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For Love of Lakes

For Love of Lakes

Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    For Love of Lakes
    Book Description:

    America has more than 130,000 lakes of significant size. Ninety percent of all Americans live within fifty miles of a lake, and our 1.8 billion trips to watery places make them our top vacation choice. Yet despite this striking popularity, more than 45 percent of surveyed lakes and 80 percent of urban lakes do not meet water quality standards.For Love of Lakesweaves a delightful tapestry of history, science, emotion, and poetry for all who love lakes or enjoy nature writing.For Love of Lakesis an affectionate account documenting our species' long relationship with lakes-their glacial origins, Thoreau and his environmental message, and the major perceptual shifts and advances in our understanding of lake ecology. This is a necessary and thoughtful book that addresses the stewardship void while providing improved understanding of our most treasured natural feature.

    eISBN: 978-1-60917-331-9
    Subjects: General Science, Aquatic Sciences, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-4)

    My most vivid childhood recollection of lake came the day Mother rented a rowboat at the municipal dock in the town where she was born, loaded my sister and me, oars and lunch, bathing suits and towels, and rowed us up a long stretch of shore to a beach at the city’s park. Mother was not an expert with oars, and my sister and I were too young to help with the rowing.

    We made slow, zigzagging progress over the placid water—and that made all the difference. I leaned into the side of the wooden boat and peered overboard...


    • Lake Magic
      (pp. 7-15)

      I stand again on the shore of Rainy Lake. Its glassy surface shimmers before me. Islands, mounds of green, ships becalmed, dot the placid surface into the distance. The rose-colored mirror turns peach then rich golden-yellow in the rising morning sun. All is silent. Earth rests.

      Deep feelings of joy, of belonging, envelop me. Boundaries melt. I seem as one with water, rock, and lily, all part of a magnificent whole.

      While such feelings have arisen in me at other times in other places, all have occurred in the presence of water and most frequently, as now, by the side...

    • Limnos I—Walden Pond, Massachusetts
      (pp. 16-19)

      I first learned of Henry David Thoreau in high school English class. He seemed an odd sort, squirreling himself away in a tiny cabin by a lake, refusing to pay taxes to support a war against Mexico he opposed, an act of civil disobedience that cost him a night in jail, a writer who refused to hold a steady job, a social misfit who loved nature, particularly that small lake, Walden Pond.

      I rediscovered him while searching for a pithy quote to use in a talk I was preparing decades ago on the lakes of Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area....

    • Deep Heart’s Core
      (pp. 20-27)

      A few years ago in early April four immense earthmovers arrived at the edge of a farm field two blocks from my house in a Minneapolis suburb. The yellow behemoths arranged themselves in an intimidating line, then fell silent awaiting orders. The next week the machines growled into action and fell to rearranging dirt, soil that had nurtured corn and soybeans for as long as I can remember. When the machines left three months later, a large irregularly shaped hole remained in the center of the field. It began filling with water. An earth-tone sign sprouted at the corner of...

    • August Epiphany
      (pp. 28-35)

      Driving the road that hugs the lake’s south shore, you would notice little to set Diamond Lake apart from hundreds of others nestled in gently rolling farmland of the Minneapolis–St. Paul outer suburbs. When I first visited decades ago, the lake had lost the crystal clarity that led early settlers to name it Diamond. It has a tendency to “green-up” as its waters warm in early summer, not unlike many other shallow lakes where a rich nutrient supply stimulates algal growth. Though Diamond attained perhaps a greener state than others, it was but one of many lakes whose aesthetic...

    • Agassiz’s Gift
      (pp. 36-47)

      Five hours after leaving home I turn off the highway onto a county road and drive for one mile to where the road tees. I pull the car onto the shoulder and open my map to get my bearings. I am searching for a ghost lake, a lake that no longer exists.

      Perhaps, in some subconscious way, my childhood fascination with a storybook tale of a boy who swallowed the sea, so his people could walk unhindered over the sea floor to gather fish for food, explain why I am here. How exciting, I thought, to walk the bottom of...

