A few months ago, when our magazine’s staff started putting together this month’s issue, we had a number of discussions about what should be included in the cover story, a piece that is essentially a big wet kiss to the state’s most iconic summer resource, its lakes. We wanted the story to be fun and informative, of course, but we also wanted to capture some sense of how emotionally connected Minnesotans are to those waters.
One way to do that, we figured, was to get some talented Minnesota writers to describe their most memorable lake-related experiences: the most dramatic, funny, affecting memories of being in, on, or around the water. (It’s Minnesota, right? Everybody has a lake tale.)
Yet in the process of thinking about what our contributors might say, it dawned on me that perhaps this wasn’t going to be as easy as I anticipated. After all—and I really hate to admit this—I myself have no Lake Story.
I should clarify that I don’t have an interesting lake story. If you want me to describe in minute detail how I learned to water-ski (poorly), or where I caught my first decent-sized fish (northern pike, Mille Lacs, circa 1986), or my reaction when I saw my first eelpout (freaked out), I am happy to oblige. I would also expect you to fall into boredom-induced catatonia in about seven seconds. I’ve got nothing dramatic. No lessons learned. No Tuesdays-with-Morrie sort of moments.
I blame this on my parents, of course. I come from a long line of Great Indoorsmen. It’s not that my folks didn’t like to be outside. It’s just that they preferred there be a ball or a racquet or a pro-shop involved. Enjoying “nature” pretty much meant letting us kids hit the outdoor pool at the Rochester Holiday Inn.
But then I started to think that it wasn’t my experience that was lacking—it was my recall. I simply couldn’t remember how I learned life’s most important lessons at some lake whose name I can’t bring to mind. So I did what I always do when I need some help salvaging memories: I called my sister.
Me: “I don’t have a lake story. Am I just forgetting, or were we really that lame?”
Sister: “We really weren’t cabin people.”
Me: “I know, but there must have been something.”
Sister: “Well…I tripped and fell off a dock when we were up at that place with Mom’s family.”
Me: “Really? I don’t remember that. Were you drunk?”
Sister: “I was 8.”
Thankfully, not everyone is as experience-deprived as me, and our staff eventually managed to find some people who do have lake stories. People like our columnist Mary Jo Pehl, and novelist Heather McElhatton, and former Sports Illustrated columnist Steve Rushin.
They all had excellent lake stories: funny, sad, odd, or interesting lake memories, anecdotes that, I think, evoke the sort of connection so many Minnesotans have with the water—and with summer itself. Even if, sadly, they don’t involve eelpout.