The above image is my own from nine years ago. Are you stronger than those waves?
In Michigan and the surrounding states, every now and then we are reminded that “Great” may not mean “excellent” or “wonderful;” it may mean something more like “to be feared” or “this much power will make you wet your pants,” or “don’t risk it— you don’t stand a chance against 25 foot waves in 40 mph gusts.”
According to the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project, as of Monday, 83 lives have been lost to the Great Lakes so far in 2017. Sadly, it seems that we will be adding two more names to the list.
In another tragic tale out of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan that you will likely never hear on the news (unless you’re local), two individuals have been swept away by Lake Superior in the midst of a frigid, raging fury of autumn. It happens every year, it seems. It doesn’t matter how many times we hear it, or how many resources or safeguards we put into place to prevent it, someone always risks a face-off with Superior and loses.
And so again, a community grieves and struggles with how to best prevent this from happening again.
There will always be accidents. Even the locals know that Superior can be unpredictable. She can shift very quickly. So yes—there will always be accidents. There’s no sense trying to lay blame when an accident occurs. When the waves are five or more feet higher than the rocks you’re standing on, however, the waves are rolling over the rock wall along the lakeshore—the road that’s been closed because it’s too dangerous for pedestrians and motorists to be there, and the entire Upper Peninsula is under weather advisories for gusting winds and gales, I’m not sure you can call it an “accident” to be so close to the Lake that the waves can sweep you away. It’s something more like unfortunately irresponsible, something more like not thinking through the consequences of your choices, and that is almost more heartbreaking than an unforeseeable accident.
It truly is a tragedy and my heart is absolutely broken for the family and loved ones of those lost yesterday. I cannot imagine how hard it must be to lose someone to the Lake. It just churns in my gut. How very sad to lose someone so unnecessarily. As a community, I know we all stand together in grieving with them, and any one of us would do anything we could to help the families through this difficult time. We are with you and we love you.
But this is exactly why it’s so hard. It’s just not necessary.
What could we, as a community, have done to prevent this? What could we do that we haven’t already done?
It reminds me of the gate that was added to the break wall here in Marquette several years ago—the same break wall in the image featured above. When it is unsafe to venture out due to wind, ice, or inclement weather, the Park Patrol locks the gate. Pretty simple, right? Seems like it would be a great deterrent. And even though I don’t like the look of the gate against the natural beauty of idyllic Upper Peninsula scenery, I do think it has been beneficial in preventing unnecessary deaths. However, I know I’m not the only resident who has watched individuals approach the locked gate and swing themselves around to the other side. We want the protection of local law and the instantaneous action of first responders without having to really consider how our actions will play out.
We are a culture who no longer recognizes the importance of personal responsibility.
Think about your choices. Think about the potential consequences of your behavior, whether you’re choosing to get up close and personal with Superior during a storm or choosing whether to smoke a joint with your classmates. It’s like my first employer told me so many years ago: Make the best decision you know how to make at the moment, but be prepared to offer rational justification if it goes wrong.
Be aware of the Lake. Admire her beauty, but respect her power. These are not small inland lakes; We call them Great for a reason.