meal whole.” ~Norwegian by Night, Derek B. Miller “However cold it was that May, the ice out but the water still freezing, he’d have to wade partway in and let water fill the can. And after that, as far out as possible, he had surely slung the water-filled tin and now, if I dived down and passed my hands along the muddy, weedy, silty, snail-rich bottom of the lake, there it would be.” ~The Round House, Louise Erdich We usually think of the nearly 40 million acres of lakes and reservoirs in our country as safe and clean water sources for drinking, irrigation, hydropower, and fun. But they will only be safe and clean if we take care of them, and honor them. July is National Lake Awareness Month, and millions of us will be playing in and alongside thousands of lakes over the next several weeks. My hope is that we will appreciate and celebrate the gifts these basins of water offer and that we won’t take them for granted. I’d like to think we’ll all recognize our responsibility to take good care of them. And of course, we need to take them seriously and realize that, like people, they might not be what they seem on the surface. We need to listen to and respect them, in all their power, mystery and authority.

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