Beach

Beach: noun; “a pebbly or sandy shore, especially by the ocean between high- and low-water marks”

Yes, I live in the midwest. Yes, I have a sailboat. Oh, where do I sail that boat, you ask? The beach, of course (where else?!). Yes, again, I live nowhere near the ocean, and yes, still, I go to the beach (where I spend my days sailing).

Some say that my beach is not a beach; how can you live by the beach if it’s a lake? Isn’t it weird that the water doesn’t taste salty? What do you mean you can’t see the other side, aren’t lakes small and full of algae? Are you sure you can sail on it? Oh, there’s sand…?

*key words found in definition: “especially”… Lake Michigan is still a shore, some parts pebbly, others sandy, and there are definitely water marks.

Anyone else want to debate whether or not I live near the beach? Lake Michigan is a lake, but the freshwater waves are (just about) as powerful and beautiful as any ocean I’ve ever visited. And, we don’t have to worry about sharks or jellyfish! You can even surf Lake Michigan, although you have to be within a designated surf area. Lake Michigan has fondly been dubbed the “Third Coast”, because that’s what it is, the in-between of the East and the West coasts, a third opportunity for water related thrill, a welcoming invitation for water fanatics to come and play in its luxuriously fresh waters. Welcome to my beach!

Mountain “Tidal” Pools

I love the ocean. I also love the mountains. Upon first glance, mountains and oceans really don’t have much in common. And, actually, they are kind of opposites. Mountains reach far into the sky whereas the ocean hides its depths down to the sea floor. By this virtue, mountains have been explored and climbed, most peaks reached at one time or another. On the other hand, there is still so much of the ocean that we may never know; the vastness of the oceans offers mystery and history, the majority of which is beyond human exploration’s reaches.

As opposite as they are, the mountains and the ocean share at least one similarity, and that is the diversity of life they support. Growing up, I spent hours exploring tide pools, jumping from rock to rock on the Atlantic Coast, exploring the treasures of the tide. The little pools of seawater were filled with creatures and plants, keeping my curious mind occupied as the tides slowly came in and then receded again. These microcosms came to  mind again not at the beach, but when I was 7,500 feet above sea level in the Alps.

Between my recent time spent in the Swiss Alps and foothills of the Black Forest (as well as studying the biodiversity of the region), I have learned that on and under just one rock, there can be multiple species of mosses, tons of different lichens, various “cushion plants”, and several types of grasses. When examining one specific rock for an assignment, a classmate of mine (also an avid ocean lover) compared it to a tide pool. Yes, one is underwater and the other is found where the air is thin, but they share the same basic principles that come along with a microhabitat. At first glance, it’s just a little water, or it’s just a rock, but looker further, notice the beautiful details of the space filled with life, and so much to discover.

 

Weekend of Adventure

I had the most active weekend, and it was amazing. It is so easy here to get outside and just DO! With a day trip to Konstanz, Germany on Saturday and a bike trip to France on Sunday, it was a weekend packed with adventure and sunshine.

Slightly limited by proximity of Freiburg to “cool” and quick places to explore, we kept our Saturday day trip relatively local. Lake Konstanz was a two-hour bus ride away, taking us to a gorgeous lake on the border of Germany and Switzerland. The bus stop is in the middle of town with not much to see, other than the quaint and historic town, one of the few in Germany that completely survived WWII. As great as the city was in the hazy morning, we were looking for water. We eventually found the harbor, and then walked an hour to the beach. With views of Switzerland and a lake full of sailboats, the day was perfect. We filled the hours swimming in the clear turquoise water, playing beach volleyball, watching the sailboats, and exploring the city.

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The following day, we rode bikes to France! With no particular route in mind, we actually ended up biking in a circle around Freiburg before getting back on track to head to France. We rode due north, and then due west, riding past the Dreisam River, through several orchards and vineyards, around a mountain, and weaving through various small towns. We arrived in Breisach am Rhein around lunchtime, a perfect spot for an outdoor lunch and ice cream! We then rode over the Rhein River and into France, and sat by the Rhin (the French spelling of the river), watching swans and looking out at Germany. After riding through some small French towns, we turned back and followed actual signs back to Freiburg. The view riding back was just as amazing at the idea of going to biking to  France… The mountains radiated blue in the distance, and the crisp smell of fall filled the air. We ended up at the top of a hill, surrounded by vineyards, with a view of Freiburg. It was an exhausting trip, we biked more than 50 kilometers, but it was so worth it and it was an excellent adventure!

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Summer Highlights

A picture is worth a thousand words, and since I’ve been a bit short with my words lately (traveling is not friendly towards consistent blogging!), here is a visual representation of some of my favorite memories from the summer! From Virginia, to the north shore of Chicago, all the way to Greece, summer is coming to an end as I start classes on Monday…

 

Experiencing Greece

I will be spending this next semester in Freiburg, Germany, studying the sustainability of the city, as well as spending some time in the Black Forest and the Swiss Alps. I started my semester abroad with a slight detour with a quick trip to Greece. With two of my close friends, we started in Athens, spent some time on the island of Santorini, and then hopped over to Mykonos. I have never seen water so blue or so clear! I also hadn’t realized that Greece is very mountainous, and also fairly dry. It was not quite as I had pictured, or expected. The white houses with blue shutters were pristine and picturesque, but they do not cover all of the islands. We got lost so many times, and I have found that the Maps app on my iPhone is not always correct, and does not understand the twisting and turning cobblestone streets of Greece. 

