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Ruth Einstein paddling on Lake Superior

Naked in the Lake

A Superior Adventure

September 15, 2018  |  by Bryan Pfeiffer  |  22 comments  | 

Twenty years ago, Vermont’s senior U.S. senator, Patrick Leahy, added to an obscure spending bill a single sentence declaring Lake Champlain as the sixth Great Lake. A sneaky move on Leahy’s part, the wording would have sent federal research money to Vermont.

Outrage ensued. And even though I liked the maneuver, I couldn’t support it.  As it turns out, I grew up on the Great Lakes. I knew the Great Lakes. I worked beside the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes were friends of mine. Senator Leahy, I pointed out at the time, Lake Champlain is no Great Lake. (Thank you, Lloyd Bentsen.)

I discovered that yet again when I returned to the greatest of Great Lakes — Lake Superior — for a paddling trip with Ruth. The lake’s crystalline waters (which I can drink as I swim) and ancient rock, its botany and wildlife, its Ojibwa lore and pictographs, its horizon so wide that you can sense the curvature of the earth — well, nothing compares, certainly not Lake Champlain.

Now that the fall warblers are coming (and my field season is nearly over), I have time to wonder: Can a place be burned into our DNA? And if so, if we know the place and love it like a family member or dear friend, will we care for it for as long as we walk this earth? I think so, even if we’ve moved on to love another place (like Vermont). And these places of ours need not be wild — they might be Fenway Park or an art museum or a bridge. Our capacity to love a place — and with it an experience — is great. And it’s something I intend to explore more in thought and in writing to come.

Until then, I’ll leave you with more photos and the news that Ruth and I will explore Lake Superior yet again — with you — during our presentation Naked in the Lake: A Superior Adventure on February 15 here in Montpelier. Yes, it’s another in our “Naked in …” events for North Branch Nature Center’s Naturalist Journeys lecture series (which previously brought you Naked in Norway, Naked in the Canyon and Naked in Montpelier).

In the meantime, I’ve got other talks scheduled, featuring mostly wildlife in flight. Find them on my Events Calendar.

Now, a few Superior images (the naked stuff — both the metaphor and the skinny dipping — will come during our talk in February).

  1. Lee J Adelson says:

    Naked in Dorchester will be when the Red Sox win the World Series again this year!

  2. Bill Bartlett says:

    When will we see you “naked in..” ? The me too movement wants too know.

  3. Sarah Cooper-Ellis says:

    Bryan this is beautiful. Your writing and photos are ripening and distilling. Better and better!

  4. Nancy crowe says:

    Hello Bryan.

    I love how you are always able to pull us readers in to your writing so that we have a real experience, all our own, yet woven into your words as well! My love to my dear friend Ruth whom I do hope to see sometime soon and to you as well.

  5. Wally says:

    Love the rocks!

  6. Lee Adelson says:

    There is no more magical place than the lake they call gitchigumi. For winter or summer, we both know it well. Thanks for writing about it. Can’t wait to see the “naked” parts.

  7. Donna K. Cundy says:

    You had me at skinny dipping. And that Spruce Grouse. Nor dorky at all.


  8. Sandi Fertel Reich says:

    Really well written. Proud of you!

  9. David says:


  10. Kristen says:

    Spectacular! (Have you ever seen the movie “Water Walker”?) Will look forward to hearing more about this trip.

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