Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A Lake Is Not A Pond

About an hour after I passed the abandoned greenhouse I arrived at my destination: a cottage on the southern shores of Lake Erie near Vermilion.

Some 30 years ago I attended a picnic that was held in the back yard of a similar cottage. I've been wanting to go back ever since. Most of Ohio's northern coast that I'm familiar with is almost level with the lake but in the area west of Vermilion it rises about 20 or 30 feet above the water. That's not much but it's enough to extend one's views considerably - and to protect one from unexpected encounters with presumptuous waves. I'm not sure why these low bluffs are there but I suppose it has something to do with the way the last glaciers cut across the area a few thousand years ago. (I'm told that Lake Erie assumed its present shape about 5000 years ago after the final glacier melted away but I can't attest to that - my memory doesn't go back quite that far.)

Although I've known quite a few people in my life I can't recall more than a handful of them ever expressing any interest in Lake Erie. I myself spent the first 18 years of my life in homes between 4 and 8 miles from the lake yet I can only recall briefly catching sight of it on 4 or 5 different days. (That would be 4 or 5 different days out of approximately 6570.) That seems wrong - so wrong that it long ago prompted me to promise myself that if the opportunity ever arose for me to just sit and look at the lake for a week or two, I would seize it.

When that opportunity popped up this summer, I kept that promise.

As a result, I now have a much better image in my mind of where my drinking water came from between 1959 and 1979.

And where so many toilet flushes ended up.

Let the record show that - counter to the fears of my childhood - those flushes do *not* seem to have left any permanent mark.

A recent story in The Columbus Dispatch helped me better understand how that can be.

According to that story, 122 billion gallons of water flow into Lake Erie every year from the Detroit River. Another 15 billions of runoff flow into it. On the other side of the ledger, some 66 billion gallons go over Niagara Falls every year. An additional 17 billion gallons evaporate. Ohio and the other states use about 11 billion gallons. There was no mention of what the Canadians up there in Ontario might be doing when no one is looking (and really, when are Americans *ever* looking at Canada?) but the bottom line seems to be that the lake is now growing at the rate of about 43 billion gallons every 12 months (or by about 81,000 gallons every minute if my calculations are right).

Which pretty much erases any residual guilt I have about that Ten Flush Marathon I engaged in back in 1965.

It also once and for all proves to me that Lake Erie really isn't nothing more than a glorified pond.

According to Wikipedia, there remains some confusion even among professional hydrologists as to the exact point at which a pond becomes a lake. Some say a pond must be 5 acres or smaller; some say 20 acres. Apparently no one except a Brit who insists on calling the Atlantic Ocean "The Pond" is going to mistake the 9,940 square mile expanse of open water to my north as being just one step up from a puddle. What a relief!

Anyway, here's the first photo I took of it when I arrived on the evening of June 19:

Over the course of the next week I took several hundred more photos.

If Congress doesn't agree in the next few days that the extremely wealthy need to have their taxes raised, watch for me to attempt to clog the Internet by posting ALL of them in protest.


  1. Ooh, pretty. I've been on vacation too. Ocean and Peoria, Illinois. I've been to the lake once. I remember it as big.

    I'm not sure why each side will only agree to one way. It's all 'cut spending OR raise taxes.' We obviously need a fair bit of both.

  2. Is there a good reason to believe it was really the "final glacier"?

  3. Wah.... everyone but me was on vacation! :-( That is one GLORIOUS sunset! MANY thanks for sharing it! It's hard to believe you only saw the Great Lake 4 or 5 times when you lived so close! But then, my son seemingly didn't realize he's within a few miles of Lake Washington, since it's on the other side of the highway from where he lives. I've seen Lake Erie only once, and Lake Michigan once, and Lake Ontario a couple of times, but I've seen their outlet, The St. Lawrence Seaway, many times. (And Lake Washington hundreds of times!)
    I love bodies of water... and I'm glad you got to vacation next to such a nice one!