Lake Erie

by guest blogger Wilma Kahn

When I was small, the lake was an omnipresent feature in my life. Large, too large to see it all, it curved into the horizon, so we could view but one small portion of the enormous sloshing drop. Held in the embrace of fragile fingers of land lay tons of water, gallons of waves.

I early developed the notion that I was part of the lake or it a part of me.  I have retained this feeling; and in fact, it has generalized to any large body of water—lake or sea. And I doubt that I am the only person who looks at Lake Michigan’s miraculous blue or the great grey Atlantic and says, “Mine.”

But back to my special lake, the dour, the grey-green, the shallow, the cloud-shrouded Erie.  Lake Erie’s rocks are granite, quartz, and shale; its shells, snail and clam. Its sand is taupe, soft, nonabrasive; its bottom sand or clay; its seaweed velvety green, swaying in the rhythm of the waves.

How did I spend hours and hours outside as a child, fair with reddish hair, without being burned by the sun? Was it the Lake Erie clouds? Or that most of the time I romped in the waves, a freshwater dolphin, a creature of sea? I jumped through the swells in arc after arc, or swam underwater, eyes open, blowing a fine stream of bubbles through my nose and tickling the legs of my friends. We stood on our hands, wheeled through the blue, grabbed gobs of sand, threw them, or let them melt from our hands. We crawled back onto land only after our fingertips had shriveled and our lips turned blue. But on land we shivered and felt heavy as rocks, no longer warmed and buoyed by the lake.

The shore changed each year, sometimes shallow, sometimes deep, sometimes rock, sometimes sand, sometimes clay. In years of clay, we children became potters, digging up the dark residue of prehistoric plants, rubbing it on our arms and legs, attracting snapping horseflies. We fashioned cups and bowls and ashtrays for our parents, those huge indolent creatures who sat and smoked while we made art and slapped flies.

Sometimes we built cities of sand along the shore, with houses, roads, bridges, and moats.  Any house could have a pool—dig a few inches and the lake would well up, cool and pure. Stones, reeds, driftwood, sea glass, all lay close at hand for each architect’s use. I know the feel of hand smoothing sand, from crude heap to finished city. And at night, the tide would reclaim it all, suck it—sand, stick, and stone—into the watery matrix, roll it around, and spread it along the shore.

###

Do you consider the place where you grew up a source–or the source–of your creativity?

Aerial view of Grand View Beach on Lake Erie

Wilma Kahn is a writer and writing teacher living in Southwest Michigan. She’s a water baby at heart.

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95 Comments

Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Memoir

95 responses to “Lake Erie

  1. L – This post hit so home with me on two counts: first is the childhood account.. I grew up on Lake Ontario’s shores… so all you describe here ended up at my doorstep in the Niagara Region… and when we tired of the shales and ferrous green and red rocks on those shores, we turned to the Sand Banks in Pickton,
    Ontario where my sister and I delighted to “discover” drizzle castles… those sand castles built at water’s edge where you let the sand drizzle down onto an almost Christmas tree formation… Second, I live in those spaces where writing, memory and landscape intersect. A favorite workshop I deliver is about the “Intersection Between Inner and Outer Geography…” I am just starting a book you might like called: Space and Place by Yi-Fun Tuan… he all but establishes the discipline of “human geography.” I am really interested in how and why we form attachments to place. I am hoping he unfolds that map… as you so poetically have here… I was so inside this piece. It’s so complete in itself. I am privileged to share your writing life! – Renee

  2. Renee, thanks so much for your kind words. Thanks too for sharing your memories of sand castles and thoughts about writing, memory, and landscape. We Great Lakes people are cousins of sorts, all having known the vastness of fresh water. Re: Yi-Fun Tuan’s book, I’m intrigued and will look it up.

    All the best,
    Wilma

  3. Beautifully written post. I spent most of my life in Colorado, and there’s no doubt that life here in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains has colored my creativity. I was born on the shores of Lake Erie, though, in Buffalo, New York, and I can understand your connection to that great body of water. There is still something magical for me about that lake.

    • Thank you, Livenowandzen. How lucky you are to have that home feeling for mountains and lake–such rich sources for your writing.

      I’ve met the Canadian side of Erie (not far from Buffalo)….and was thrilled to find the same water, same sand as in Michigan.

      All the best to you,
      Wilma

  4. Lovely! I grew up in a rather bland suburb, so travel and flying—adventure, in other words—have been more of an inspiration for my creative storytelling than home ever was.

  5. What a creative story on Lake Erie!! Awesome!

  6. Great read. In response to your question – two world-renowned sculptors who were born in my locality certainly thought so; I wrote about them in my latest blog, ‘From Now to new Grub Street’.

