Wednesday, August 10, 2011

I swam in Lake Michigan

Never Done: I swam in Lake Michigan

Some days you wake up in Brooklyn, and end up -- with the help of financial resources, aviation technology, and the generosity of good friends -- jumping waves in Lake Michigan.

I assume I am not covering new territory for most of you here, but Lake Michigan is not salty. And it's vast like an ocean. And it's not salty. How do I explain this? I didn't think it was salty. In fact, I knew it was not salty. But when you have never been in a lake as vast as an ocean, and you have never been in a lake with swells and waves and seagulls undertows and riptides and miles and miles of sandy beach, then your head tells you -- against what your head actually knows -- that it should smell salty, that it should taste salty, that it should be salty. But it's not salty. It's fresh water. It's so much fresh water that along with the other Great Lakes, it makes up 21% of the fresh water on the planet. (That's something I did not know.)

Also, Lake Michigan seems (to me) lovely and clean. It must be at least fairly clean, because it's the source for Chicago's drinking water. Floating and jumping in the lake, it was hard not to contrast it with the last water I was in -- the Hudson River. I don't actually think I've ever swum in water that I could tell was dirty like the Hudson was dirty. The contrast between that water and Lake Michigan water got me thinking about one of the Mussar principles: Cleanliness: Let no stain or ugliness on our self/space.

I think, if I am honest, I feel powerless to clean up the Hudson. I'm not even sure what I contribute to its condition -- except maybe living in New York City. But even then, I live in Brooklyn, not on the Hudson at all. So I don't actually know if I contribute. Is my waste water processed at the Harlem Waste Water Treatment Plant (where there was a recent sewage leak)? I doubt it -- it seems more likely that Brooklyn waste water is treated somewhere in Brooklyn -- maybe on the East River. (Just about now I have a strong urge to Google this, but I feel like the more ethical approach to this post is to be honest about my ignorance.) Certainly, if there were legislation or a petition or a community clean-up effort -- anything public that I heard about -- I could call my legislators or sign or participate. But the truth is, I don't hear about anything. If I would go looking, the first place I would look would be Clearwater. And I bet that if I lived upstate, I would be involved. So what is it about living in the city that makes me feel less power, ownership, responsibility, and connection to the river? And what is it about Lake Michigan that makes me feel immediately connected to and responsible for it?

The only answer I have is the same old answer I always have -- that I am essentially a country person, and I instinctively grok how things get done in rural areas, and am intimidated by how things get done in urban areas. But it's also possible that there is something particularly special about Lake Michigan that makes me feel so connected to it. Hmmm. I'm not sure. I think it requires further research. I'll be back in a few hours....

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