The Lake Express

nathanielkiddnathanielkidd on 1221058220|%B %d

Yesterday, we took the ferry across Lake Michigan—from Milwaukee to Muskegon.

Like many waterfront communities, the city of Milwaukee ends rather abruptly at the lake. So abruptly, in fact, that some of the roads on the West side of town are bridges across little bays and harbors.

We were crossing one of these bridges when Sarah got her first good look at Lake Michigan.

“What is that?” she exclaimed.

“What is what?”

“That!” she said, gesturing out the window, “The body of water we’re crossing.”

The lake stretched on as far as the eye could see, a great expanse of dark blue punctuated by the occasional white triangle of a sailboat.

“Oh,” said I, “it’s Lake Michigan.”

“But…but it’s so big!” she protested. Her breath was short with shock. “You can’t even see to the other side! It’s like the ocean!”

“Yep,” I responded. I wasn’t quite sure how to respond. I couldn’t quite understand being surprised by Lake Michigan. “It’ll be a two and a half hour ride across!”

Sarah’s mouth was frozen in an O of surprise.

It had not occurred to me that Sarah may have never seen the Great Lakes before. I spent four of my formative years up in “da nort’ woods,” in Iron Mountain, Michigan, just over the border from Wisconsin. In that time, the thick forests and expansive lakes must have become part of the landscape of my subconscious.

We honeymooned in Michigan; fairly close, in fact, to its eponymous lake. In all likelihood, we drove along its shores. But the North in winter is, naturally, a very different experience than the North in summer. It was unseasonably warm when we visited, but it was still quite cold, and grey, and misty. What we could have seen of the lake would have been minimal.

But suddenly, here was The Lake, in all its expansive grandeur, stretching beyond the scope of our vision.

I was pleased by Sarah’s surprise. There haven’t been a lot of moments in our relationship when I have been acquainted with the landscape, and Sarah amazed. I met Sarah long after the shock of Colorado had worn off, and when I came to visit Sarah in the North West, I was the one filled with childlike awe. (“It’s so green!” “What! Mountains AND ocean?” “Does it ever stop raining?” “Where did all this traffic come from!?”) Other than that, we have usually experienced new sights together.

We were blown away by our ferry ride.
We were blown away by our ferry ride.

“I’m used to mountain runoff lakes,” she told me. “They can go on forever, lengthwise. Some of them are so long you can’t even drive around them! But you can always see to the other shore.”

“Have you been able to see across all the other lakes you have been to?” I asked her.

She thought for a moment. “Yes, as far as I can remember.”

That baffled me a little bit. I guess my understanding of “lake” is a bit bipolar—either a “Colorado lake” (ie. a puddle) or a “Great Lake.”

“You know,” I told her, “sometimes the Great Lakes freeze over completely in the winter.”

“What!” she gasped, “How can so much water freeze!”

“It gets cold,” I replied. “Really cold.”

Sure, the ferry ride saved us the time and frustration it would have been to drive through Chicago. But for me, the best part was seeing Sarah amaze at fascinating broadness of the lake.

Of course, on the final list of strange things we see in the course of our journey, Lake Michigan will probably be toward the bottom.

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