Published in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel on Friday, May 13, 2011
The Splendor of Natural Water
by Karl Garson
I grew up north of Port Washington, along Lake Michigan, in the village of Cedar Grove. Viewed through the sfumato with which time graces memory, Cedar Grove was a good place to spend one’s formative years. My earliest memory is the sound of a winter storm on Lake Michigan. Water plays a leading role in my memories of the village and the land that surrounds it.
There was the lake, of course. And Bahr Creek, which ran through a deep ravine eastward to it. The creek and its high, steep, enclosing banks were a playground for all seasons. In the spring fish made their way there to spawn. In the winter the banks made sledding a welcome, often dangerous challenge. The ravine was a good summer place until mosquitoes, poison ivy and nettles drove us off. But in the autumn it was golden again and through it there was always the water, the creek that had relentlessly formed it and ran to its mysterious purpose then just as it does still.
There was the nearby Onion River where we’d bicycle to fish for carp. And Random Lake where my father would take me and my sister, Kathy, to fish for perch. There were also the lakes of the Kettle Moraine: Crooked Lake, Crystal Lake and Lake Ellen, where on summer evenings, when my father was free for a few hours, catching bluegills seems now to have been beside the point of just being there within the natural beauty and relative stillness.
There is something about the surface of water, an ineffable quality locked into its capacity to constantly change that is a lesson that one can try to, but will never, learn. That lesson is why some us are drawn always to the margins of natural water, to beaches, shores and the banks of rivers and streams.
All of this is recalled because summer is coming on hard now and Wisconsin families are budgeting and planning for weekends and vacations at the state’s commercial water parks. And I cannot help thinking that this is disservice to, rather than a treat for, our children.
Within the reach of the budgeting and planning families are devoting to the state’s unnatural water parks–like the Holy Grail of all water parks, The Dells–are thousands of natural lakes, rivers and streams, many of them with well maintained public access that includes parks, boat launches, campgrounds, swimming beaches and trails for hiking and biking. At these, a relatively modest fee will provide access for the entire summer.
In abandoning the annual rush to the state’s unnatural water parks parents will have to endure the whine factor, the pitiful keening their children will fire at them because all of their friends are going to water parks. Within this context, think of children as sheep and parents as shepherds.
The eventual blessing for parents who choose to break the water park addiction will come when their children mature and realize that the real experiences given them by summers spent with Wisconsin’s natural waters have outlasted the surreal encounters they had earlier on at water parks. That getting real was, after all, the enduring way to go, then and now.
Link to the article and accompanying photo: