The Beauty of Lake Michigan

Lake Michigan

When I first heard of the most recent oil spill in Lake Michigan, my thoughts flashed back to the beauty that can be found there while hoping it won’t be destroyed.

Lake Michigan

Hundreds, possibly thousands, of gallons of crude oil discharged into Lake Michigan from an Indiana refinery last week. BP recently doubled its oil spill estimate to up to 1,638 gallons.

Lake Michigan

Every time something like this happens anywhere in the world, it feels like something has been lost. It’s not going to be the same. The environment has been altered again. And it’s our fault. And we keep doing it.

Lake Michigan

I visit my dad there often. The water along the Michigan side is crystal clear. I can see the sand at the bottom even when I’m out over my head. My dad worked on Lake Michigan freighters that hauled cars between cities in the early 1960s. He remembers when they would siphon water right from the lakes and use it as drinking water. It didn’t need to be purified.

Lake Michigan

Seven million people in and around Chicago still use Lake Michigan for drinking water. Although some parts of it look clean, I doubt if anyone would risk drinking right from the lake these days. But it wasn’t that long ago when people could do just that. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could turn everything around and go back to the days of a cleaner, healthier environment? If we could, would we take it for granted all over again?

Lake Michigan

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83 thoughts on “The Beauty of Lake Michigan

    • Thank you – they do make me want to dive right in! I just wanted to show there are still lots of places worth fighting for out there.

  1. Always so devastating and it seems to happen a lot…very sad indeed. Gorgeous photos of this magnificent lake, Sheila!

    • Thanks Susan! Sometimes it reminds me of Cape Cod so much that I expect to smell the ocean air. It does happen too often, that’s for sure. Thankfully, there are still places where beauty can be found – like those places in your amazing photos. Hope you have a great weekend!

  2. I can’t imagine being able to drink straight from the lake. Amazing–and horrifying–to think of how much damage we’ve done in such a short time.

    • It is hard to imagine that such a thing was possible – and we used to drink from the faucet in our house too! Maybe my dad was just very daring. 🙂

  3. Damn, I know! I totally heard about this in transit to Portland. Such a tragedy.

    Our friends assured us that we could drink water straight from the tap here. Naturally we were skeptical, since nobody does that in Milwaukee anymore. But, the tap water here is delicious and I am very grateful to go without a filter for the first time in over a decade.

    • You’re making me want to move out there even more now! 🙂 That’s great to hear there are still places like that. I’m glad you’re loving it there and I hope the cats have recovered from the trip!

  4. Sheila I have never been but it looks so beautiful. I too shrink and cringe when I here about the devastation we humans do to our fragile earth, yet we are all guilty in some small way. Teaching our children is our only hope I think, maybe they will turn it around if it is not too late. I think this is the reason kids are smarter, taller and stronger than us as children. Sadly maybe they will need to be.

    • The funny thing is it reminds me of Cape Cod but the sand dunes are a lot bigger. That’s true that the next generation will need to be stronger. Maybe I’m too much of a dreamer, but I’d love to see this generation turn things around so that things will be better for the next generation.

    • Thanks so much! Luckily, this oil spill wasn’t in the millions of gallons like some have been. These photos are also pretty far from where the spill took place. I just wanted to show that there’s still beauty out there that needs to be cherished.

      • Still mostly gray and brown here for now but the sun is starting to come out. Then again, it could still snow at any second. 🙂 I hope you’re finding some green!

  5. Sheila, you’ve completely transported me to Lake Michigan with your stunning photos and heartfelt writing. I hope that the oil spill doesn’t do major damage. jx

    • Thank you – I’m happy to transport you any time! It’s hard to say how much damage each one of these spills creates. Lake Michigan is huge but it’s also seen its fair share of pollutants over the years. 🙂

  6. Beautiful place! Every time I fly into Chicago, I’m amazed at how giant this lake is and I wonder if the first people that saw it thought it was the ocean, since it’s so big and wavy. As for the drinking water, I wouldn’t drink from there. But then again, I don’t think Chicago water tastes good! And I’m not being snobbish, San Diego water tastes awful too. I live 20 miles away and our water, which comes from the same place, is processed by a different vendor and it tastes a lot better. Go figure.

    • It really does look like the ocean and it always fools me because I expect to smell the ocean air. I think about those early days too and how places like this were super clean and so full of fish that you could just reach down and grab one (though maybe those settler types were exaggerating). Even those times weren’t that long ago. I don’t drink the water around here either and I think I’d also be scared to drink Chicago or San Diego water. 🙂

      • I can easily picture people being able to grab fish with their bare hands. I read an NPR article the other day that said that, because fishing companies get permits for specific fish only, they have to dump up to 90% of what they catch. How ridiculous is that? Oh, and I guess I don’t trust the water anywhere because I’m taking our water filter with us for this spring break vacation. 🙂

      • That’s crazy about the fish, especially because there’s really not that many left out there anymore. Hope you have a great vacation!

