Walking around the lakes

When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time at lakes, but the idea of walking around a lake hardly every occurred to me or anyone else. This might be because the lakes were either really big (like the Great Sacandaga Reservoir) or nestled into deep sided rock canyons carved out by glaciers, and thus, not walk-aroundable. Lakes were central places, termini of inland pathways, points along long distance hikes, not things you walked around.


Eventually, I moved to Minnesota where there are probably between five and ten thousand lakes that a) are about the right size to walk around in several minutes to an hour or so and b) have a path to do so. That number could be way off, but in any event, it is a very large number.

So after being here for a couple of years, I started to become acquainted with the process as a form of geographical perambulation, socialization, and even, yes it is true, mating. My first real exposure to the charms of Minneapolis involved a visit to the rose garden along side one of these little round lakes. Later, my then significant other an I would meet daily at a certain lake that was between our places of work and walk around it. Some days, when we had the extra time we’d walk extra fast so we could get in two rotations. For our first date, my wife and I walked around a lake then went to get a beer.

I should not mislead you. Walking around the lake is not a Minnesota thing so much as a Twin Cities thing, and then, it is probably more of a Minneapolis Thing than a Saint Paul thing. Saint Paul has it’s lakes, but Minneapolis is “The City of Lakes” (thus, the name of our basketball team is The Lakers, or at least it was until they moved somewhere else), and there are several round lakes of just the right size with the path all around them. But really, when I think about it even further, I’d say that the walking around the lake thing is more of a South Minneapolis thing … because that is where almost all the lakes are in the city, and that is where the cultural behavior is most strongly manifest.

If you put my previous post on lakes together with this one, to put a longer term time perspective on it, it is not hard to imagine all these Minnesotans spinning around the rim of the lake which is really just a large mass of water ultimately flushing into the ocean.

Well, anyway, I’m pretty sure that the average person who walks around these lakes has very few thoughts of the geology, geomorphology, physical geography, and paleoclimatology that they are experiencing. For instance, with respect to lake physical form: Imagine standing along side a lake that is small enough to see the other side but big enough that you can’t quite make out the people on the shoreline across the way unless they are wearing blaze orange and jumping up and down (which is not uncommon in these parts). Now, somebody sidles up to you and says “This is a deep lake, according to this fishing map I just bought at the Mule Lake Store.”

So you look across the lake, and you think about it being deep. Imagine that. Imagine the slope, the contours, of the bottom of the deep lake, and imagine those contours being realized in your mind’s eye as the person continues, “As a matter of fact, out there, between here and that shore over there, is the deepest part of this particular lake” .. Now, the contours in your mind’s eyes deepen and steepen.

Now, ask yourself, are you even close to imagining something accurately here? And chances are, you are not.

Here’s a simple fact: In Minnesota, for the vast majority of lakes, no matter how deep they are, you can pick up a stone and with a good heft toss that stone horizontally out into the lake a distance that is close to the maximum vertical depth of the lake. Most of the lake will be less deep than the width of the average city street. The deepest part of a pretty deep lake will be about 60 feet, or slightly deeper than a city lot is wide, slightly less deep than a suburban lot is wide. Maybe the stone you throw will have to bounce a couple of times to get to that distance (depends on your arm) but I think you get the point. If the far shore of the lake is as I described above …. just that far away that you can barely make out a person … and the lake is about 30 feet deep, then it probably true that if the lake were empty and covered with mixed grassland/woodland vegetation and you were standing in the same place, you’d call it flat. Only an expert eye would recognize the stranded shoreline ringing the somewhat low spot at exactly the same elevation.

The lake is given its psychological depth, of course, by the water. Even in a clear lake it is hard to see below six to ten feet on a good day, and when one is looking through water at depth of 10 feet or more, if you can see the bottom, it is hard to estimate the depth. Of course, if you are a boater and you have a fair amount of experience, and work with soundings and maps, you can get good at this, but uninitiated, you’d probably miss-estimate. Then, if you are told “this is the deepest lake in the township” and you are out in the middle, and you see nothing but murky depth below you as you stare into the water along side the boat, one imagines a depth that is deeper than what is there. It is hard to perceive that most likely the average telephone pole would stick way up above the lake’s surface. If there was a telephone pole right in that spot.