    • On Seeing
      (pp. 48-53)

      We say, “Open your eyes and see.” It may not be so simple. Here is what I’ve discovered.

      The National Wilderness Act, although a major tool for protecting pristine natural places, defines wilderness, and so defines places worthy of preservation, as “an area of undevelopedlandaffected primarily by forces of nature.” The act might have said “land or water.” The aquatic systems within the nation’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness do, of course, receive de facto protection, but explain this: had someone proposed introducing a nonnative flower or shrub species to the wilderness forest because of its gorgeous blooms...

    • Hastening Slowly
      (pp. 54-56)

      Of the available means of travel from one watery place to another, the canoe, with mile made stroke by stroke, yard by yard, must surely be the slowest. While that may be true for miles covered, what if the destination is to understand, to establish dialogue with a lake? Measures of speed depend on one’s destination.

      I discovered this truth my first time in a canoe during summer break from college at the invitation of a friend. Pat asked me to join him for a weekend canoe trip on a lake now part of Voyageurs National Park. I had traveled...


    • Edges
      (pp. 59-71)

      Some might describe the distinctive odor of a lake as smelly, even obnoxious. Except when the stench of rot pervades the shore, for me lake smell is alluring, an invitation that draws me like a pheromone.

      Geri and I are camped in a state park campground a hundred yards back in the woods from a large lake’s edge. We can smell the lake from our tent. I am enveloped by that smell as I sit on a boulder inches from the water.

      I have come here to immerse my senses in this shore, to follow eyes and ears and nose...

    • Lady Daphnia’s World
      (pp. 72-80)

      I sidle up to the edge of cattails, settle myself on the bottom of the canoe, and lean over the side to get my face as close to the water as I can. I am pushing the season by coming in early May. Populations of the creatures I seek normally peak in June, when the water has warmed. Aquarium aficionados and students know my quarry as waterfleas or daphnia. Lake biologists know them as cladocera (cla-da’-ser-a), tiny kin of lobsters and crayfish. I know them as fascinating creatures in lakes that first endeared themselves to me in college days. I...

    • Limnos II—Fox Lake, Illinois
      (pp. 81-85)

      The Chain of Lakes in the Fox River Basin of northeastern Illinois has attracted visitors since not long after the Civil War. The trickle of fishermen and vacationers became a flood when the rail line from Chicago arrived in 1900. An advertising pamphlet published in 1909 carried ads for thirty-four hotels and resorts, five taverns, four boat lines, two boat builders, and sundry commercial establishments, though the resident population of the town was a mere 400 souls. Today more than 3 million people recreate annually on the area’s waters.

      Unlike these millions, Geri and I have come to Fox Lake...

    • Discovering Eden
      (pp. 86-98)

      Simple observation, unhurried and deliberative, reveals much about life on the beach but little about life beneath the waves. Floating leaves, submerged vegetation, compromised water clarity, water depth, and reflections off a lake surface often obscure the underwater world. Much as peering into a forest from a helicopter hovering above the treetops, the constrained view from a boat or end of a dock gives scant account of the mostly unseen world below.

      My curiosity about this invisible world surfaced when, as a kid, I discovered I could take a deep breath then dive and cruise the bottom with eyes open...

    • Lake Agassiz’s Child
      (pp. 99-107)

      Lake Winnipeg lies in the Canadian Province of Manitoba, some seventy miles north of North Dakota and Minnesota. It is the largest surviving remnant of Glacial Lake Agassiz. Geri and I left the Winnipeg suburbs several hours ago heading north to see what we can learn from this, the tenth largest body of freshwater in the world. The ends of our double cockpit sea kayak stick far beyond the ends of our car.

      The boat looks like a streamlined red-and-white pterodactyl with folded wings that could take flight on a whim, carrying the car off as though captured prey.


