years past I journeyed every summer to Lake Michigan with my parents.
We had, have, may continue to have, a house within a cottage association
upon the eastern shore.
Every year that we came in August, we
would arrive to see the water calm and flat, and as the days went on the
waves would come again -- and each day they would get taller and
faster, until by the last few days of my stay they were mighty high
indeed. I would swim in these high waves, or try to, exhausting
myself with the effort to stay above the water -- and worse, there was a
strong current below my feet moving counter to the waves above my head.
On the shore, after the wave had crashed upon it, the water would rush
back out so swiftly that I had trouble regaining solid ground.
On the shore the counter-current took me back to the water. In the water
the current did not sweep me out to sea, but took me south, so often
enough I would start out north of my cottage, and soon enough find
myself south of it, and there was no chance of swimming north again. I had to journey back north on foot.
I had, in fact, been swimming in an undertow, a gentle one compared to
most, yet it could well have killed me if it had taken me west instead
of south. I'm not a powerful swimmer, just happy to be in the water.
Willing to endure such waves, and struggle back to the cottage, for days
afterward still feeling an echo of the great push and pull that had so delighted me.
So that was the lake, in the last four or five days
of my vacation. In many years my last full sight of the lake before we
departed showed waves even higher than what I had ventured, winds even
faster. It was not a polite goodbye. It was as if the sea was saying,
"Do not stay. Go. You are only welcome here so long. If you remain I
will sweep you away."
I was informed in later years that this was
no great surprise, because our time at the lake typically began in a season of
calm and ended when the autumn storms were gathering. Autumn upon the
great lakes will sink a ship if the captain isn't careful. And sometimes even if he IS careful. There's a
song about it! You're out on Lake Superior and the waves toss your cargo freighter to and fro, and one wave crashes over the deck, and then before that water drains another crashes over the deck, and on top of that another wave comes, and you are sunk -- there was nothing you could do. They call it the Witch of November. And here I was swimming in waters that were warming up to those storms. I was foolish, and I am far more fearful now of
These days the sea is high and higher, higher than it has ever been in my brief few decades. For the rivers
of the Midwest are swollen with rain, more rain than ever before, all running down towards the
lakes. The waves devour the shore as they have not done in decades. The
people of my cottage association rightly fear for their houses on the
shore, some of which are close to being in peril. Decades
ago more than one house fell into the water. Now the old monster stirs
in its bed again, and whatever agreement I had with it was no more than
mercy on its part, a truce made by one who could destroy me if it chose.
A false truce.
Decades ago the cottagers, united, agreed to
change the shore, to protect what they could by placing great boulders
on the sand. To lose that part of the sand, that part of the beach which attracted them to begin with, in order to save everything else. The waves that strike the boulders cannot pull them back,
nor wear them down within any span of time the cottages would exist.
The boulders break the power of the waves as nothing else can. It was an
expensive and drastic solution, and it was a last resort, yet perhaps
the only real proper solution to the devouring waves anywhere in the
world! Everything else we build can be cracked or undermined. The
cottagers had tried wooden and metal seawalls too many times, only to see them smashed
to pieces or tipped over and buried. Too little. The boulders are the
only thing that can match the power of the sea.
And the water
rises again. Higher and higher. We built seawalls last year and hoped it
would be enough. Not so. Once again the boulders are the best chance we
have. The cottagers whose houses lie closest to shore are being asked to
pay their share of the seven million dollars it will take to build a
boulder wall along the whole part of their shore, from the southern end
of the cottage association all the way to the north.
It is a high
price, and I am dismayed at the idea of placing it only upon the shore
dwellers, because there are many cottages built far back from the water,
back on the other side of the hills and nestled in the hollows, all a part of a quiet and secluded
place that they all love, and on a plain moral basis it would be wiser
to have everyone pay a share of the price, so that everyone feels
like they have a stake in things, instead of the shore dwellers believing that they had been
singled out unfairly. On the other hand, perhaps the people far back
from shore would resent having to pay for the mistakes of people who
built close upon the shore, and there would be division that way.
I don't know. I don't own the house there. My grandfather does. I am
hardly a ranking member of the cottage association. The issue at hand is
technically out of my jurisdiction. I can only offer my perspective,
not my vote.
What I will say in regards to the matter is that
whatever course the cottagers take must be the one most likely to see
the wall built fast, which is to say NOW. If there is any disagreement that delays the boulder wall, we're all in trouble; if there's any disagreement that cancels the boulder wall we're all sunk.
Because on a
plain practical basis, we're all built on or near sand. We can put down strong foundations but we can't turn the dunes into dirt. If we fail to
put those boulders down, every house that thinks it's not on the shore,
and I mean every house, will be on the shore soon enough.
Hopefully the construction goes smoothly. Hopefully the cottagers have the fear of God struck into their hearts, and will pay any price for a proper solution, and whatever divisions arise from that price will occur later. I have no hand in the matter. All I can do is think about how this is the first time global climate change has physically threatened something close to my heart, and how that will be more common in years to come if we don't get our act together now.
From my tale take this message: If you are on the shore, anywhere in the world, move away from it as soon as you can. Waterfront property is not safe.