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For Love of Lakes

Darby Nelson

Publication Year: 2011

America has more than 130,000 lakes of significant size. Ninety percent of all Americans live within fifty miles of a lake, and our 1.8 billion trips to watery places make them our top vacation choice. Yet despite this striking popularity, more than 45 percent of surveyed lakes and 80 percent of urban lakes do not meet water quality standards. For Love of Lakes weaves a delightful tapestry of history, science, emotion, and poetry for all who love lakes or enjoy nature writing. For Love of Lakes is an affectionate account documenting our species’ long relationship with lakes — their glacial origins, Thoreau and his environmental message, and the major perceptual shifts and advances in our understanding of lake ecology. This is a necessary and thoughtful book that addresses the stewardship void while providing improved understanding of our most treasured natural feature.

Published by: Michigan State University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

Many people have instructed, inspired, and encouraged me in the writing of this book. First and foremost I thank my wife, Geri, my first reader, critic, and adventurous companion. Her steadfast support, undying encouragement, and endless assistance and patience made this book possible. My mother, Margaret, first introduced...

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pp. 1-3

My most vivid childhood recollection of lake came the day Mother rented a rowboat at the municipal dock in the town where she was born, loaded my sister and me, oars and lunch, bathing suits and towels, and rowed us up a long stretch of shore to a beach at the city’s park. Mother was not an expert with oars, and my sister and...


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Lake Magic

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pp. 7-15

I have not visited these waters since my college days. I have returned to this lake to renew my relationship with a beautiful body of water that awakened in me a deepened interest in the natural world. My personal lake journey began here. I seek sharpened senses to see with fresh eyes this world of...

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Limnos I—Walden Pond, Massachusetts

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pp. 16-19

I first learned of Henry David Thoreau in high school English class. He seemed an odd sort, squirreling himself away in a tiny cabin by a lake, refusing to pay taxes to support a war against Mexico he opposed, an act of civil disobedience that cost him a night in jail, a writer who refused to hold a steady job, a social misfit who...

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Deep Heart’s Core

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pp. 20-27

A few years ago in early April four immense earthmovers arrived at the edge of a farm field two blocks from my house in a Minneapolis suburb. The yellow behemoths arranged themselves in an intimidating line, then fell silent awaiting orders. The next week the machines growled into action and fell to rearranging dirt, soil that...

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August Epiphany

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pp. 28-35

Driving the road that hugs the lake’s south shore, you would notice little to set Diamond Lake apart from hundreds of others nestled in gently rolling farmland of the Minneapolis–St. Paul outer suburbs. When I first visited decades ago, the lake had lost the crystal clarity that led early settlers to name it Diamond. It has a tendency...

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Agassiz’s Gift

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pp. 36-47

Perhaps, in some subconscious way, my childhood fascination with a storybook tale of a boy who swallowed the sea, so his people could walk unhindered over the sea floor to gather fish for food, explain why I am here. How exciting, I thought, to walk the bottom of a lake. What strange new...

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On Seeing

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pp. 48-53

The National Wilderness Act, although a major tool for protecting pristine natural places, defines wilderness, and so defines places worthy of preservation, as “an area of undeveloped land affected primarily by forces of nature.” The act might have said “land or water.” The aquatic systems within the nation’s Boundary...

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Hastening Slowly

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pp. 54-56

Of the available means of travel from one watery place to another, the canoe, with mile made stroke by stroke, yard by yard, must surely be the slowest. While that may be true for miles covered, what if the destination is to understand, to establish dialogue with a lake? Measures of speed depend...


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pp. 59-71

I have come here to immerse my senses in this shore, to follow eyes and ears and nose and fingers wherever they lead and open new “departments of knowledge,” as Thoreau put it. Edges intrigue me. Is edge the place one thing begins and another ceases to be? Or is it where two things blend to...

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Lady Daphnia’s World

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pp. 72-80

I sidle up to the edge of cattails, settle myself on the bottom of the canoe, and lean over the side to get my face as close to the water as I can. I am pushing the season by coming in early May. Populations of the creatures I seek normally peak in June, when the water has warmed. Aquarium aficionados and students know my quarry as waterfleas...

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Limnos II—Fox Lake, Illinois

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pp. 81-85

The Chain of Lakes in the Fox River Basin of northeastern Illinois has attracted visitors since not long after the Civil War. The trickle of fishermen and vacationers became a flood when the rail line from Chicago arrived in 1900. An advertising pamphlet published in 1909 carried ads for thirty-four hotels and resorts, five taverns...

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Discovering Eden

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pp. 86-98

Simple observation, unhurried and deliberative, reveals much about life on the beach but little about life beneath the waves. Floating leaves, submerged vegetation, compromised water clarity, water depth, and reflections off a lake surface often obscure the underwater world. Much as peering into a forest from a helicopter hovering...

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Lake Agassiz’s Child

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pp. 99-107

Lake Winnipeg lies in the Canadian Province of Manitoba, some seventy miles north of North Dakota and Minnesota. It is the largest surviving remnant of Glacial Lake Agassiz. Geri and I left the Winnipeg suburbs several hours ago heading north to see what we can learn from this, the tenth largest body of freshwater...

