March 18, 2018

A short drive away from the Lakes

We can drive to the shores of Lake Erie in half an hour. Drive for just a few more minutes in the opposite direction, we find ourselves on the banks of Lake Huron.

I was never really aware of the Great Lakes when we lived steps away from Lake Ontario, in Toronto, but I have never been more conscious of the role of the Lakes in our province’s ecosystem than I am now that we live in southwestern Ontario. The Lakes may be a bit of a drive away now, but their presence is felt palpably every day, in every discussion about the river that runs through our town, or in every conversation about the rich agricultural lands that surround the city.

Prior to living here, I didn’t think of the Great Lakes as anything but beautiful expanses of water. In an interview with MPR on his book, The Death and Life of the Great Lakes, Dan Egan talks about how that beauty is deceptive:

There’s a lot going on underneath the water is all five Great Lakes that people don’t really grasp. And it’s understandable, because from the surface they look beautiful. But that clear water isn’t the sign of a healthy lake. Clear isn’t clean: it’s a sign of lakes getting the life sucked out of them.

The Death and Life of the Great Lakes is non-fiction, but it reads as a slowly-building horror story: Egan carefully explains the changing nature of the Lakes over many years—changes made by shipping, by commercial fishing, by aquaculture, by lakeside leisure, and by sheer political power and influence—and the results have been close to catastrophic. The picture he paints isn’t dystopian, but he comes close to that point; the Lakes are not beyond saving, but they’ll never be the same.

For my birthday this year, a good friend who is also an avid fisherman gifted me a fishing rod and tackle box; he promised to take me out to the Lakes and their various tributaries and teach me how to fish this summer.

It was only after reading Egan’s book that I realized just how much of the current state of the Lakes were driven by leisure boating and fishing. When I inevitably do cast my rod this summer, I will remember that history, and hold my breath for what is to come.

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