Traverse City Record-Eagle

June 4, 2012

I'm growing up with the Great Lakes

By Shelby Akerley
Special to the Record-Eagle

---- — Flashback. Seats covered in what would now be considered horrendous upholstery and a car seat confining my limbs, thus preventing all mischievous movement. What I remember most is peering over that childproof lock to the great expanse I have come to familiarize as home; that ever-changing gem, sapphire during a thunder storm and emerald when the sun caught, and turned it over just so.

As our car flew by, to some destination relatively insignificant in comparison to that endlessness, I would crane my neck desperately for that last glimpse of a whitecap shyly tumbling back into the water; the buoys bobbing with each breath of the lake.

For me, there was never any annual fishing trips, no canoe races, and no camping traditions on the shoreline. All there ever was and all there ever has been is that moment. That catch-your-breath, ache-in-your-heart, beautiful, breathtaking moment of awe whenever that sparkling mass not caught, but enveloped my eye and demanded to be seen, marveled at. Respected.

That pull of pride in the pit of our stomachs is a characteristic best attributed to those who share a bond with the lakes; a flesh and blood sort of bond. We are siblings, we grow old together. We change together. Undines, the water nymphs, beckon us to the waves, sweeping sediments towards us, and provocatively pulling them back once more.

I trace the grainy waves with my finger as I sit upon the shore, no longer the naive child I was years before. I am aware of the threats to our Lakes: the pumping and pollution of the water, the bitter fights, our morality questioned for our efforts to protect our homes, our lives, our childhoods.

I think of a world without the Great Lakes. A world where no gulls swoop into the icy water. A world without fish, skittering here again, there again. A world without the hum of a boat, or the splash of a dive. It is an ugly world. We would sit and watch the stationary sand stretch for miles, the silence echoing around us. This is a world I want no part of, for the loss of the lakes would suck my heart dry.

Flash forward. Diversion, pollution, confusion. Nestle bottles, cigarette butts, Asian carp. I am older now. I drive my own car past the water and still experience that childlike appreciation.

The water is still the same in many ways, it's still lapping against sterns, still slapping into docks, still surging towards shores, still purging baby smooth shells from its mouth, still roaring and rolling and rushing around your feet, still silent and stirring and swallowing the moons light.

But the water is changing, and I can feel myself changing because of it. My eyes have become wiser; my horizons now wider. There are many who can say they grew up on the Great Lakes, there are few who can say they grew up with them.

Shelby Akerley is a junior at Elk Rapids High School.