River Voices: Jane Lindelof
I was born in Duluth, Minnesota and grew up along the south shore of Lake Superior in northern Wisconsin. I barely have a childhood memory that doesn’t involve the water, from long summer days on the beach to canoeing down the Brule River to ice fishing inland lakes with my dad, almost all our recreation was centered on the water. As a child I yearned to see the ocean, excited by promises of “There’s nothing like seeing it for the first time. You won’t believe how big it is.” When I put my toes into the Pacific for the first time at age 10, I remember feeling a tad bit underwhelmed, thinking, “This doesn’t seem that much bigger than the Lake.” The sand dollars were cool, though.
I got married in my early 20s, and my husband and I moved to Washington State, where I not only learned that the people there considered us refugees from what’s known as “flyover country,” they also thought of our home as “landlocked.”
“I could never live in a landlocked place,” a new friend said to me. Having lived most of my life split between northern Wisconsin and Minnesota, I felt like I couldn’t adequately explain how wrong they were. Landlocked in a place where water was everywhere? The waters of coastal Washington were beautiful, but I missed having my choice of uncrowded swimming holes – places where you didn’t need to know a homeowner on a lake in order to spend a day on the water.
Living in these places, these gorgeous places full of natural wonder, made us realize that we loved a specific kind of nature – we wanted our children to grow up in a place where freshwater was plentiful, accessible and safe.
After the birth of our daughter, we moved to a resort town in Idaho at the edge of Payette Lake, where 75% of the houses were vacant most of the year. Extravagant vacation homes packed the shore of the lake. Even miles from it, people had cabins to escape the desert heat in Boise two hours to the south. I didn’t understand why anyone would want a cabin so far from water, but then I realized that five or ten miles from a lake – to an average Idahoan – wasn’t far from the water at all. When you grow up surrounded by lakes, streams, rivers and the greatest of the Great Lakes, you take these things for granted. Payette Lake was breathtaking against its mountain backdrop, and we’d take our tiny boat out on it to troll for catch-and-release lake trout – locals would warn you not to eat the fish.
Living in these places, these gorgeous places full of natural wonder, made us realize that we loved a specific kind of nature – we wanted our children to grow up in a place where freshwater was plentiful, accessible and safe. When I was pregnant with our second child, we decided to move back to our “landlocked” homeland, excited that our kids would get to experience the same kind of childhood we were so fortunate to have had, one full of bluegills caught at the end of docks, cannonballs off of pontoon boats and the call of a loon never losing its magic no matter how many times you hear it.
Coming back home as an adult, though, I realized that the waters I love so much aren’t a guarantee. Living in Duluth, I was shocked to read that nearly 60% of Minnesota lakes are impaired. Here in the north, we still enjoy the kind of nature I want my kids to experience, but that’s not the reality for all of Minnesota’s children. Unchecked deforestation will lead to waters that may still be beautiful to look at, but you won’t want to eat the fish in them, and you won’t let your children play in them. I’ve lived in places where the public boat launches are few and far between, and where jumping off the end of a dock is a luxury for the few who can afford a vacation home.
Unsustainable development and agricultural practices are already changing our way of life in this state, and it’s not limited to the southern part of the state. Minnesota loves heading “up north,” but we need to think about what it is we love about the up-north experience – in Minnesota, “north” is not simply a direction you take on I-35. We love being up north because it still holds the heart of what we love about this state – nature that is plentiful, accessible and safe. But the north won’t stay this way without our help. Minnesotans need to ensure that conservation remains a priority at the Legislature, and that’s why I’m proud to be an organizer for northeastern Minnesota.