My first swim in Hague Lake passed with little notice and only in retrospect do I see its full significance. In 1991 a friend shanghaied me to Hollyhock (we were supposed to go camping in Tofino) where the flirtatious naturalist pretty much insisted that we find the nice lake and swim in it. So we walked forever on the road that appeared to be a tunnel of trees until we found the sandy beach. We swam to the island and looked for a place to get out, something that resembled the swimming pool edges or ocean beaches from our California childhoods. But there wasn’t anything like that so we kept swimming the whole way around and back. Tired out, I lay on the soft, warm, sand and thought the naturalist had good reason to be proud of such a lake. But I had no inkling that I’d ever see it again or that something big in my life had just begun.
A few years later as a Linnaea garden student I swam in Gunflint every day after work in the production garden. A great blue heron often sat on a log on the far side of the lake. Loons called. One rainy day, a nighthawk dipped down for a drink right next to me. In the slanted afternoon light, swallows zipped and swooped. I’d never been in water that felt so effervescently alive.
Now I’ve swum those two lakes every summer for twenty years. This number startles me. If I averaged 60 swims each year, that’s 1,200 swims, many of them well over a mile. Every time, I’ve emerged feeling like a better person: cooler, more collected, happier. Over time, the lakes seduced me with pure pleasure into a stronger body and more endurance. They trained me for all those epic island-to-island ocean swims with Chloe and Noel: Sarah Point, Hernando, Quadra, Read, Rendezvous (only Noel made it to Raza), Mittlenatch, Marina, Twin and West Redonda.
Some of my lake swims are singularly memorable, like when I literally bumped into a dog who seemed as devoted to swimming as I am, out by the island. Or when I wore the “Nemo” swim cap my sister gave me and was intercepted by a flotilla of kids. But mostly the swims blur into one very long moment: the clear greenish water shafted with light, my rhythmic breathe amplified by the water, the trail of bubbles from my fingertips, the water’s gentle hold.
The lakes are my transportation link as well, an enjoyable paddle to friends’ houses across Gunflint that avoids that difficult round-about bike ride. For years, I commuted to work and meetings at Linnaea in my kayak. I’ve swum home from late night parties across the lake.
I also see how the lakes support the local economy: the visiting boaters, the seasonal renters and the value of land. Pristine lakes at the heart of the community are a rarity and many people are attracted by that. They spend their money in Mansons and rent vacation houses here.
This year, when I came to put in the garden in May, Hague Lake had red-brown water, like a red tide. When I returned in July, there was a weird blob of white about a meter down that looked like cirrus clouds. I ignored it for two weeks until I heard Nicola say with real concern, “There’s a white blob in the lake.” Then I couldn’t ignore it any more. I learned a lot from Rex and Christian and started feeling how much I love the lakes and how much I want them to remain sweet and clear.
It seems our best strategy as a community is to work through FOCI to learn about causes so we can determine what the lake needs. And FOCI needs money to do this. So I came up with the Nine Lake Swim idea as a fundraiser, which attracted an amazing team of community-minded swimmers. The event will provide funds for FOCI to test the water and promote solutions.
This fundraiser has already raised $8,500! Thank you so much for your support. Our goal is $12,000 so if you haven’t donated yet, please do. The Nine Lake Swimmers want our efforts to provide $6,000 for the year’s testing and $6,000 for solutions. A donation of two dollars per lake is only $18 and, added into other such donations, will be a real contribution. Knowing that everyone who loves the lakes contributed and that our swim will provide enough funds for what the lakes need will inspire us on the long, arduous day of August 24.
I see this algae situation like a volume mixer with lots of knobs. The weather knob is getting louder over time which means that springs are more likely to be warm at the time of year when the algae blooms. It blooms every spring, but under certain conditions it can really take off and those conditions are increasingly likely to occur. We don’t control the weather knob directly although hopefully we are ever more inspired to act on climate change as we see it writ small upon our island.
But we do control enough of the other knobs (phosphates and nitrates) to keep the volume down and avoid massive blooms. Useful measures include: abstaining from using soap or shampoo in the lake; keeping dog poo well away from the water; protecting gardens from hard winter rains with cardboard and straw; not using fertilizers at the lakeside; minimizing manure and compost in areas flooded by winter rains; protecting native lakeside vegetation; getting out of the water to pee while swimming; pumping out septic tanks and budgeting to install effective systems; cleaning with vinegar and natural cleaners instead of sending harsh chemicals and phosphates down the drain; and planting native species like cattails, sweet gale and sedges on the shore where nutrients can enter the lake directly or by way of streams, places such as lawns, logging sites and agricultural fields.
Hopefully we are all changing our ways based on our new understanding of the lakes’ vulnerability. I think every single act of protection for the lakes matters. New habits become a way of life that will allow the lake to flourish over time.
And FOCI’s lake sampling will help us identify what matters most, so please sponsor the “for the love of the lakes” swimmers if you haven’t already. The swim is this Sunday, so now is the time! There are forms in the stores, Leah will be at the Friday market and it is easy to do on-line at http://ourcortes.com/ninelakes/
And we can share this video on Facebook: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AiE4s29aDW0
Thank you so much! May you swim in beauty! May the algae lack the nutrients needed for enormous blooms! Long live the lakes!
Miranda Cross, a biologist, is the volunteer who leads the FOCI lake sampling team
I'm the other part of the on-the-lake team. FOCI's Leah, not pictured here, gets the samples transported to a lab on ice and compiles the info re lake visibility and temperature.