Water We All About? The Inspiration Behind Water Lines

Updated: Jul 11, 2020

I grew up near Lake Michigan, one of the vast freshwater seas of the Great Lakes. My childhood summers were more water than land with day after day spent at Big Bay, the beach closest to my home. My friends and I grabbed towels and a lunch (gushers and cheez-its mostly) from our homes in the morning, came back at night waterlogged and sandy-footed.

That beach is gone. You can still go to the bluff that overlooked it, still walk the pathway to the shore of Lake Michigan. But the water line has overtaken the pier I jumped off of as a kid, it’s swallowed the sand where we would lay our towels down and now laps at the large rocks that used to be thirty feet away from the water’s edge.

A view of Lake Michigan from Milwaukee, WI.

We all have stories like these. Small reminders of changing ecosystems. Some of these are signs of natural rhythms or progress, others signs of warning. But most of them occur in the background of our awareness, a brief observation that we sometimes say aloud, more often times forget.

This project pushes back against forgetting. How have we’ve reached this ecological snapshot, this one moment in the history of the land we live on? Has land really changed since our childhood? What was it like before we were around?

Looking NW over Lake Mendota from Picnic Point in Madison, WI.

I’m now a student at UW-Madison studying Conservation Biology and English. This has brought me to the shores of Lake Mendota, a freshwater lake in the south of Wisconsin. While it’s much smaller than the lake I grew up with, the waterways connect it to a vast network of land from cities to farms. As one of the birthplaces of Limnology–the study of freshwater–Lake Mendota is one of the most studied lakes in the country. This provides us a unique long-term history of its changes, so we can remind ourselves of what it looked like in our childhood, and long before.

In Water Lines I'll be examining Lake Mendota and its connected waterways through the history of its people and ecology. As I research this summer, I'll be sharing my findings via blogs and illustrations posted here. By sharing Lake Mendota's past and stepping out of our little window of time, we can start recognizing the drastic changes our world is experiencing, and begin to understand what unwounded waterways could look like.

This is me dramatically looking over Lake Mendota from Frautschi Point.

I’m really excited to share this project. I’ve always loved lakes, but after doing research for the Center for Limnology at Trout Lake Station last summer, I’ve gotten really interested in the science around them. As an english double major, I’m looking forward to bringing these stories outside of a scientific realm and sharing them with anyone who cares about our water.

Looking over a frozen Lake Mendota from the