    • Thanks for your response, Billy Bibbit. Speaking of sources of creativity, I recently learned that a woman who grew up in my childhood home (a generation before me) became a well-know ceramicist. I could easily imagine her as the little girl in my essay.This made me think to an even greater degree that there is something magical about the place.
      All the best,
      Wilma

  7. Wonderful description. Brought me back to my childhood. Things aren’t much different today, for which I am thankful, as my children grow up with the same ties to The Great Lakes that I had. I don’t believe it is solely responsible for my creativity, but I do think it is a contributing factor. No one could watch a beautiful Lake Michigan or Superior sunset and not be inspired. The main picture on my blog is of a Lake Superior Sunset, in fact.

  8. Thank you for this post. I have this strange period in my life that I go back to my past all the time… It was such a beautiful and at once strange period in my life. Love your blog.

  9. suebthefoodie

    To answer your question, yes. It is THE source of my creativity. Enjoyed reading your post today. Images of Villa Marie College and Conneaut Lake Park are dancing in my head. -Cheers

  10. I have not been able to visit the place where I would love to go, I’m on the opposite end of the states. I have the ocean, isn’t that silly, I want to go to the lake instead?
    I know my parents took us when they could and I have a photo of my mom and I when I was still a cherub :).
    I went to Pub in Bay years later for fun with friends but haven’t been able to go back for various reasons. The Methodist place called Lake Side has beckoned as well. I will get there some day soon….Thanks for sharing your wonderful story, igniting my want to’s and my gotta have to’s ….

    • Hello, bh32707,
      Thanks so much for your kind words. Nor do I get to the lake often enough. But we always have imagination to take us to there and the other magic places in our lives!

      All the best,
      Wilma

  11. a wonderful post! bringing back memories like so many here. i grew up with L. Ontario and visited family on L. Erie. I wonder if you ever went to Windemere Park? an amusement park that was somewhere near the grand lake but many years ago. late 1950’s. you may not be old enough…

    • Dear Buddhalaugh –> Thanks so much for your comments. I did not know Windemere Park though I’m definitely old enough. I knew Toledo Beach, which was a mile from my house in Michigan and closed in about 1960.
      In 1980 I visited Crystal Beach Amusement Park, not far from Fort Erie, ONT. It was so eerily like Toledo Beach, it was like stepping into the past 20 years. But I think CB is gone now too.
      All the best,
      Wilma

      • Yes, Crystal Beach is also gone. It was a great place and fond memory! There is a race track, Fort Erie, that is part of the Ontario racing circuit for thoroughbreds where I worked as a groom and exercise rider for a few years back in my youth. Thank you again for these wonderful moments on memory lane. And yes, that’s it Waldameer Park–amazed to know it is still there!! Thank you! How lovely, that we love our lakes so much and they have such fond memories for us. Nature is a treasure! Now in California the ocean brings a different set of experiences!

    • Perhaps you are thinking of Waldameer Park in Erie, near Lake Erie. It has been there forever.

  12. alittlevoice

    I grew up on Lake Ontario, but have spent a lot of time in recent years exploring the Canadian shores of Lake Erie. I love to read good stories about the Lake. Many people today think that the Great Lakes are too polluted to enjoy, which is not true!

    • Hi, alittle voice –> I agree with you about the Great Lakes. Lake Erie, for instance, is much cleaner than when I was young, partly due to the zebra mussel. Despite all the trouble the z.b. has caused, the water is clear now.

      I’d love to explore those Canadian shores. Leamington calls….
      All the best,
      Wilma

  13. Having spent my childhood along the shores of Lake Erie, it was easy to recall the many changes that would occur during the seasons or even over a single day. Thank you for your lovely reflection. As a writer, I have found that every experience shapes my writing, and inspires future contemplations. While it is not my primary inspiration, Lake Erie is a place where my mind has had the freedom to roam, to create and to imagine.

  14. Nice imagery in there … sometimes the simple things provide the best inspiration for writing.

  15. While my lake wasn’t a great lake, it was one of many memories. It was a small lake in Alabama that eminated a musty smell of fish in summer. It was perfectly green and as warm as bath water by July. I think of that lake often wishing I could go back as a child, not a worry in the world breathing in it’s beauty.

    Loved your post!

  16. Love this post. I am so envious of the time you spent at Lake Erie. As a child, we took one trip per summer to the Lake… East Harbor, was it? My parents had to drag me kicking and screaming when it was time to leave. Later as a teen I spent weekends near Camp Perry in a trailer park with the grandparents of my best friend. We would go out early Sunday mornings in a small boat and fish over the sides of the boat with strings and hooks. Then come home and have fried fish for breakfast. Lake Erie Perch and Walleye… the best. I have always wanted to live next to the water, but never have. My husband built a pond for our family… that is as close as I will ever get!

