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Rich James: The big lake’s wild side gives one pause

Rich James

Rich James

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Updated: January 23, 2012 3:49AM



It was one of the most awesome things I’ve seen in all my years around here.

Almost as thrilling as watching the Chicago Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup in 2010.

Almost as exciting as watching Barack Obama get elected president of the United States in 2008.

And who can forget the feeling of the 2005 Chicago White Sox winning the World Series.

It was just a couple of weeks back on Labor Day and we headed out to the Indiana Dunes State Park.

This wasn’t for sun and sand and swimming.

No, it was pretty chilly. The temperature struggled to make 62 degrees and at times it seemed the wind velocity matched the temperature.

This day was a whole lot more special than if it was 80 with a gentle breeze and a flat lake.

This was special all right. And it cost a mere $5 to get into this awesome show.

We knew the lake was rough when we hit the guardhouse. The sign said something about rip currents and that you better stay out of the water.

As we headed to the beach the wonder of nature quickly became apparent.

Sand was blowing horizontally, biting into the skin.

And the lake was as magnificent as it ever has been in the decades I have been going to the dunes.

There were waves at least 8 feet high and spectacular whitecaps all the way to the horizon.

Wave upon wave thundered to the shore.

As if that wasn’t enough of a show, a glance toward Chicago made it even better.

Because the strong north wind cleared the air, the Chicago skyline seemed close enough to reach out and touch. You could almost read the names on the buildings.

And just to add to this wonderful sight, an ore boat — which seemed about three city blocks long — departed from the steel mills and began slowly slipping between the waves heading north over Lake Michigan to Lake Huron to Lake Superior to Minnesota for another load. It just made me think of commerce and jobs and steel.

Given the enormity of Lake Michigan that day, you had to wonder if the boat would make it.

No one was in the water. After all, the sign next to the pavilion warned about the rip currents and added, “Death can occur.” Wow!

And death has occurred. Not just for those in the lake when they shouldn’t have been, but for those on the thousands of boats that have sunk in the Great Lakes over the years.

Also adjacent to the pavilion, there’s a 4,000-pound propeller from the J.D. Marshall, a 154-foot steamship that sank 300 yards off the shore on June 11, 1911. Four died.

The ship first hauled lumber and then was converted to a sand hauler. It’s still at the bottom of the lake.

That got me to thinking about the Edmund Fitzgerald that sank in Lake Superior on Nov. 10, 1975, killing all 29 on board. Sadly, it was to be the ship’s last voyage of the year.

The Fitzgerald was loaded with 26,000 tons of taconite — a low-grade iron ore used for blast furnace reduction. It was headed for Detroit. Sailing near the Fitzgerald that day was the Arthur M. Anderson, which was part of the U.S. Steel fleet.

After consuming the magnificance of the lake for an hour or so, we headed into the woods, which somehow were tranquil, with barely a wisp of air.

We’re lucky. We often talk about the grass being greener in other parts of the state or country, but it isn’t. We’ve got it good and too often we just don’t know it.

We are fortunate to have that lake and its many moods.

And it only cost $5.

Rich James’ column
appears on Fridays.



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