Water. We human mammals – those of us born without fins, anyway – spend nine months in a balloon full of the stuff, plotting our escape, then spend much of our air-breathing lives trying to at least live next to it. We pay a premium for housing as close to it as we can to a stream, lake or ocean and post signs around it announcing our success to those who must settle for looking out their front windows at our back doors.
When I was a youngster, home was on the shore of a 500 acre lake that was home to a variety of fish and fowl – Lake trout (called Togue by locals), landlocked salmon, Common loons, mergansers, Red-winged blackbirds, and humans with summer cottages gathered in clans, scattered around the shoreline.
Most people pulled their boats and docks out of the water in fall, and refloated them in spring, after ice-out – that annual celebratory event by which the ice on which we could drive trucks in winter, melted, turned to tinkling crystals, and disappeared.
In its process, the melting ice would break into huge wind-blown chunks to crush anything in their way, including the rock walls cottage owners had built to keep their abodes from falling into the lake.
At one end of the lake, the sole remnant of a Revolutionary War-era sawmill was a dam across what became Lemon Stream. The dam actually was a pair of iron channels and some heavy boards.
In spring, someone would pull a few boards, draining the lake level so the summer residents could repair their waterfront walls and properly anchor the docks to which they would tie their boats and canoes. When winter’s damages were repaired, they would put all the boards back in the channels to raise the lake level, to provide depth for motor boats tied to docks near the shore.
Down the coast in Virginia Beach, authorities have for decades trucked sand to the beaches each summer to replace what the oceans took away in the fall. This year, they are spending a reported $22 million to dredge sand from shipping channels, dumping it on the beaches to protect against hurricanes.
Unfortunately, as humans attempt to raise the land, Mother Nature, with help from some of the same humans, is raising the water level. Even a few inches of sea level rise moves hurricane storm surges far inland to wreak havoc on property whose previous access to water has been through the yards of those closer to the waves.
Eventually, annually rebuilding the coast will become prohibitably expensive. Though much is made of Central Americans coming here to escape poverty and gangs, scientists think Belize, a small nation mostly at or below sea level, and El Salvador, of which most of its perimeter is seacoast, will soon disappear beneath six feet of rising ocean.
We think we have refugee problems now.
But being far from the ocean does not imply immunity from the effects of a warming climate. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “The five Great Lakes are currently near or at record levels due to an abundance of precipitation and highlighted by extreme rainfall and snow melt over the last few months.”
Spring snowmelt annually overfills the receptacles, but levels are rising higher and earlier each year as runoff from Canada succumbs to climate warming. Scientists expect this year to break records; imagine having to wade along the top of the pier to reach the ferry.
We will need to remove more than a couple of boards to lower the water levels.