We throw around the term "the lake" without hesitation. It's close by, it's always been there, so it gets taken for granted. The lake is just a regular part of our world.
But a visit from a man who lives in a very dry part of the world served as a reminder of just how fortunate we are. Most of the people on the globe are very jealous of what we simply refer to as "the lake".
In Israel, water is only slightly less valuable than gold. It is a resource to be guarded, secured and protected. When a guest from that arid place got his first look at Lake Erie, he was stunned, and left speechless. He had never seen a freshwater reserve of that size and magnitude.
In his country, the largest freshwater lake is the Sea of Galilee, just 33 miles in circumference, and about 64 square miles in area. Lake Erie is 10,000 square miles of water, shared by the U.S. and Canada.
This new friend from a far away land wondered aloud how one place on the planet could be blessed with so much water, while so many other areas engage in a desperate daily struggle just to get enough water to survive. As our discussion progressed and he learned of the role of Lake Erie in the freshwater chain we call the "Great Lakes", he seemed a bit overwhelmed by it all.
He expressed no jealousy, but just seemed puzzled by our apparent lack of excitement over our incredibly good fortune, living on the shore of such a fresh water Fort Knox.
A look at the raw numbers backs up his questions. And it reinforces the notion that we probably fail to recognize the "great" in our Great Lakes.
The Great Lakes Erie, Huron, Superior, Michigan and Ontario hold six quadrillion gallons of fresh water. For those of us who did not pay close attention in math class, a quadrillion is a one followed by 15 zeros. So the Great Lakes hold six of those.
That is one-fifth of the fresh water in the entire world. Only the polar ice caps and Lake Baikal in Siberia hold more. Lake Baikal is the world's oldest lake at 30 million years old, and its deepest, with an average depth of more than 2,400 feet and some areas in excess of 5,000 feet deep.
But Baikal and the ice caps are located in remote, desolate places, while the Great Lakes are wrapped with population centers and carve their route to the ocean right through the American bread basket.
The visitor from Israel was further astounded when he learned that the Lake Erie he was gazing upon is actually the smallest of the Great Lakes in volume. In our end of the lake, the Western Basin, the average depth is just 24 feet, while the lake as a whole has an average depth of about 62 feet.
His perspective was educational and informative. Coming from a part of the world where not a drop of water goes to waste, he was perplexed by our failure to collect runoff from our roofs, the inability of our system to treat and re-use major portions of the water we access, and by the lack of a need to irrigate anything.
But it was the expanse of the Great Lakes, the mass of water, and the sheer volume that kept him shaking his head. There is enough water in the Great Lakes to cover all of the continental United States in about 10 feet of water.
This man comes from a place historically known as The Holy Land. Its story has been well told, and he will live no where else on the earth, regardless of the political, security and natural resource challenges Israel faces.
But he left us with an interesting thought, a question for the ages. Standing on the Miller Ferry pier at the tip of Catawba Island, and looking out at all of that freshwater, my friend asked simply: "Do you know how blessed you are?"
The hope is that we do know.
Matt Markey is the A-T outdoors columnist.
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