The average person walking around the average lake in Minneapolis is ALSO walking around within a channel of an ancient, giant river. They may not have noticed driving down the bluff of the ancient river valley when they approached the lake, or the fact that they have parked in what must be the top of a sediment deposit several tens of feet thick within which huge chunks of ice were once trapped, subsequently melting and forming the lake about which they are about to perambulate. Those extinct rivers are why those lakes are there, and the whole process is linked to ancient glaciers and glacial cycles. That is probably worthy of further discussion.

(Read all the “Lakes” posts here.)

Comments

  1. #1 Cromercrox
    July 31, 2010

    Can you walk round Lake Woebegone?

  2. #2 Greg Laden
    July 31, 2010

    The identity of Lake Woebegon is a mystery, but yes. However, you will hen have to endure being the seed for a plethora of low level gossip as to why you are walking around the lake.

  3. #3 DuWayne
    July 31, 2010

    Minnesota doesn’t have a lot of lakes, any more than Michigan does. We just have a whole lot of very large and occasionally very deep mud puddles, left behind by glaciers.

    Glaciers were a lot like your average corporation. They just steamrolled through and to hell with the mess they left behind.

  4. #4 Silver Fox
    August 1, 2010

    I’ve walked around at least three lakes, maybe one or two others. Nice thoughts on imagining the contours beneath the water. I like to do that when boating, easiest to do in a canoe.

  5. #5 scidog
    August 2, 2010

    this is too much,a real major,responsible blog that talks about my South Minneapolis.not a local,free,neighborhood “newspaper” but a big time science blog.anyway we walk the lakes with and without the dogs.my wife takes a bike ride most evenings and comes back with the report on how fast she made it around Lake Nokomis.
    on the subject of lakes,shorelining by canoe the lakes in the Boundary Waters is an experience that few will ever have the chance to have but take it from me that is the way to really get a feeling for the lakes and land.on your open water side the view may go off until the far shore is a faint greenish line while on the land side only a few feet away you could be paddling thru a Zen garden of moss and twisted pines or along a smooth shore of Graywhacky billions of years old.
    i could run this on and on but i’ll stop at what i recall on a book about chaos theory and how all the irregularities where water meets every rock,driftwood,pebble,log and its odd bits and shapes and on and on would add up to the distance to the stars.

  6. #6 EricFromMinneapolis
    August 2, 2010

    The lakes here sure are nice! I’ve walked, run, canoed and kayaked around many (Calhoun, Harriet, Nokomis, Isles) in Summer, Winter, Spring and Fall.

    A new way of seeing the lakes that I’ve discovered is stand-up paddle boarding. You can rent a paddle board (surf board and extended length paddle) from the stand at Lake Calhoun for $15 an hour. The boards are very sturdy and even a beginner could figure it out in a matter of minutes. Sure, I fell a number of times… but I just couldn’t get enough of that fish tasting water!

    After you’re done stop at the Tin Fish for a variety of different fish dinners and treats.

    Heck, maybe even Julio (the bike ninja!) will be hanging out and fixing bikes for free!

  7. #7 Mal Adapted
    August 2, 2010

    Minnesota’s pre-glacial drainage patterns were mature, but the icesheets left them deranged. That explains a lot, heh.

  8. #8 Greg Laden
    August 2, 2010

    my wife takes a bike ride most evenings and comes back with the report on how fast she made it around Lake Nokomis.

    Inverse to the number of walkers and joggers on the trail, I’m sure!

    Mal, that is a nice reference, but it does have one element that ends up being misleading (but still is seen in most similar sources).

    The “mature” drainage really does not look like that depicted. The “mature” drainage shown in that reference is a drainage with a former high water flow followed by a shift to a smaller flow and infilling.

    A mature drainage would be … well, like Minnesota without the glaciers. Badlands, or a very wide and low plain, or a canyon like the Grand Canyon.

  9. #9 Mal Adapted
    August 3, 2010

    Mal, that is a nice reference, but it does have one element that ends up being misleading (but still is seen in most similar sources).

    I confess I just did a quick ‘oogle for a convenient reference. I’m from Wisconsin, and I’m somewhat familiar with the influence of glaciation on surface hydrology, but it’s been awhile. Do you have a reference you like?

  10. #10 Greg Laden
    August 3, 2010

    Actually I don’t. I learned my glacial geomorphology by a combination of working with geologists and digging in the features. with shovels and backhoes.