Growing up very near Lake Ontario, several of my friends lived along the lakeshore. My best friend lived in a house where their dining room looked out over the lake which, depending on the day, could be both menacing and beautiful. Across the road was a pond. During the years when water was high, Edgemere Drive was flooded – water from the pond ran over the road into yards, making some pieces of property islands.
Sandbags were not an alien thing. From a young age, I knew the purpose of these stacks of gray that bulged at the seams in an attempt to make a wall high enough to prevent water from invading the space a human had claimed as their own.
More than once, I was worried about my friends who lived down by the lake.
But, in times of calm and drier springs, flooding did not occur. We canoed and visited the beach with friends once we were old enough. Cattails and rocky edges made it impossible for safe passage along the shoreline and these activities were only done once or twice.
In the winter, I ice skated on Lake Ontario, Long Pond, and even on the Erie Canal once or twice, depending on the friend I was with for the afternoon. There are good memories of times spent near Lake Ontario and other bodies of water in Western New York.
But, my parents did not want to live near the lake and ended up building a house when I was twelve on a flat farm field about ten miles from the lake. We would never be flooded. We would be safe.
I think this instilled in me a healthy respect for water. For I saw, early on, the damage that it can do. Bodies of water, such as the Great Lakes, can turn in an instant and go from being bucolic and peaceful to harboring one of the worst storms imaginable. With waves of ten feet or more hitting the picture window of my friend’s house, I was glad my parents chose the lot they did to build the house that I fondly remember.
As I grew older, there were dangers other than the weather that the lake posed. Drownings and boating accidents were not uncommon. Drunken falls from the cliffs at Hamlin Beach occurred more than once for some young, unfortunate souls who did not heed warnings or thought they were immune to accidents on those cliffs.
During college, when I brought my freshman roommate and two dormitory friends home for Easter dinner, we took a drive down to the lakeshore. Two of my new college friends had never seen Lake Ontario and when shown, the Long Island resident exclaimed, “that’s the ocean, isn’t it?” Well, so much for her high school geography class, but it gave me some weird sense of pride to say, “No, that’s Lake Ontario, one of the Great Lakes!”
Despite being the smallest in size of the five Great Lakes, Lake Ontario is still a very impressive body of water. No, you cannot see land across it – so you cannot see Toronto, Canada, or anything for that matter, when you look out over the gray waves – even on a clear day. You might be able to see a freighter headed north to the St. Lawrence seaway but other than that, you just see water – and lots of it.
I also remember my parents and teachers telling us that the lake shore used to extend to “Ridge Road” eons ago – Ridge Road is many miles from the shore now. But, when you turn right “off the ridge” you do dip down as you travel the road. One can easily imagine the lake waters reaching up to the ridge – and where many towns exist now was just more lake bed. Of course, this change in topography represents eons of evolutionary changes in landscapes. Still, it is amazing to ponder where the lake once was as opposed to where it is now.
Now, I live in the midwest, near the shores of another famous body of water, the Mississippi River. I never imagined living here when I was young, but time brings many changes and opportunities. The Driftless Area, in which I live, is beautiful with bluffs, coulees, four changing seasons, and plenty of bodies of water. Strangely, it is very similar to the area in which I grew up. The beauty is similar as are the dangers.
The thing that has not changed is the power of water. We are told that the Mississippi River will crest in our area on Wednesday this week by the National Weather Service. It is already over flood stage. An overabundance of melting snows has produced over flowing streams, tributaries, and main channels of both famous and not so famous local rivers.
Two weeks ago, high school students and other volunteers in our town were called upon to fill sandbags for some local properties that were flooding. Streets were closed, made impassable by high water. Some areas are still underwater and the water levels continue to rise – into parks, homes, businesses, and many places humans have decided it does not belong. The water thinks differently. It goes where it wants. This is something we need to remember.
Once again, I feel for those who are experiencing flooding. Once again, I am grateful our home does not exist in a flood plain.
Water, just like other elements such as Fire, is a living entity that is life-sustaining as well as life-taking. We must all take some care in how and where we build future communities that will continue to depend on this natural resource. For it can be a blessing as well as a curse.
Text by Carol Labuzzetta, © 2019, All Rights Reserved.
Aerial Photographs from Pixabay.com – Creative Commons License. No need to attribute.