  7. This is a beautiful post and a wonderful message. I truly wish more people felt this way, though many don’t see the significance of these disasters unless they occur in their own backyards. I never considered people drinking straight from the lakes, at least not in the past century. I’d just have trouble trusting water anywhere these days. When we went backpacking on the Manitou Islands, we had to take water from Lake Michigan and filter it out. Maybe it’s because I’m an outsider, but I can imagine that your father must have some very interesting stories from the freighters. I do hope we can restore their beauty. Thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks so much! I guess too often we feel like we can’t make a difference when really everything we do makes a difference. We just need to use less oil and plastics somehow. 🙂 My dad has lots of great stories like that. He used to shovel coal on the freighter as a teenager and they traveled through all the lakes. I’m still amazed that you went sledding down those huge sand dunes though so I have a feeling you have just as many adventure stories as he does!

  8. Hi Sheila, as you say ‘we keep doing it.’ We do because we still cannot live without black gold, to fuel cars, heat homes, make plastic. Hell even our blankets and jackets are made out of the same bloody oily stuff. You are fortunate to have your dad as a voice of how it should be, a salient reminder to all.

    • Hi Talia! So sorry this didn’t automatically approve. We’ve just got to stop using so much oil and plastics – no problem, right? 🙂 It gives me hope that we’re looking toward other ways of doing things these days but still, those changes are too slow. You’re right – it’s hard to break those addictions but I’d love to see it happen in our lifetime.

  9. Good question, Sheila. I’d hope the answer would be ‘no’ 😀

    I’ve never been to Lake Michigan, but I can see by your photos that it is a beautiful place xxx

  10. Nature is so fragile but beautiful, whilst their aren’t proper and meaningful consequences for the firms doing this I fear it will still happen. It looks absolutely delightful there though and hopefully that will inspire people to keep what we have looking beautiful.

    • That’s true – nature always inspires and hopefully the beauty will inspire people to appreciate it more.

  11. Beautiful photos! We are in Illinois right now, but the water around Chicago isn’t nearly as pretty, although I understand it’s much cleaner than it used to be. I think humans are destined to keep making mistakes and then using their mistakes to remind themselves that we need to be careful. It seems to be the kind of animal we are.

    • Hahah – yes I think so too – and any progress always seems too slow. That reminds me of this quote – “Men have slow reflexes. In general, it takes several generations later for them to understand.”

  12. As Chicagoan who grew up on the shores of Lake Michigan, I love your sentiments on the beauty of the Great Lakes. Great photos, too. But I think our attitudes toward the environment have come a long way since my childhood. I remember people throwing trash out the window as we drove down the Interstate (and the ensuing “Crying Indian” commercial). Remember the river in Cleveland that caught fire in the 70s? And recycling — what was that? It all went into a single trash bin. I recall my first trip to Southern California in the early 90s, and we could barely see the mountains through the smog. Today, California has the highest emissions standards in the world, and the mountains are a visible part of the landscape once again. It’s unfortunate when things like oil spills occur (and BP seems to have a particularly unfortunate track record of late), but I think in general, we Americans are much more environmentally conscious than we used to be.

    • Thanks Gwen! That’s true – I remember those things too. We are getting better in some areas because we noticed the hazardous effects and turned it all around. I’d love to see more of that happen in our lifetime.

  13. I haven’t spent much time on the east coast, Sheila, but your photos are gorgeous and it would be great if our planet became healthier, too! Wishful thinking and little baby steps from everyone would get us closer to the finish line! Have a great weekend! xx

  14. I have to add that just this morning while walking my dog, I saw a cigarette carton on the ground and the other day, a guy threw his cigarette out the window. I just wanted to turn around and say a few words to him, but I had to go to work instead! 🙂 I don’t know what people are thinking! Just had to vent and thanks for listening! 🙂

    • That kind of thing is frustrating so I can see that need to vent. There’s litter all around here too and that always annoys me because it can find its way into streams and the ocean and I worry about the effect it has on all wildlife. It would be great to yell at someone for that just to get the frustration out but I’m sure I wouldn’t have the guts to do it!

    • Yes, they do. Hopefully they’ll be able to be prevented in the future if we start using less oil. I guess insisting on better regulations and fines could help too. Then maybe places like Lake Michigan and the ocean could be restored and protected for future generations.

  15. What beautiful photos Sheila, it really does look like the ocean – I can’t imagine seeing a lake that big – and most definitely worth cherishing.

    • Thanks Andrea! It is an amazing place and even though it’s seen its fair share of pollutants over the years, it can be restored as long as we stop doing these things. 🙂

  16. Great post, Sheila. I can’t believe how badly we look after this incredible planet. Your photos are lovely, calming as is your message. Not overpowering, but conveyed in a manner that will make people think. Thanks for this.

    • Thanks so much! I just hope places like this can be restored and protected for future generations. I’d love to see it all turned around for the better within our lifetime.

  17. What beautiful photographs! Oil spills are so devastating – it’s almost too difficult to watch on the news, thinking of all the damage to the animals, to the ecosystem as a whole. Hopefully we’ll have fewer – and eventually none at all – in the future.

