Emily and I live on Lake Erie, one of the Great Lakes that accounts for one-fifth of the world’s fresh water. For those of you who like facts: The lake’s name was derived from erielhonan, the Iroquoian word for "long tail," which describes its shape. It is the fourth largest of the Great Lakes when measured in surface area (9,910 square miles) and the smallest by water volume (116 cubic miles). As as a sailor, I describe Lake Erie as a big bathtub with fiercely rocking waves, often blustery winds, frustratingly dead calms, and unpredictable storms.
For a number of years, our backyard literally sat on the edge of the lake in the middle of a neighborhood just fifteen minutes from downtown Cleveland. Because Lake Erie forms our nation’s Northcoast with international waters bordering Canada, when we bought our lakefront property, we had to sign an agreement with Homeland Security that we wouldn’t harbor terrorists.
For nearly a decade, we were rocked to sleep by the sound of waves crashing against the rocks, and every morning we awoke to the noisy squawking and singing of birds of all species as they made their semi-annual migrations.
Our yard was a different climate zone from the rest of the metropolitan area. Tempered by the lake, summer days were cool so that we had roses until Christmas; the northern winds howled from late November through early to mid April; the snow blew over our house until the lake froze; there was lots of light - even on a cloudy, grey day; and in the spring, our bulbs popped up two weeks late. Most evenings, there were beautiful sunsets and amazing stars. And we had an extraordinary collection of wildlife, including: deer, possums, raccoons, skunks, woodchucks, and our very own coyote. We came to think of Lake Erie as both a moody but precious member of our household and a fascinating neighbor.
A few years ago, we downsized and moved into a neighborhood closer to downtown. Still wanting to live on the lake, we bought a parcel of vacant land and built an energy efficient house on a little street overlooking this vast body of water. Actually, it looks out over the Detroit Shoreway (now called Edgewater Parkway), the old mouth of the Cuyahoga River, Whiskey Island, and then Lake Erie.
In addition to migrating birds, we now see freighters unloading mounds of iron ore and uploading tons of salt. We watch trains, planes, and automobiles moving across our metropolis, consuming voluminous amounts of fossil fuel. Some of them carry highly combustible crude oil, and thus, are called “bomb trains.” We have an unobstructed view of Cleveland’s water intake facility (affectionately known as the Crib) and our water treatment plant, whose fragrance usually flows to the east of our house. We also have a new bike path behind our property whose construction unfortunately destroyed the natural habitat of our hillside, and has created so much light pollution that the birds are confused and we can’t sleep. Nonetheless, we still enjoy mother nature’s howling winds in the winter and her gentle breezes in the summer, and that beautiful and ever-changing view of water and sky for as far as the eye can see.
This morning, as I carried the kitchen garbage to our backyard compost bin and refilled the bird feeders, I paused to listen to the birds, smell the new spring flowers, watch the squirrels, admire the spiders, touch the one remaining old tree by the bike path, look up at the sky, and greet the lake. In doing so, I recalled the wisdom of Teilhard de Chardin: “The future of the earth is in our hands. Let us then, for the love of our Creator and of the universe, throw ourselves fearlessly into the crucible of the world of tomorrow…The task before us now, if we would not perish, is to build the earth.”
Living on the lake has made me appreciate the vulnerability of our ecosystem and its climate. But sometimes, I forget and take it for granted. In honor of Earth Day, I have recommitted myself to loving deeply from my heart and with my actions “this fragile earth, our island home.” I hope you will do the same. - Tracey