    • Seeking Hard Bottom
      (pp. 108-122)

      An eroded sandy path leads past red pine and scattered aspen down a steep slope to the lake. The trail ends at what one might expect to call the lake’s shore. I choose not to use the word “shore” to avoid creating false impressions. No waves lap sand or stones here, nor bend the stems of rushes, nor ruffle lily pads. A fringe of alder and willow marks the edge where path meets spongy black mud. Open water lies half a football field away. A spongy, wet meadow lies between.

      A trail of flattened sedge and an irregular string of...


    • Blue-Green Nemesis
      (pp. 125-136)

      Today, August 28, marks the one-year anniversary of my epiphany visit to Diamond Lake. Curiosity has brought me back. Has the lake’s condition changed since my mind-shaking visit? From the landing the lake appears much as it did then, a sea of blue–green algae run riot, as dominating and repulsive as before. As then, lake bottom disappears from view in shin-deep water.

      Detestable though blue-greens are in such crushing numbers, I admit to grudging respect and intense curiosity about any living being that can so overwhelm a space. Who are these creatures and what enables them to become so...

    • Limnos III—Lake Mendota, Wisconsin
      (pp. 137-140)

      Usually by November I have put my canoe away for the season, fearful of cold water that could quickly sap life away in a capsize. Today is an exception. Geri and I find ourselves slowly paddling under bright November skies on a lake famous the world over. Ostensibly, we have come to Madison, Wisconsin, to attend the annual conference of the North American Lake Management Society. The conference may have been merely an excuse to finally set eyes and canoe on Lake Mendota, birthplace of the scientific study of lakes in North America.

      I swish my hand through water, surprisingly...

    • Diamond’s Dot
      (pp. 141-151)

      A map can show you where you are. Sometimes it stimulates questions about how you got there. I recently came into possession of such a map, one with multicolored dots scattered like a handful of spangles as an overlay on a map of the Twin Cities Metropolitan Area. Each dot represents a lake.

      The map is a report card on the water quality of lakes tested the previous year. Dark–blue dots signify A grades, light blue ones Bs. Most numerous on the map are gray–dot Cs. Ochre dots are Ds; and, like school teachers’ marks, bright–red F...

    • Limnos IV—Cedar Bog Lake, Minnesota
      (pp. 152-156)

      John turns the car onto a two–rut sand trail. We drive across a field, stop at the edge of a woods, and get out. A signboard welcomes us to Cedar Creek Bog, part of the University of Minnesota’s Cedar Creek Ecosystem Research Center. The signboard explains that the irregular knob and kettle topography of the area resulted from the melting of a large block of glacial ice amidst glacial outwash sands.

      John Haarstad, staff member at the station, has agreed to take me on a walk this morning to a small lake within the bog that holds particular interest...

    • Thinking Like a Tullibee
      (pp. 157-172)

      O-do-nee-bee. Cisco. Tullapy. Lake herring.Coregonus artedii.By any of its names, the tullibee swims all but unknown in many northern lakes. Why this fish is unfamiliar to many people, even fishermen, is no mystery. Tullibee cruise the open water beyond the shore, in a world seemingly unconnected to our own. I discovered otherwise in a personal journey that began one June morning on the shore of Lake Itasca in northern Minnesota.

      I had just arrived at the University of Minnesota’s Itasca Field Station as a beginning graduate student, eager to begin my thesis research in lake studies. My adviser,...

    • Riding the West Wind
      (pp. 173-184)

      Voyageurs National Park runs some thirty-nine miles east to west along the International Boundary between Minnesota and Ontario. Over a third of its surface is water. Sandwiched between immense Rainy Lake to the north and Kabetogama Lake to the south, the massive Kabetogama Peninsula forms the interior heart of the park. Dozens of small lakes and ponds dot the thirty-mile length of the peninsula. Ryan Lake lies deep in its pristine heart.

      In the crisp, mosquito-free air and blazing color of early October, Geri and I recently paddled the twenty-two miles from the road head to see this paradoxical lake...