    • Yes – dreamers unite! 🙂 I can’t watch it on the news because by then it feels like we can’t do anything about it. But they can be prevented by using less oil and plastics. I’m looking forward to that better future along with you.

  18. Your photos remind me of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Seashore, Shiela. It’s a beautiful area. And it doesn’t seem how many times we have to clean up after spills. They just keep happening. profits are more important than safety measures. As for drinking water, we have a well that produces great tasting water! –Curt

    • The one of the sand dunes is from that area. I can’t believe how huge the sand dunes are there. It’s true that profits are more important to the oil companies but better regulations and fines could hopefully decrease the number of oil spills and accidents. I’ll keep dreaming anyway. 🙂 That’s great that you can drink the water where you are – so far the only ones who have said that are from Oregon. I’m glad there are still places like that out there.

      • Yeah, I keep dreaming as well. Much of my life was spent as an environmental activist. Thought I recognized the dunes, and they are impressive. It’s a beautiful area. Speaking of dunes, I’ll be in Death Valley in the next couple of weeks, which also has impressive dunes. As for drinkable water: :)–Curt

  19. This looks like a very beautiful place on earth – it even makes me want to take a dip, and I’m not that much into being in the water. I think, in answer to your question, we probably would take it all for granted all over again. Sadly. It all comes back to greed in the end.

    • That’s true it does take us a while to learn these things and sometimes too long. Once we learn and realize the earth is all we have, I hope we’ll be better for it. That water is pretty cold but refreshing so it’s worth taking a virtual dip! Hopefully generations to come will be able to enjoy it and the ocean.

  20. I have never been to Lake Michigan, but it looks lovely. How amazing that at one time people could drink straight from that lake — probably all lakes when we think about it. I can’t imagine there is a single body of water around that is safe enough to drink without purifying it. So sad.

    I hope they can clean this spill quickly and efficiently before too much harm is done, although that doesn’t help much for anything that’s been affected already.

    • It is hard to believe people could drink from lakes and streams – we’re so used to thinking that we can’t now. I remember being able to drink the water from the faucet without any kind of filtering and I’m not that old. 🙂 I’d like to believe that some day the water will be clean enough to do that again.

  21. Having grown up on the shore of the lake, it is still deep in my heart. There is something magical about its seasonal variations.

    • We used to go there when I was little too so I’ve seen the changes over the years and it seems to be cleaner than it was in the 70s. I’ll keep hoping it’ll get better so that generations to come can enjoy the magic.

    • We used to go there when I was little too. Maybe we even played on the beach together. 🙂 Lots of great memories with those huge sand dunes and breezes through the birch trees.

  22. I had no idea it was so beautiful and clear. As you described it I thought of Lake George. I can’t imagine being able to drink straight from the lake. When I first moved to this town, I remember thinking how delicious the tap water was for the first few months. I loved it! Then it turned brownish (filter issues with the town well). Yuck, right? Ever since, we’ve had to use bottle water.

    The oil spills – you are so right. We keep doing it! That is sad and though we’ve come a long way in many ways, there are people out there that just don’t care about the environment. It amazes me.

    Thanks for sharing the beautiful pictures!

    • Thanks Arlene! The tap water here is pretty scary too. It would be nice if we could clean it all up and use it for everything again. That’s true we’ve come a long way since the 70s, so maybe we can keep going while restoring our natural resources. That – and no more brown water – would be nice to see anyway. 🙂

  23. My husband grew up on the Wisconsin side of the lake near Green Bay. And he remembers how kids from the area would go door-to-door selling the fish they had caught that day. But it wasn’t long before all the warnings came out about the dangerous levels of heavy metals in the lake’s fish. While things have improved slightly, there are still warnings about how much Lake Michigan fish one can safely eat in a month.

    The very mention of “BP” still makes me shiver, even though I know they’re not the only company with such problems. Even this pessimist/realist hopes the day will come when such environmental disregard is a thing of the past.

    • That’s a scary story about the fish because I’m guessing your husband isn’t that old. I’d love to see it restored so that kids could do that kind of thing again. We’ll have to keep hoping while doing all we can to make sure things get better – even if that kind of progress is always too slow.

    • Thanks so much! Yes, we need to keep reminding ourselves of these things as we go along with our crazy lives. It’s easy to forget that everything we do makes a difference.

  24. A great post Sheila. Such a beautiful pristine lake. So sad that this has happened. I do think it’s human nature to grasp the value of something only after we lose it. Though I think we are capable of learning from our mistakes too.

  25. Incredible how a beautiful natural resource can go from a natural source of healthy drinking water to a crude oil dump in one lifetime. you are so right. we need to better protect our planet, xo LMA

  26. The blue of the lake is so like a calling
    And the photo of the sunset(not a sunrise right?) on the lake is just marvellous.

    • Thanks Amira! It’s amazing how clear the water there can be. Yes – I don’t have many sunrise pictures so that must be a sunset. 🙂

  27. It’s always so sad to hear stories of oil spill. I never went to Michigan, I hope I can visit someday and see this beautiful lake. Your pictures are so beautiful.

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