Sunday, August 5, 2007

My Home Town: Part I

As I recollect, my home town (MHT) was established by a group of Presbyterians looking for a more hospitable spot than downtown Chicago. Relocating onto the shores of Lake Michigan may have been a given, considering how many survived the great Chicago fire by going into the water. That's not to say the good founders anticipated another, catastrophic fire. Rather, I think they considered that it would be advantageous to live next to such a huge source of fresh water and avenue for transport. Besides, its beach was gorgeous! But I digress.

Another factor in their decision may have been the abundance of trees and spectacularly rich soil. The combination of proximity to the lake and ample trees may have signalled milder summers than in the big city and plenty of fire wood for cold, Midwestern winters.

Chicago is called the Windy City with good reason. MHT does not have the same issue. It rises at least 100 feet above the shore, so cold winds off the water are not such a problem and cool breezes, also off the water, are a blessing in the summer. Lake-effect snows that so often plague areas east of the Great Lakes are not such a problem in MHT because it is on the western shore of the lake. However, that's not to say we didn't have our share of snow and ice. We had blizzards and ice storms that cut electricity for days and sometimes even closed the schools (hurray!).

Back to the lake and beach --

Nearly every non-thunder-storming summer day of my youth was spent on the beach and in the water. Early morning was favored by our mother because it was quiet and the water was often glass smooth. It was also as clear as glass and, until mid-August, as cold as the glacier that created the lake millions of years ago.

As soon as school let out in early June, we couldn't wait to hit the water. Some fool-hardy types dove straight in and came up sputtering and shivering. I, on the other hand, favored slow immersion which could take 10 agonizing minutes. The trick was to avoid getting one's arms in the water until the rest of one's body was numb. When it finally came time to put my arms, shoulders and head in the frigid water, skin already submerged was red from the cold. Deep breathing and extreme courage were required to finish the slow immersion process. Once in, we didn't want to have anything but our heads above water because even the slightest breeze would send shivers through us.

It must have been the chattering teeth and sluggish movement that signalled the moms to call the kids out of the water. It was crucial to quickly reach the towel or blanket to wrap around myself. The sun only started warming me up full minutes later. Goose-bump-flesh only disappeared when the bathing suit was dry -- then -- it was back into the water. Summer was too short to waste time on dry land!

Large bodies of water calm and inspire me. The beach in MHT was pretty natural during my youth. A few, rusting steel break-waters helped to slow the erosion of the coarse-sand and stone beach. The lake was so wide that we couldn't see Indiana across the water. As a child, the beach seemed to go on for miles, but of course it was maybe a 1/4 mile from the water intake facility at the north, to the no-man's land near the army base, south of us. For a town of 7,000 it was plenty big enough, well loved and used.

Bad news: erosion is a fact of life on the edges of any body of water, be it a stream, river, lake or ocean. Lake Michigan regularly shifts its sand bars and beach sand. It's a natural thing and, for many years, it was accepted as such.

Worse news: someone had the grand idea of placing giant, concrete jacks along the natural shoreline and in spokes out into the water. The results are hideous to a purist like me and a bane for beach-lovers farther south that are now losing their beaches because MHT beach is snagging all of the shifting sands on the jacks-islands. My sadness over this equals my anger. It's selfishness to the extreme and I can't bear to visit MHT beach.

Whoever said "you can't go home" was right. . .

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