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Notes from the Small Pond: Checking in on a great lake

Tell your friends who live in Eden Prairie and Anoka and Fargo and everywhere else but here — tell them, but not the annoying ones, that you live within minutes of one of the most accessible Wonders of the World that hasn’t yet made the List of Seven.

Lake Superior contains 3 quadrillion cubic gallons of fresh water. That’s a lot.

If one were to take all 3 quadrillion gallons, freeze them, and stack them, one on top of the other, the stack of frozen gallons would reach from here to Pluto. And back. Twelve times.

There are more gallons of water in Lake Superior than there are ants on Planet Earth. (I didn’t count all the ants, but .…)

If drained, the water in Lake Superior would flood all of North and South America to a depth of one foot.

And so on .…

Beyond the mind boggling quantitative stats, the real awesomeness of Lake Superior is qualitative. Feel-able. Not Knowable.

• • •

This past Saturday on Park Point was one of those rare and epic summer Saturdays when the temperature at Park Point is in the 90s, the water temp refreshingly bearable (unless you’re from Eden Prairie and need bathwater).

Scorching beach sand compelled hustling tip-toe-ers — dogs and humans alike — to sprint to the damp sand at the water’s edge. All manner of human shapes and sizes, along with their attending watercraft, splashed and baked, the normal tension between strangers navigating the conversation-initiation ballet, mitigated by the obvious common denominator/ice-


A pregnant and beautiful woman strolls by, ankle deep, slowly kicking water as she walks. A man — presumably her man — walks beside her, their hands clasped, swinging their pendulum cadence, both happy, their conversation muffled by the lightly drumming waves. As their proximity closes, the tension builds regarding whether to interrupt their intimate conversation, or risk seeming rude and self-absorbed. There’s no one else within 20 feet, so feigning incumbent conversation is not an option.


“Hi,” they say back, in unison, but the greeting was initiated too early and there’s too much time and space for them to cover before they are safely past, so the tension to say more, fill the void, intensifies.

“Beautiful out here today, isn’t it?”

The man nods, affirmatively and points his chin forward, perceptibly picking up their pace, their clasped hands rising like the lift bridge as he inches ahead of her, anxious to be through the Gratuitous Conversation Zone.

She drops his hand then, and stops walking. The man turns to face her, his eyebrows arched in the internationally recognized sign of Exasperation, a tattoo across his sculpted chest reads, MASON and another beneath says KARA, between them an artful, gothic ampersand.

“My God, it sure is,” she exclaims, her face beaming, and she raises both arms as if to embrace the scene, twisting slowly, back and forth, at the waist to encompass its entirety, her perfectly plump belly pointing out the specificity of her ranging span, like the beacon of a search light, scanning the horizon.

“We don’t get many of these,” seems a reasonable reply, not too engaging, but respectful of her observance and enthusiasm.

“I just can’t believe how lucky we are to live so close to this beautiful and dramatic piece of the planet.”

MASON breathes out a sigh of resignation as if to say … here we go … and effectively zips his mouth, turns his face toward Canada.

“I know. And, as far as I’m concerned, the fewer humans that get a taste of it, the better, or the next thing you know it’ll be Disneyland with a Kwik Trip on the corner.”

There’s a pause, then, something changing.

“I sure hope not,” KARA says, her countenance dampened and she turns to feel for MASON, finding his hand and taking it. “Have a great rest of the day,” she says, but her mood is lowered and the two move on, toward their own particular forever.

As they walk away, something in the barometric pressure changes and there’s a tangible drop in temperature, as if a giant, invisible refrigerator door has just been opened. People all along the beach look up from their magazines and iPhones and swivel their heads toward the water.

Something black, like wet purple ink, infuses the lake’s far horizon with its disconcerting color and the sky above it, follows suit. Suddenly, there are white caps and pitching waves where seconds before was pond calm.

People stand up. A young woman with a brood of small, yellow-haired boys watches the lake change and quickly gathers up beach toys.

“Are we leaving, Mom?” one of them asks, and she responds,

“Let’s go.”

As she turns back to them, her arms full of beach stuff, the long, blond hair on each of the boys’ heads slowly lifts off their scalps, static electricity turning their heads to dandelions.

“LET’S GO!” She booms then and leads them away like blond ducks in a row, trailing, their hair still on end.

Within minutes, the beach is empty and the sky threatens like a fist above the water, which pounds below it like a dark and annoyed woken giant.

Something inside wonders if the lake heard the point about Disneyland and Kwik Trip and it’s a smiling consideration to believe it.

Parnell Thill of Cloquet is an author and newspaper columnist. His book “Killing the Devil and Other Excellent Tricks” is available via online retailers or here at the office. Contact him care of [email protected].