Playing Around the Great Lakes
I’m told that children learn through play. From what I have experienced, I believe that adults learn through play also. Our family has been playing in, on and around the Great Lakes most of our lives. We have learned a lot while we swam, boated, fished and beach combed. The lakes engaged all our senses: the splash of cold water, the sound of the waves, the silence of fog, hot sand underfoot and the way it sings when you drag your toes across it, the ever changing colors and rhythms of waves, the times fish bite the best. The Great Lakes have many lessons to teach if we pay attention.
When my husband Norm and I married, we chose to live in the powerful presence of the Great Lakes. We first lived on Lake Huron and then after our second child was born, we took a good look at the map and decided to live on Lake Michigan. Our love of the Great Lakes stemmed from childhood memories of them. We wanted our children to enjoy the lakes as much as they could.
My first memory of the Great Lakes was a family vacation along Lake Superior’s rocky shore when I was about seven years old. I still remember how I gasped at the coldness of the water and the awe I felt at its sheer size. I can still remember the sweetness of the wild strawberries I picked and the fragrance of the pines. We stayed in a rustic cabin in the woods, and my Dad woke us up one morning proudly holding a string of brook trout he had caught from a tributary stream. We had those trout for breakfast fried to a golden brown. Delicious.
Other family vacations took us to the majesty of Niagara Falls; to the rocky shores of Lake Superior where we hunted for agates; to many embayments and open waters of the lakes to fish. My husband Norm, a gung ho fisherman, has caught nearly every kind of fish in the lakes: walleye from Lake Erie and the embayments of the upper Great Lakes, deep water fish such as lake trout and burbot, and the annual runs of white fish and perch from the pier at Grand Haven. When Pacific salmon were planted he found a bonanza of fish. Sometimes the rest of the family fishes with him: myself, our daughters and our grandchildren. When he took our first grand daughter age three fishing for salmon, he let her pull in a big coho. ..almost as big as she was. Then he asked her later if she had told the kids in the neighborhood about it. She said, ”No. They would never believe it.”
We have hiked and camped on Lake Superior’s Isle Royale and heard a moose bugling. We hoped to see a wolf, but they are very shy of humans. We camped on the level shore of Lake Ontario and were lucky enough to see a meteor shower over the lake and we drove along the St. Lawrence River dotted with many islands. In time we traveled to all five Great Lakes and their connecting waters. On one memorable trip we fished for pink salmon on the powerful St. Mary’s River flowing out of Lake Superior with huge freighters going by.
Taking our children, and now our grandchildren, to the beach at all seasons of the year has been one of our great pleasures: to swim, build sand castles and enjoy the cool breezes, the lapping of the waves. We played for hours on the beach. We sailed a 40 foot dragon kite in the fall. We held the kite string as the wind sailed the kite high over the lake. For us it was pure exhilaration as the multi-colored kite climbed into the sky, dipped and dived over the waves of deep blue cresting with white. We envisioned real dragons flying overhead. Pure joy.
We hiked to the lighthouse and in the winter we explored the beautiful ice formations along the shore. We let our imaginations run wild: here is the throne of the ice troll, and over there, his cave. There is an ice volcano throwing round icy rocks high in the air. We learned to use caution since this can be a treacherous walk if one gets too close to the water. Sometimes it’s impossible to tell where the beach sand ends and the ice built over the water begins. The lakes have earned our respect for their great power: their shifting ice, undertows and erratic waves that hit the pier. We have all learned to be very careful when walking on the pier.
Just gazing at the lakes gives a great feeling of freedom. Can we be as free as a bird? Our little grand daughter age two, learned she could not fly. She had been following a sea gull along the sand and when it rose into the air, she imitated the sea gull by flapping her arms. Even leaping up at the same time did not allow her to fly. Just for a moment, she thought she could.
We have all learned so much from the Great Lakes; their ever changing colors, their beaches of stone or sand, waterfalls, fishes and birds, wetlands , dunes with their succession of plants. In our play around the Great Lakes, we are always learning something new.