Lake Superior, USA - Jane Elder
My Watermark is Lake Superior, Michigan.
My mom grew up near the shores of Lake Superior in Marquette, Michigan. When I was 5, we took a family trip to the upper peninsula and it was my first experience seeing a Great Lake. She brought us down to the beach, and you can’t keep kids in the summer out of the water, but I had never seen water or waves that big before. I remember running down into the water and getting smacked by a huge Lake Superior wave; I came out of the water running and screaming! Part of it was because I was freezing and in shock, but part of it was delight: I had no idea that this is what water could be like. In one instant, I got a taste of the power, the fear, and the wonder of Lake Superior. It is one of those moments that has connected me to Lake Superior, and every time I go back I think of it.
The summer of the (U.S.) bicentennial in 1976, a friend and I backpacked to Mosquito Beach at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, which is one of my all time favourite places. As the sun set over Lake Superior, we lit a single sparkler and toasted the bicentennial; we toasted what it meant to be an American and the freedom we had in such a beautiful place. It was one of those magical moments on the shores of the Great Lakes. That’s a treasured moment for me and I always remember that day when I go back to Pictured Rocks.
I grew up just outside of Flint, Michigan on a little lake called Pine Lake in Genesee County. My family was one of the many families that worked for the auto industry. I grew up there and went to Michigan State University, and as I was growing up, the environmental movement was really growing up around me as well. My environmental awareness came in part from living with a lake and its seasons everyday of my childhood; and then in my college years, it was really about being exposed to what was happening nationally and globally. The first Earth Day happened when I was in high school; it was a time of political activism in America, and one of the places my heart spoke to activism was the environment.
One of my first jobs out of college was working for the Michigan chapter of the Sierra Club as their first full-time Director and Lobbyist, and in that job, you can’t work on environmental issues in Michigan without working on water and the Great Lakes. That is where some of my early beginnings came, and I’ve now been involved in some aspect of Great Lakes protection or environmental protection throughout my career.
I care about the Great Lakes so much because I love them. I love them for aesthetic reasons – their beautiful, inspiring, and spiritually compelling – and I love them because in the known galaxy, they're one of the largest places where free, fresh water is on a planet. It’s a treasure. I think people don’t understand how precious free, fresh, clean water is, not just on earth, but from what we know about the cosmos. For me, they're a wonder, they’re a magical place, and they’re also a very practical place that takes care of millions of people and their needs everyday. I think if humans can’t appreciate how special the Great Lakes are, then we have a real challenge in terms of education, but also in terms of moral and ethical values.
They are a treasure and we need to take care of it.