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Seeking Hard Bottom

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pp. 108-121

An eroded sandy path leads past red pine and scattered aspen down a steep slope to the lake. The trail ends at what one might expect to call the lake’s shore. I choose not to use the word “shore” to avoid creating false impressions. No waves lap sand or stones here, nor bend the stems of rushes, nor ruffle lily pads. A fringe of alder and...


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Blue-Green Nemesis

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pp. 125-136

Today, August 28, marks the one-year anniversary of my epiphany visit to Diamond Lake. Curiosity has brought me back. Has the lake’s condition changed since my mind-shaking visit? From the landing the lake appears much as it did then, a sea of blue-green algae run riot, as dominating and repulsive as before. As then...

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Limnos III—Lake Mendota, Wisconsin

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pp. 137-140

Usually by November I have put my canoe away for the season, fearful of cold water that could quickly sap life away in a capsize. Today is an exception. Geri and I find ourselves slowly paddling under bright November skies on a lake famous the world over. Ostensibly, we have come to Madison, Wisconsin, to attend the annual...

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Diamond’s Dot

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pp. 141-151

A map can show you where you are. Sometimes it stimulates questions about how you got there. I recently came into possession of such a map, one with multicolored dots scattered like a handful of spangles as an overlay on a map of the Twin Cities Metropolitan Area. Each dot represents a lake...

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Limnos IV—Cedar Bog Lake, Minnesota

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pp. 152-156

John turns the car onto a two-rut sand trail. We drive across a field, stop at the edge of a woods, and get out. A signboard welcomes us to Cedar Creek Bog, part of the University of Minnesota’s Cedar Creek Ecosystem Research Center. The signboard explains that the irregular knob and kettle topography of the area resulted from...

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Thinking Like a Tullibee

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pp. 157-172

O-do-nee-bee. Cisco. Tullapy. Lake herring. Coregonus artedii. By any of its names, the tullibee swims all but unknown in many northern lakes. Why this fish is unfamiliar to many people, even fishermen, is no mystery. Tullibee cruise the open water beyond the shore, in a world seemingly unconnected to our own. I discovered...

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Riding the West Wind

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pp. 173-183

Voyageurs National Park runs some thirty-nine miles east to west along the International Boundary between Minnesota and Ontario. Over a third of its surface is water. Sandwiched between immense Rainy Lake to the north and Kabetogama Lake to the south, the massive Kabetogama Peninsula forms the interior heart...


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Shield Lakes Icon

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pp. 187-195

North of a line from Maine through the Adirondacks west to Minnesota then northwest to the Beaufort Sea, the great ice sheet scraped and gouged the earth’s surface like an unrelenting bulldozer. In doing so the ice laid bare the ancient rock core of the continent, the Precambrian Shield, and gave...

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The Future in a Raindrop

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pp. 196-206

Seven and a half miles of paddling and a mile-long portage, uphill, puts you and your canoe on Grace Lake. A twenty minute hike up the lake’s steeply sloped north side, longer if you like blueberries, puts you on top of a ridge of distinctive white rock. From there you can look down on the lake and its tiny islands and see that it lies in a narrow...

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Limnos V—Mirror Lake, New Hampshire

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pp. 207-211

Dusk settles in by the time Geri and I finally extract ourselves from the rush hour traffic of Montreal and catch up with southbound Interstate 89. We cross the international border into northern Vermont in full darkness. Headlights reveal windrows of plowed snow along the road’s shoulder. How fitting, I think, given our destination...

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Lake of Dreams

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pp. 212-218

Soon after Geri and I began married life, visions of owning our own “place at the lake” began dancing in our heads. A simple rustic cabin set close by the shore. Trees. A view of quiet water. How compelling the thought. Our search for lakeshore property began. Week after week I anxiously awaited the Sunday newspaper and the...

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Henry’s Mirror

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pp. 219-227

At a small bridge nine miles west of Boston a minuteman fired a shot heard “round the world” in 1775. Five miles west and seventy-eight years later, Henry David Thoreau fired his own shot beside a small lake physically indistinguishable from hundreds of others sparkling in the Massachusetts landscape. Echoes of the...

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Lakescapes of the Mind

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pp. 228-238

Though infinitely more famous than the rest of Massachusetts’ lakes, Walden Pond was not the only lake in Henry Thoreau’s life. Four others, sprinkled about the landscape of Concord and Lincoln, made up the rest of what Thoreau called his “lake district.” One of those lakes, Flint’s Pond, Sandy Pond to some, stands apart...

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pp. 239-247

Cold snow crunches beneath our boots as Geri and I make our way across the frozen surface of Rainy Lake toward a small dark shack, one of several fish houses scattered across the glistening white surface. Unlike fish houses of anglers, this one has no windows. This is a darkhouse where fish are taken by spear...

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 249-255

E-ISBN-13: 9781609173319
Print-ISBN-13: 9781611860214

Publication Year: 2011