A MIGHTY RESOURCE: Take another look at Lake Michigan, but don't take it for granted

To matter how worldly we like to feel, we all live in our own little worlds, savvy only about our particular portions of the larger sphere. For most of us, and I include those who live in the vastness of suburbia and nearby states, Lake Michigan is a glorious and important part of our worlds.<br>
<br>
The lake defines our place on this planet and has always been a powerful magnet. To the Indian tribes here forever, it was life. Settlers went there to drink and to bathe. It sheltered those fleeing the Great Fire of 1871 and was, for a time before air conditioners, where entire families spent the nights.Perhaps you have already dipped your toe in the lake, or made mental preparation for the soon-to-come summer of sunbathing, swimming, bodybuilding, jogging, skating, running, Frisbee tossing, volleyball playing, bicycling, fishing or any of the other activities that invigorate our 29 miles of lakefront with its 32 city beaches.<br>
<br>
But not all are as fortunate.<br>
<br>
Tom Castle has met them. He is a sailor, musical performer and historian of and an advocate for the Great Lakes. "I was doing a residency with the Friends of the <a class="taxInlineTagLink" id="PLTRA0000105" title="Chicago River" href="/topic/us/illinois/chicago-river-PLTRA0000105.topic">Chicago River</a> a few years back and found that over half of our audience of about 400 students at a school near the North Branch of the Chicago River did not know where the Chicago River was," he says. "Also, while doing a summer reading program concert series at more than 40 libraries, I found, through an informal raising of hands, that anywhere from 10 to 80 percent of the people in the audiences had never seen Lake Michigan."<br>
<br>
Of course, you can blame these people or their parents. Our beaches are free (along the 30 miles of lakefront north of the city, 26 of the beaches are private). The river runs, no admission.<br>
<br>
But for reasons disturbing to ponder, many people are deprived of the waters. Castle was shocked by this, and it became what he calls "a key catalyst for establishing the outreach program for the Chicago Maritime Festival," an annual event he helps organize.<br>
<br>
Living in Madison, Wis., Castle returns to Chicago for a couple of days each summer week to captain the Windy, a 148-foot, four-masted schooner, and other tour boats that travel the river and lake.<br>
<br>
Many years ago Osgood and I met a 7-year-old girl who lived in the Robert Taylor Homes and had never seen a tree. This has haunted us, given us a painful perspective.<br>
<br>
Sometimes in summers and winters too, I will stand at the shore, turn my back on the city and feel transported back in time looking at the 10,000-year-old lake.<br>
<br>
This was always, given the stress and troubles and inequities that are part of city life, a reassuring sight.<br>
<br>
Knowing that there are those living here who have never had this view, it is no longer such a comfort.<br>
<br>
<i>--Rick Kogan</i>
chi-sidewalks-050309

( Photo for the Tribune by Charles Osgood / May 3, 2009 )

To matter how worldly we like to feel, we all live in our own little worlds, savvy only about our particular portions of the larger sphere. For most of us, and I include those who live in the vastness of suburbia and nearby states, Lake Michigan is a glorious and important part of our worlds.

The lake defines our place on this planet and has always been a powerful magnet. To the Indian tribes here forever, it was life. Settlers went there to drink and to bathe. It sheltered those fleeing the Great Fire of 1871 and was, for a time before air conditioners, where entire families spent the nights.Perhaps you have already dipped your toe in the lake, or made mental preparation for the soon-to-come summer of sunbathing, swimming, bodybuilding, jogging, skating, running, Frisbee tossing, volleyball playing, bicycling, fishing or any of the other activities that invigorate our 29 miles of lakefront with its 32 city beaches.

But not all are as fortunate.

Tom Castle has met them. He is a sailor, musical performer and historian of and an advocate for the Great Lakes. "I was doing a residency with the Friends of the Chicago River a few years back and found that over half of our audience of about 400 students at a school near the North Branch of the Chicago River did not know where the Chicago River was," he says. "Also, while doing a summer reading program concert series at more than 40 libraries, I found, through an informal raising of hands, that anywhere from 10 to 80 percent of the people in the audiences had never seen Lake Michigan."

Of course, you can blame these people or their parents. Our beaches are free (along the 30 miles of lakefront north of the city, 26 of the beaches are private). The river runs, no admission.

But for reasons disturbing to ponder, many people are deprived of the waters. Castle was shocked by this, and it became what he calls "a key catalyst for establishing the outreach program for the Chicago Maritime Festival," an annual event he helps organize.

Living in Madison, Wis., Castle returns to Chicago for a couple of days each summer week to captain the Windy, a 148-foot, four-masted schooner, and other tour boats that travel the river and lake.

Many years ago Osgood and I met a 7-year-old girl who lived in the Robert Taylor Homes and had never seen a tree. This has haunted us, given us a painful perspective.

Sometimes in summers and winters too, I will stand at the shore, turn my back on the city and feel transported back in time looking at the 10,000-year-old lake.

This was always, given the stress and troubles and inequities that are part of city life, a reassuring sight.

Knowing that there are those living here who have never had this view, it is no longer such a comfort.

--Rick Kogan

  • Email E-mail
  • add to Twitter Twitter
  • add to Facebook Facebook
  • Home Delivery Home Delivery