    • Hi, life in the 50s–> Thanks so much for your post. I’m glad you had those precious times on the lake, even fishing for your breakfast! I’ve never done that but would love to. A pond is good.
      All the best,
      Wilma

  17. I live next to the biggest lake in the world: The Pacific Ocean,, and am privileged to have a gorgeous view of it and islands as I commute to and from work. Many times, I’ll look out the window and absorb the beauty of a sunset, letting my muse wander.

  18. Clevelander understanding Lake Erie pleasure! Home is a source because it centers me. But home always makes me wonder and dream: what’s out there? So it urges me to go too. I gain creativity from the dreaming and then the actual going. :)

    • Hi, imaginative faith–> Cleveland’s a great place! I know what you mean about centering at home and then venturing forth into the greater world. It’s a matter of balance.
      All the best,
      Wilma

  19. I too, grew up on Lake Erie in Buffalo NY in the 50’s and 60’s. I had many fun times with friends in high school at Crystal Beach and Sherkston (the rock quarry with the old train on the bottom). But my favorite times as a child were on Lake Huron in Bayfield, Ontario, Canada. So many memories that beckon me back from where I now live in Colorado. There’s just something about the Great Lakes that keeps calling me back.

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  21. This is gorgeous! I grew up right on Lake Erie in Point Place, Toledo, Ohio and it has such a special place in my heart! Now, my parents still live on Lake Erie, but in La Salle, MI and I’m kind of a vagabond. I love going back to my parents’ home so I can spend time with my favorite lake. :) Thanks for writing this!

    • Hi, marymesteller–>I know where Point Place is and the strange way it hooks up with Lost Peninsula. And your parents now live less than a mile away from where I grew up. Some things that I miss are wild storms, silky mornings, ice pileups, the Toledo Harbor Light….well, you know.
      All the best,
      Wilma

      • Hi Wilma,

        Thanks for your reply! It’s a small world, isn’t it? I love the Toledo Harbor Light, as well as the other things you’ve mentioned. The only thing of my Lake Erie childhood that I don’t miss are the june bugs. I live in Indonesia now and being abroad for Thanksgiving always makes me feel a bit homesick. Your post really made me smile!

        Happy Thanksgiving and all the best,
        Mary

  22. This blog post is such a nice start the day. Lake Erie was my beach too, and I always felt that it was a bit unloved, compared to the other Great Lakes. I loved going there, and my mum and I still go to Port Dover every summer. It’s not nearly the same as it was when I was a kid, but it’s nice to walk in the same place and remember how I used to see it.

    • Hi, Circe –> Thanks for your message. Yes, there have been many changes. But Erie has such lovely sand and waves with a distinctive rhythm. These things don’t change, thank goodness.
      All the best,
      Wilma

  23. The Midwest has both a lushness and a bleakness so extreme that it can’t help but inspire. Thank you for reminding me of that.

  24. I grew up on Lake Erie as well, in Mentor-on-the-Lake – what a marvelous town name! I loved growing up on the lake. Thanks for the bit of nostalgia.

  25. I live right by Lake Erie and it’s gorgeous. Sometimes I dream of taking small float or boat and traveling to the other side. It was always so cool that you could just make out the land across the lake to me, and the lake was the first place I could see the horizon. It’s an amazing place all right.

    • Hi, quarteracre–> Thanks for your post. What a wonderful place to live with the other side just visible in the distance. I have often dreamed of Canada being a just few feet away from our beach, and I would wade over there.

      All the best,
      WIlma

  26. This was a wonderful post, thanks for sharing and congrats on FP!

  27. I spent many summers in Southwest Michigan at my grandfather’s farm in Covert Township. My dad treated us to special trips through the sand dunes to the “Lake.” I have special memories of wading in the lake and letting the schools of minnows swim through the palms of my hands. The adventure of driving through the dunes in an old car on a sandy two lane road is what fuels my adrenaline to think and create. Lazy summers on the farm forced me to create my own amusements. They still do.
    Thanks for a really nice remembrance.

  28. Beautifully written! Thank you so much for sharing! I can relate to the idea and feeling of having been apart of or connected to water from a very early age. ♥

  29. Ahhhh that picture At the top is just the cutest!!

  30. I grew up on the banks of the Tennesee River and have always called our people water babies, too. I now live on Cleveland’s Lake Erie, so I’m glad to know the water here is loved by its locals the same as I love my river. Thank you for sharing!

  31. Good question! For me, where I grew up is THE source. Quartz, shale, Norway and White Pines (even though I still can’t tell the difference!) whitetail deer, wolves, chickadees, and hay fields all shaped who I am as a writer and as a person. Lovely post, and congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

  32. Dear Pajarigirls–> Thank you for your kind words. You live in a richly lakey place, not all that far from the Superior one. How beautiful it must be with all those deer. wolves, chickadees, and hay fields.

