As the lake turns

Posted on February 26, 2016


Due to an error in judgment, I listened to various sound bites from last night’s “debate.”  At least I know better than to have a television.  When the din threatened to overwhelm me, I turned to contemplating the Great Lakes.  Collectively they are the largest body of fresh surface water in the world.  They are larger and older and far more magnificent than many topics that might obsess a person these days.

Thanks to the satellites that trundle along through the stars, I can see them from space.

Great Lakes from the Terra satellite

Credit: Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC. The image was acquired on December 26, 2003, by the Terra satellite.

If you click on that the image will be big enough that you can even see Torch Lake from space.

To stand on the shore of any one of them as a storm approaches is to glimpse true power, and to understand the limits of human pride.

Right here I would love to show you the dramatic South Haven Pier and Lighthouse photo, but I did not take it. Mark Bugnaski of the Kalamazoo Gazette took it.  Way to go, Mark.  It was posted on last fall. I recommend you follow the link.  Really.

They are full of life. 

Under the water you will find the whitefish and lake trout and salmon and perch that I love to eat.  You will also find many invasive species that would probably like to eat me.  Don’t get me started on Asian Carp.  This Foodweb diagram represents just a fraction of the 134 fish species and who knows how many species of invertebrates and zooplankton who live in the Great Lakes.

Lake Michigan Food Web, NOAA - NOAA - Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory Sea Grant Extension Educator

Lake Michigan Food Web, NOAA – NOAA – Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory Sea Grant Extension Educator

Above the waves dance any number of birds.  The gulls and I have agreed that neither of us will attack the other.  Go ahead, take a little minute to click on the photo for a nice big view.  We’ll wait for you.

Rainbow with gulls

Rainbow with gulls by Babs Young, 2010


They give life and they take life away.

Shipwrecks dot the coastlines everywhere, especially in the Manitou Passage and in Lake Superior.  Some are visible through clear waters on calm days.  Others lie too deep to see.  One of the best known is the Edmund Fitzgerald.  Another is the scow-schooner Silver Lake.  Its resting place in Lake Michigan near Sheboygan Wisconsin is a National Historic Landmark.  The Silver Lake was a small trading schooner that worked the Lake Michigan lumber trade in the late 19th century.  It sank in a collision with the Pere Marquette car ferry in dense fog in 1900.

Silver Lake scow-schooner, sunk 1900 in Lake Michigan. NPS photo.

The Silver Lake scow-schooner sank in 1900 in Lake Michigan. National Park Service photo.

They are part of the longest border in the world–and so far at least there is no wall.

At least I think the longest border part is true, and Wikepedia contributors think so too.  I know the no wall part is true.  Canada lets me in all the time.  Not that Canada and the U.S. don’t pay attention to who’s coming across our long, long border, but we are nice about it. Soreheads on both sides will disagree, but we are more than good neighbors; we are cousins.  OK, cousins can squabble.  It has been more than 200 years since our last serious quarrel, and I intend to do my part to keep it that way.  For one thing, I want to keep my options open.  (See Cape Breton if Trump wins.)

They change all the time.  Nothing is forever.

The Great Lakes “turn over” seasonally as the temperatures of different layers change.  The layers rise and fall accordingly, and are mixed by winds, creating aquatic diversity.  (There is a good explanation of turnover on this handy-dandy science lesson on the Properties of Water at the Michigan Sea Grant website.  It is meant for middle schoolers but I found it right up my alley.)

Water levels in the Great Lakes have been much higher and much lower over the millennia.  They will undoubtedly be much higher and much lower again.  You can see the benches for yourself quite clearly at the Antrim Creek Natural Area. (See The Weatherman Contemplates Tiger Rock.)

I find these facts comforting.  They suggest that these parlous times, too, shall pass, and that the Republic may stand.

Underwater sandstorm