Oh look! A shiny thing: Miss the ocean? Try a lake!
When I take a walk by Lake Okabena, I think about where its water comes from and the efforts so many people and groups have made to keep the water quality of that lake.
Though I grew up in Minnesota and lived here most of my life, I was born in California and I have to admit that more than once I’ve reproached my dad — a former surfer and current beach-lover — for moving the family almost as far inland as it’s possible to be.
Though neither of us can have the ocean here in Minnesota, we do both get to enjoy its 10,000-plus little siblings — the beautiful sapphire-like lakes strewn across the state as if a jeweler decided it needed a little something more. No, more. No, a lot more!
Sure, lakes have their downsides.
They can smell a bit fishy at times, particularly when they “turn over” and the water from the bottom and top portions of the lake mix.
They cost a fair amount of money and time, particularly for people who live on the lake but also for taxpayers, who invest in water quality, shoreline protection and lake-related amenities, all so that everyone can experience the full benefits of having a lake.
They pose some navigational problems, particularly for people like me who already aren’t very good at spatial relationships. Even the most logical street layout becomes confusing if you plop a lake into the middle of it, and if you’re prone to being distracted by how beautiful the lake is, you can find yourself at Minnesota West Community & Technical College when you meant to be at Prairie Elementary pretty quickly.
Still, other places have it worse. Albert Lea is blessed with two wonderful lakes, and the town is situated between them like a kind of lake wedgie. Before the magic of Google Maps, getting anywhere in town required either triangulation and a map or a hovercraft. I’ve never been good with maps but I got lost in brand new ways when I lived over there and covered the local watershed district, which dealt with those lakes in much more technical terms.
Now I cover the Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District here, among my other beats, and I enjoy that quite a bit. When I take a walk by Lake Okabena, I think about where its water comes from and the efforts so many people and groups have made to keep the water quality of that lake and others in the watershed too.
There’s a running battle against carp, which root around and stir up sediment in the lake, and sporadic fights with local beavers, who are excellent architects and build sturdy dams in culverts and across streams and rivers.
These are the sorts of human-versus-nature stories we studied in high school English classes, and while they don’t have the scale of a white whale curbstomping an obsessive whaling captain, along with his ship and almost his whole crew, they’re still stories worth telling.
And lakes, while they might not have the size and depth of the ocean, are still worth loving. Plus, while you can’t surf on it, there’s always windsurfing — and a remarkable shortage of angry whales!