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Great Lakes by Dave Dempsey

Dave is senior advisor at FLOW, a Traverse City based nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the waters of the Great Lakes basin using public trust principles.

On the first camping trip of my life in the summer of 1981, at the age of 24, half a dozen environmental advocates from the Sierra Club persuaded me to strap on a backpack and walk eastward with them into the back country of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan. As we neared our campsite on the overnight excursion, the sky over Lake Superior, to our left, grew troubled, and thunder rolled far out over the waters. The storm bypassed our resting place, and soon the clouds yielded to brilliant evening sun.

            That night I slept for the first time in a tent. After adjusting to the feeling of a thin air mattress below and thin roof above, I fell asleep. I awoke at sunrise to hear a rhythmic pounding, like the slap of a giant hand on a drum.


            Pulling on my sweatshirt and jeans, I struggled out of the tent and wandered, slack-jawed, to the edge of the great bluff overlooking Superior. No one else in our party was yet awake, leaving me alone to stare at the frigid blue waters that reached to the north like a yearning for eternity. The early morning sunlight broke into little shards of white glass on the tops of the waves that slammed against the base of the bluff.

            I thought: I want people 100 years from now, 500 years from now, to be able to behold and admire this same scene.

            After considering journalism and teaching, I know knew what my life’s work would be. I knew also I would never forget this moment.





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