A cool morning breeze rustles the feathers of the sleeping bald eagle. His golden eye pops open just as the tip of the sun crests the earth. From his perch high on a cliff over looking the great lake he quickly awakens and looks to the north, back to the south and then flaps his mighty wings. A drop of September dew rolls across his brown feathers and down to his white as snow tail plume. The little droplet tries to burrow into the eagles warm feathers but gravity’s force beckons as the September droplet slips from the tip of the mighty bird and free falls into the cold Lake Superior waters below. This splash is the beginning of her epic 203 year adventure to the sea.
That was in the year 1821 when the little drop of water became a part of the worlds second largest lake. This isn’t just any lake, it is a body of water formed by glaciers and looks and behaves more like an ocean and flows like a slow moving river. It is 350 miles long, 160 miles wide and can be as deep as 1,333 feet. The force of the Atlantic ocean some 2,340 miles away pulls and tugs and over a course of 173 years causes the lake to move its waters through the St Mary’s River and into the next great waters – Lake Huron. When this drop of dew began its journey, Spain had just sold east Florida to the United States. Mexico gained independence from Spain and Missouri become the 24th state.
She drifted along and became parts of horrific storms. She would pass countless light houses and come crashing upon the pictured cliffs during the gales of November. At times she would freeze solid and quietly wait for the sun to once again release her. She touched the shore countless times but always found her way back to the great lake. Many salmon and large white fish would suck her in and she would wiggle out through their gills. She floated across the ruins of the Edmund Fitzgerald and the bones of countless shipwrecks and sailors. By the time she made it to the other end of the lake Superior and through the channels of Seu Saint Marie, America had made it through a civil war. We had even been to the moon and back. The internet was beginning.
She merges with the clear waters of Lake Michigan and comes whirling into Lake Huron. For the the next 21 years she would be the waves that splashed the children playing along the sandy beaches of eastern Michigan and Ontario Canada. She would come too close to being pulled into a water treatment plant. She would just miss getting scooped up in a bucket to be poured into a sand castle mote. She almost evaporated and went back to the sky the day the wave she was traveling with left her hanging on the edge of a sandstone bluff. Luckily a rain drop fell a few moments later and pulled her back into the turquoise waters. She danced across the rocks of the mouth of the Detroit river and found herself splashing into Lake Erie…. and in 422 days, 3 hours and 15 seconds, she would meet me.
We traveled around the shores of all five great lakes this year starting at the end closest to the Atlantic ocean and working our way inward, making Superior our last. With each lake a new and deeper understanding filled us and we would travel on filled with even more wonderment and sense of awe. I remember walking to the edge of Lake Erie (the second great lake on our trip) for the first time and inhaling the clean fresh air whipping across the waters. The sun was just minutes from sinking below the horizon. The sky was on fire and slowly morphing the clouds into a spectacular show. The reflections in the water and sound of the waves called me in. I slipped off my shoes, rolled up my pants and put my feet into the chilly clear water. I felt her kiss then but didn’t understand exactly what it was until now. She tickled my toes and hung around long enough for me to reach down with both hands and pull a big splash of lake Erie onto my face. She fell back to her home and without a sound softly traveled on.
Later this year she will tumble over Niagara falls and perhaps be lucky enough to be part of the mist that lands on the smiling faces observing this masterpiece. Hopefully she’ll drift her way into lake Ontario past the inviting shores of New York and Toronto and in just another six years find herself floating in the currents of the St Lawrence river. This will be her last fresh water home until she begins to mingle and make friends with the sea. Perhaps she will kiss me again somewhere in the keys of Florida.