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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.

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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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Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Memoir