By Abigail Comar
I love the Great Lakes. Superior, Michigan, Erie, Huron and Ontario surround me at all times.
94,250 square miles. Their surface covers 94,250 square miles of water and they are the largest system of freshwater in the world.
However, I didn’t realize their impact on me until this year.
Over the summer, I lived in Minnesota working for the Department of Natural Resources fisheries. I was out on a different lake every day, driving a boat or wading in the water.
Minnesota is a Great Lakes state, but I was landlocked in the center of it. The closest Great Lake was a corner of Lake Superior, up by Duluth.
I never found time to visit it.
Minnesota is the land of 10,000 lakes, but I couldn’t have felt farther from the Great ones.
Something was missing.
It wasn’t until someone asked what I thought of Minnesota that I realized it. Despite being on the water every day, I missed the Great Lakes.
I was swimming, boating and handling fish all the time, but they were all at small inland lakes. I couldn’t feel the presence of the Great Lakes.
The Great Lakes have always been a part of my life.
I grew up in a Wisconsin town on the shore of Lake Michigan. My childhood was full of memories by the lake.
As a little kid, it was going to the beach with my parents and swimming with my dogs.
In school, we took field trips to the park by the lake. After running around the playground, we changed into our swimsuits and ran into the water.
As a teenager, it was jumping off piers and the base of lighthouses into the cold waters of Lake Michigan. I biked to the pier, ready to cannonball in as soon as all of my friends arrived.
Every summer, the neighboring town had a waterfront festival full of music, food, boating and swimming in the lake.
My family also spent an annual beach house summer vacation week in Michigan.
My grandparents and all my aunts, uncles and cousins crammed into one cabin on the shores of Lake Michigan or Lake Huron. We tubed, played Scrabble and hosted the family summer Olympics each year on the beach.
Every winter, we walked on the ice-covered shore out to the Menominee North Pier Lighthouse in the city of Menominee’s harbor. I played hockey, and my winter weekends consisted of driving along the icy lake coast to play in towns in the Upper Peninsula.
Breathing the crisp lake air, I’ve always felt at home near the Great Lakes.
For college, I moved to East Lansing to attend Michigan State University.
East Lansing lies near the heart of Michigan, but still I’m surrounded by the Great Lakes on almost all sides.
At any time, I can take a day trip to visit one of them, which I try to do every fall.
My friends and I road tripped to Escanaba for camping in the summer of 2021. We swam in Lake Michigan and drove to Marquette to put our feet in the freezing waters of Lake Superior.
There’s something about the Great Lakes that puts me at ease. I find comfort in knowing they’re close.
Research indicates that living near the Great Lakes has positive impacts on mental health. People who live by them are hospitalized less often for anxiety and mood disorders than those who live farther away.
When you consider all of this, my childhood near the Great Lakes and the research about their health benefits, it makes sense that I feel so uncomfortable without them.
This October, I made my annual journey to them. I took a couple of friends during our fall break to Saugatuck Dunes State Park.
It was a surprisingly warm day for that time of year, but still chilly enough to wear pants and layers for our hike.
As we approached Lake Michigan, I couldn’t help but smile. And while walking along the beach, I felt a tugging urge to slip off my shoes and stand in the water.
My friends chuckled at the sight of me standing knee deep in frigid water. I finally felt at home again.