When you look at your favorite lake, what do you see? Beautiful blue water? A place for a refreshing dip in summer’s heat? A surface on which to paddle a canoe or kayak, float on an air mattress, or cruise in a boat? Favorite spots to catch fish for sport or the dinner table?
Your lake is all this, but it’s also much more. It’s a collection of worlds: in the water; in the sand, gravel, rocks, and muck of the bottom; on the surface; in the air above; and along the shoreline, a belt of land incredibly rich in life. All these intertwine. Just as important is what you can’t see—the physical, biological, and chemical processes that determine, for example, how many and what kinds of fish live in the lake, which plants grow there, the color and clarity of the water, and more.
There’s much about lakes to know and understand. I live on Birch Lake (180 acres, maximum depth 27 feet), in the glacial lake country of north central Wisconsin. Over the years I’ve fished large lakes from the comfort of a boat and smaller ones from a canoe or float tube, or in waders. I’ve snorkeled clear lakes, sliding like at otter over the smooth, barkless trunks of long-fallen pines to spy on bass and bluegills around sunken tangles of timber. I’ve watched sunsets over the water, observed loons and eagles, taken water-clarity readings as a volunteer lake monitor, paddled the shallows in a canoe at dawn. In short, I’ve spent considerable time exploring and learning about lakes and lake life.
No doubt you have enjoyed lakes in many of the same ways. Here is your chance to look deeper at the forces that shape lakes and the life that abounds in them. Did you know, for example, that your lake’s water has layers? That its water is really the broth of a thin soup rich in tiny plants and animals on which larger creatures feed? That the walleye or bass you catch owes its existence, first and foremost, to the sun? That lake ice melts from the bottom up? That lakes and the water under the ground are not separate entities but interconnected parts of the same system? That fish can breathe in water even though it holds less than one ten-thousandth as much oxygen as the air?
Here you’ll learn about all this and much else in simple terms you don’t have to be a scientist to understand. You’ll also share, through my eyes, glimpses of lake life that may call to mind experiences you’ve had, or would like to have, on your favorite body of water.