    • Shield Lakes Icon
      (pp. 187-195)

      North of a line from Maine through the Adirondacks west to Minnesota then northwest to the Beaufort Sea, the great ice sheet scraped and gouged the earth’s surface like an unrelenting bulldozer. In doing so the ice laid bare the ancient rock core of the continent, the Precambrian Shield, and gave birth to a vast number of lakes.

      In the course of several million years of ebbing and flowing across the land, the ice also midwifed the birth of a remarkable fish,Salvelinus naymacush,the lake trout. For two or three million years, the forebears of today’s lake trout moved...

    • The Future in a Raindrop
      (pp. 196-206)

      Seven and a half miles of paddling and a mile–long portage, uphill, puts you and your canoe on Grace Lake. A twenty minute hike up the lake’s steeply sloped north side, longer if you like blueberries, puts you on top of a ridge of distinctive white rock. From there you can look down on the lake and its tiny islands and see that it lies in a narrow trough between the ridge you’re on and a parallel ridge on the other side. Both ridges are of the same white rock—quartzite, geologists call it.

      Melt white grains of sand...

    • Limnos V—Mirror Lake, New Hampshire
      (pp. 207-211)

      Dusk settles in by the time Geri and I finally extract ourselves from the rush hour traffic of Montreal and catch up with southbound Interstate 89. We cross the international border into northern Vermont in full darkness. Headlights reveal windrows of plowed snow along the road’s shoulder. How fitting, I think, given our destination, a tiny lake in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Capricious weather gods choose to welcome us to northern New England with panache.

      We stop at a motel in a small Vermont town, and I go in to inquire about a room. “Only one left,” the...

    • Lake of Dreams
      (pp. 212-218)

      Soon after Geri and I began married life, visions of owning our own “place at the lake” began dancing in our heads. A simple rustic cabin set close by the shore. Trees. A view of quiet water. How compelling the thought. Our search for lakeshore property began. Week after week I anxiously awaited the Sunday newspaper and the “Land for Sale” section of the want ads. We had few criteria: the lake needed to be up north, secluded if possible, and, most important, inexpensive.

      After several false starts and months into our search, we learned of a lot for sale...

    • Henry’s Mirror
      (pp. 219-227)

      At a small bridge nine miles west of Boston a minuteman fired a shot heard “round the world” in 1775. Five miles west and seventy-eight years later, Henry David Thoreau fired his own shot beside a small lake physically indistinguishable from hundreds of others sparkling in the Massachusetts landscape. Echoes of the revolutions ignited by both shots reverberate still.

      As Thoreau is our most famous lake-watcher, his beloved Walden Pond is surely our most famous lake. Seven hundred thousand people annually visit that body of water, offspring of a block of ice abandoned by a wasting glacier. Some come to...

    • Lakescapes of the Mind
      (pp. 228-238)

      Though infinitely more famous than the rest of Massachusetts’ lakes, Walden Pond was not the only lake in Henry Thoreau’s life. Four others, sprinkled about the landscape of Concord and Lincoln, made up the rest of what Thoreau called his “lake district.” One of those lakes, Flint’s Pond, Sandy Pond to some, stands apart from the rest.

      Thoreau was familiar with Flint’s Pond long before he lived his experiment at Walden. His roommate at Harvard, Charles Wheeler, lived a short distance away from the pond and had built a cabin on its shore as a summer retreat, perhaps with Thoreau’s...

    • Darkhouse
      (pp. 239-248)

      Cold snow crunches beneath our boots as Geri and I make our way across the frozen surface of Rainy Lake toward a small dark shack, one of several fish houses scattered across the glistening white surface. Unlike fish houses of anglers, this one has no windows. This is a darkhouse where fish are taken by spear.

      Darkhouse spearing of northern pike has been a long tradition in my family. Uncle Harold introduced my dad and me to spearing when I was nine. From grade school days through college winter breaks to my first years of married life, Dad and I...

    (pp. 249-255)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 256-256)