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Learning To Like Lake Erie

I have never been best friends with Lake Erie. I grew up less than 15 miles from its shores in a suburb of Buffalo but I only knew it slightly better than I knew the Indian Ocean, which isn’t saying much.

My summers were spent here by our own small lake, of which I could always see the comforting hills on the other side. I could drive around it, sail across it and sit beside it, always knowing where I stood in relation to the rest of the world.

Lake Erie always felt like an angry, distant cousin–one that I would never really understand. It was terribly polluted for most of my childhood, and Buffalo had industrialized its shores so it’s not a place I spent a lot of time skipping rocks.

Lake Erie was once a place where the rust belt met the water.

When we did venture to a shady spot nearby for a picnic or a swim as a kid, it always felt windy and cold, the color of the water dark and eerie and so I’d always felt that Erie was a fitting name for it. It seemed restless and inpenetrable.

Once my dad brought our little boat to the Niagara River and it conked out close to a bridge which had a sign attached to its piling that read, “No Boats Beyond This Point.”

Niagara Falls loomed too close for comfort in front of us.

But here’s what I know: people become attached to the body of water they grew up near. My sister-in-law loves rivers–she grew up near Watertown and the Thousand Islands in New York State. My children are partial to oceans, having grown up in Massachusetts; they’ve never seen an ocean they didn’t love.

I look at oceans and I am overwhelmed by the immensity of earth.

My grandson asked me recently if we could visit the “big lake.” He’d seen a glimpse of it from the airplane that brought him here and being from Florida, he wanted to see that other body of endless water he’d gotten an aerial view of. It seemed inconceivable to him that it wasn’t a bigger part of our lives.

So I decided to make friends with the lake by first learning more about it and then, perhaps, exploring it. I’d read about the sea glass that could be found along the shore near Westfield and made plans to go there.

I read that since Lake Erie had been cleaned up in the 1970s, people were once again enamored of the water that stretched all the way to Canada, of the sunsets flaming across the open sky. Kayakers now traverse the marshy inlets near the Erie Islands in Ohio, watching bald eagles hunt for snakes, paddling alongside stately cliffs and exotic wildlife.

People that venture south to the shorelines in Ohio send back reports of charming villages and lively towns. Put-In Bay is especially loved, with its Victorian-Era buildings, exciting nightlife and a large range of activities for families.

And did you know that Geneva-on-the-Lake is Ohio’s first summer resort? More than 130 years later, it remains one of the best beaches in Ohio. It’s famous for its dazzling sunsets and for retaining its original appeal, much like our own area.

Perhaps the lake’s most endearing quality, at least for me, is it’s history. The famous quote, “Don’t give up the ship!” hails from a skirmish on Lake Erie, when, during the War of 1812, Commandant Oliver Hazard Perry had pleaded with his crew to fight until the end during a tangle with the Brisitish near Put-In Bay.

It’s an especially endearing and relevant quote today.

And let us be in awe of the Great Lakes, considered a great natural wonder. They provide twenty percent of the world’s surface freshwater. And as the shallowest Great Lake, Lake Erie has some of the biggest waves and worst storms. While there were none as famous as the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald in 1975 (on Lake Superior, not Lake Erie), Erie has swallowed thousands of ships itself, among the highest concentration in the world.

I’d like to incorporate more exploration this summer along the shores of Erie and if I find something capable of luring you away from our own lake I’ll let you know.

I hate to sound so provincial, but as my grandmother would have said, “Why go anywhere else when you have a perfectly good lake right here?”

I guess the answer is, “Because we can.”

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