The Lost Lake

In Uncategorized on May 20, 2011 at 12:00 am

An excerpt from my Nature & Environmental Writing class. We were asked to maintain a journal about environmental concerns.

For a few years, Kylan and I have rounded North Park Lake. She runs, I bike. In summer, this is a fun, sweaty outing. In winter, we duke it out with flogging winds and clumped snow. So far, we have sprained no ankles.

          The lake isn’t much of a lake — it’s more like a serpentine pond — but I’ve always enjoyed the views. And Pittsburghers reallytake advantage of North Park. I’ve attended weddings here. I’ve seen anglers tossing lines. In mid-winter, some daring souls walk onto the ice. The only thing you can’t do is take a boat on the lake. And my girlfriend’s favorite event: The Frigid Five Mile Run.
         For Kylan, who has run two marathons and has two more scheduled, the Frigid Five isn’t much of a run. It’s more like a parade. All kinds of jocks gather together at the starting line, clad in Spandex unitards and nylon shells. Kylan is perhaps the cockiest of all: She wears Vibram Five-Fingers, which enable to run, effectively, barefoot.

         The race was a blast, and although I can’t stand running myself, I love rooting for Ky and taking photos of the racers. Ky beat last year’s time, her friends also ran well, and we hopped in the car to warm up and beat traffic. Next stop: Eat ‘n Park.
          But as we drove out of North Park, our friend Johanna pointed through the window.
          “Did you see that they drained the lake?” she said.
          “They what?”
          “They drained the lake. Like, there’s no water in it.”
We looked, and there it was — a long, winding plane where the lake had once been. The lake-bed was empty, except for a layer of snow and groups of wooden poles jutting out of the permafrost. Where had the water gone? Why would anyone do such a thing?
Given the City’s recent rash of incredibly bad decisions, I assumed this was some kind of insane affront against nature. Some crabby statesman had decided to erase an entire habitat from the face of the Earth, leaving only a desolate wasteland. How had an entire lake been removed without notice? Had there been no protest? No alarm? Indeed, how are such things even accomplished?
          I read later that draining the lake was to benefit the lake, not erase it. The lake has been supporting unbearable levels of silt, and the Army Corps of Engineers to drain the lake and cleanse it. I’ve always found this incredible, that the Corps takes on such colossal projects — what science fictioneers often describe as “terraforming,” literally revising the land.
          This is a scale that I can rarely conceive of, not only because I can’t program a VCR (I still prefer Betamax, ’cause I’m old school), but because it seems so unnaturally huge. The idea of diverting water to build dams, or “reclaiming” land using methods that even the medievals could accomplish, seems too colossal to really comprehend. Some people put satellites in space. Others drain lakes to relieve silt levels. Me? I can replace brake-pads on a Trek hybrid.
          For the moment, North Park Lake looks pretty barren, but I’ll look forward to its terraformed makeover. Water is humanity’s most precious resource, of course, and it’s almost a relief to feel its absence. If we only miss what we no longer have, then it’s nice to not have it for just a little while.

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