    Write on,
    Wilma

  33. Your description of the the special lake, and the fun you had, is cinematic. Beautiful.
    Perhaps the places where we grow up – whether picturesque perfect or grimy – are at the source of our being and shape the journeys we travel.

    • Thanks so much for your post, harri8. I agree that the place where we grow up is a source, and I would add that even the grimy can be beautiful. Everywhere we go–city, farmland, coast, desert–people call that place home and find it beautiful.

      All the best,
      WIlma

  34. thetalkinghangover

    I used to go and stay in a small caravan in north wales, right on the coast. It had a huge hill/small mountain overlooking the park with sheep baai’ing all day as the winds cut over the long grass. Occasionally I’d get a thorn in my foot following the trails through the sand dunes to the sea, coming over the top to see the water and running as fast as I could to the edge before stopping as the coastal water was always freezing, even in high summer. Ah yes. this was last year. Ok no its wasn’t it was the 70s and I was just a child then. your post made me think of those summers! thanks.

    • Hello, talkinghangover–>Thanks for your post. Oh, to be in Wales, with the wind and the sheep and the sand dunes and the ice-cold water. What a dramatic spot, what wonderful memories!

      All the best,
      Wilma

  35. geraintreesdiary

    This is beautiful :)

  36. First of all I love your writing style. It is so romantic and I get swept away with it. Second, yes, my home town of Rose Valley is where I always am. it is in my core.
    Like you, I have no idea how I never got sunburned being outside all day. Did the sun gently swoop down on children at one point. I never put on sunscreen. I don’t think my parents knew about it.

    • Hello, Marlene–>Thanks so much for your kind words, and I appreciate your comments on not getting sunburnt. It’s a mystery. As for Rose Valley, it sounds like a beautiful, remote, lake-y place.
      All the best,
      Wilma

  37. Roger Kahn

    Hi Wilma
    I very much enjoyed your piece. It brought back memories for me too… of the lake and Pickerill fishing with our dad in his old green Lyman boat.Planting lotus in the swamps with mom. South Otter Creek and its islands where we built forts,camped out and caught snapping turtles. Floods. We had floods in the spring and they brought us frogs by the hundreds… maybe thousands. Green leopard frogs. and long summer evenings with teenagers on the prowl for … adulthood?

    Much love,
    Roger

    • Hi, Roger–>Thanks so much for a reply from someone who knew this location intimately! I envy you your adventures on Snake Island and in the swamp. Planting lotus, fishing, boating–all great memories. Yes, it was a wonderful place in which to grow up.
      XO,
      Wilma

  38. I am a writer of sorts. I have written often in times of trouble in my life. I like you, have always thought of Lake Erie as home. After graduation I entered the Army. During my time of service I traveled the world and saw many wonderful things. Always,when I thought of home Lake Erie was what I thought of. I live near it now. I live just a mile from it’s shoreline. When I was a child the happiest moments with my family happened on its shores. You have brought those memories back with the majesty of the lake. Its dangers and its pleasures intertwined in me and I shall always feel at home near her.

  39. Thanks for your comments. It’s so nice to hear from someone who loves Lake Erie. You’re lucky to live so close to that beautiful body of water.
    As you say, “dangers and pleasures”….and not all survive. I’m glad you did.
    All the best,
    Wilma

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  43. I went backwards in your posts today. I should have commented, since I saw I had ‘liked’ it. But I didn’t until now! I am a big believer in the way things stir our emotions and draw us closer to nature. I have an affinity to water of all kinds, I believe my Mom’s parents both coming across the Ocean, one from Germany and the other, from Sweden, help me to feel connected to the sea. Mainly, in my life, I have spent more days and nights on Lake Erie than any other body of water. So, that is something else we have in common. I liked to collect, still collect little stones, rocks and beach glass in buckets. I used to have a little garden that I took larger smoothed rocks to put along the borders of it, then I would simply dump buckets each time I came back from my Mom and Dad’s when they lived in a little lake cottage from 1978 until 2012. I know where you live now, far away from Lake Erie, but you still feel the ‘pull’ of the water, I bet! Smiles, Robin

    • Luanne

      Robin, this post was actually written by my good friend Wilma. I spent a lot more time at Lake Michigan and on a lot of lakes around Kalamazoo. We lived on one small lake every summer from the time I was 12 until I left home. And spent much time on other lakes before that. Lakewater is part of my blood system, for sure. Wilma is lucky in that she lives close enough to the lakes, but I am feeling all dried up out here in the desert! By the way I used to love collecting at the beach! xo

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Robin. Like you, I had a great beach-glass collection when I was a child. It was stored in an old bathroom cabinet in our garage. Pepto Bismol had the best glass –> cobalt blue. I definitely feel the pull of the lakes. You and I have been lucky to spend time on Lake Erie.
      All the best,
      Wilma

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