Transitioning from one season to another in Northeast Ohio is a study in contrasts. That fact is embodied by the mercurial personality of our most valuable natural asset, Lake Erie. From one month to another, one day to the next, the lake presents a new face as it crashes, saunters or tiptoes — depending on its mood — toward our shoreline.
During winter, the lake sheds its summer glint and becomes somber and temperamental. It reflects the relentless march of days that are black, white and shades of gray. The feeling of perpetual twilight is not an illusion. Nationally, Cleveland ranks second in winter clouds, racking up 84 cloudy days. Only Buffalo has a higher number of cloudy days (86).
In the early part of winter, it’s humbling to stand ashore and watch the angry waves whipped into a frenzy by icy Canadian winds. The lake resists and shudders against the cold air, blasting piers, defying concrete pillars to withstand their fury. The anger is palpable and ferocious.
During winter’s height, the lake is resigned and almost regal. It rolls gently under its icy blanket, resolutely journeying toward rocky cliffs and flotsam-filled beaches. One can only admire when waves throw temper tantrums against crushing chunks of ice, pushing through their unforgiving weight to make themselves known. When the waves finally give up, and blinding whiteness covers the water as far as the eye can squint, Lake Erie is an impressive tundra, inviting travelers to bravely “walk on water.”
Recent wind storms, while wreaking havoc on land, created eye-widening frozen shoreline sculptures that made national headlines. We already knew the seasonal beauty of our lake. For a brief moment, so did the rest of the world.
As winter wanes and spring struggles for a foothold, the lake once again is showing us how to adapt. The ice, which never had a firm foothold this year, is gone. In its place one day last week was a calm, barely rippling water. It was as if the water was taking a deep breath and relaxing before summer and the onslaught of boats, Jets Skis, paddle boards and swimmers. There is nothing more peaceful than Lake Erie on a sunny but cold day. The silence, broken only by an occasional chirp of a bird, is deeply calming.
Lake Erie is a wonder — and, to a certain extent, it is our wonder. Its 871-mile shoreline (part of which is not in Ohio, but we don’t have to think about that) is where nature meets nurture. We are so much better at safeguarding its health. We do that probably with selfish motives. But ultimately, we do that so our children’s children can stand atop a cliff and look across the water with admiration and wonder, just as we do in 2019.
Hopefully, they will see what we see: a source of peace, of contemplation, of joy. So don’t wait until warmer temperatures to trek to your nearest outcrop or beach. Grab a blanket, find a bench, bundle up and absorb Lake Erie. It’s a wondrous gift, regardless of the season.
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