One thing that surprised me was the cheap price of bottled water (we didn’t drink the tap water). However, it made sense that water costs next to nothing, because I only saw one single water fountain throughout all of our travels. None existed in the airports, or along the street, just one at the top of the Acropolis (thank goodness)! There were also very few trash cans around the street, making it hard to dispose of garbage, and many empty water bottles, and there were very few, if any, recycling receptacles. In addition, the gorgeous water was dotted with plastic drifting through the rocks, side by side with the little fish that nibbled my feet.  I am not complaining about my visit to Greece, just expressing some surprise! One might think that those living on islands, surrounded by water, would be a bit more cautious of polluted waters and sustainability, but that did not seem to be the case. Overall, though, Greece is gorgeous, and an amazing spot to visit! 

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Pristine waters at one of the beaches. Not pictured: plastic floating around, getting stuck on the rocks.

Coral Quiz

I received an email today with a quiz asking me “what kind of coral” I am…. I had not ever considered comparing myself to any species of coral, let alone considered one with which I might share commonalities.

Take the quiz if you are curious about your coral connection, or you’re looking for some fun facts about coral (sponsored by the Nature Conservancy). Corals are a great “indicator species”, showing signs of changes in the ocean and helping to predict the health of the oceans and the life within. Although they do not have much mobility, corals are living animals, and are very affected by increasing water temperatures and changes in their local environment.

PS- According to the quiz, I am similar to Bubble Coral!

Swimming in the Rain

We heard the rain before we saw it. We saw it before we felt it. The droplets flew across the trees as they made their way toward us, like a rogue wave crashing up onto a beach. The raindrops jumped across the water of Lake Megunticook, pouring into its surface until all of a sudden, we were in the middle of a torrential downpour. We had been swimming just 5 minutes before, hoping that the weather would hold off. When it became clear that the rainstorm was approaching, very quickly, all the cousins and I scurried out of the water and ran up (taking with us anything that does best when dry) to the cottage. We were watching from the porch, when one cousin after another made their way back down to the dock and jumped into the water. We were already wet, why not continue swimming, despite the rain?! There wasn’t any lightning, and rumor has it that water feels warmer when it’s raining. We swam around for a while, then made our way across the lake to the beloved “jumping rock”. Due to the rain, the lake had completely emptied of water-goers, leaving the rock waiting for those brave enough to jump off. 

As we swam across, the water was like nothing I had ever experienced. The sky and the water were joined by the raindrops that bounced off the surface before joining into the vastness of the lake. When I ducked my head underwater, I could hear the rain falling into the lake. It was amazing and spectacular. Who says rainy days can’t be fun?! 

Of course, the lake is just one part of my love for Maine. Many people don’t even realize that Maine even has lakes. The main attraction is the ocean- quintessential Maine on the coast. The water is crisp and clear, and mid-Coastal Maine is beautifully rocky. While I love the lake, the Atlantic Ocean is one of the coasts that connects my life, and I could spend hours gazing out at the sea. The hikes are amazing, as are the views of both lake and sea from the tops of the cliffs. I love everything about Maine, and it is ultimately the water that keeps me coming back. 

Book Review: Blue Mind

I love water. It turns out, that tons of other people love water, too! In fact, the calming effects of water are so prevalent that someone decided to write a book about the psychology of humans’ love of water. Blue Mind, characterized as “the surprising science that shows how being near, in, on, or under water can make you happier, healthier, more connected, and better at what you do”. Written by Wallace J. Nichols, the book delves deep into the human brain and looks at the pathways that enforce our attraction to the water.

The book compares tons of studies, all of which are incredibly interesting and informational. However, all 278 pages prove the same point: humans love water, there’s tons of science to back it up, and water seems to have a positive effect on the brain. Although this is part of why the book was written, to compile all of the research done on the human brain and water, it is a bit repetitive. It is not easy to simply recall one of the many studies done, especially when explaining to friends what you are reading, and the general gist of the book.

The book is fascinating. The science is fascinating. But it is a very long read. As a science major, I knew some of the basis for the studies, and techniques used, and it definitely helped me understand and interpret some of the information.  If you are looking for a highly scientific review on the brain and water, this is the book for you! Otherwise, just know that your love for water is  biological!

Fish Hotels

In efforts to revitalize the Chicago River and attract fish that were once abundant in the area, “Fish Hotels” have been installed along the River Walk . An organization called Friends of the Chicago River came up with the idea as an aquatic life restoration project. The first fish hotel was installed in 2005, with additional locations installed in 2012. Appearing as floating gardens in the river, the islands add greenery to the concrete jungle of the city. In addition to increasing the fish population of the river, which in turn can be an indicator of the health of the waterway, the fish hotels are meant to pique interest of others and raise awareness for river conservation.

Over a century ago, during the reversal of the river in efforts to reduce pollution of Lake Michigan, the Chicago River was dug deeper to better accommodate shipping and transportation. This cleared out many of the preexisting fish habitats, which in turn diminished the amount of fish in the river. The goal of these “hotels” is to attract and sustain fish to increase aquatic diversity in the river. Next time you’re along the river (which by the way, the river walk is beautiful and has awesome restaurants!), look out for these fish hotels!

PS – Follow me on Instagram! @connectingcoasts

Coastal Connection

On our lake coast, on the North Shore of Chicago, connections are being made between a local shop in our beach town and local organizations for the greater good of our water. 600NS is a new clothing line (hats, bags, shirts + stickers!) and is tribute to our Third Coast. For every purchase, $1 is donated to Surfrider Foundation, a national group with a local Chicago chapter, dedicated to protecting beaches and coasts across the country. The t-shirts are soft, the stickers are cool, and the beaches benefit, what’s not to love?!

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Share Wilmette – 600NS

Surfrider Foundation