Rich Cohen: Tour Lake Michigan

New York Times:

To really know the lake, though, you’ve got to get in it over your head. You enter across a bed of sharp rocks — an imperfection that illuminates the perfection of the whole. The water is very clear and very cold. As you go under, the air leaves your body. Unless it’s August or September, when the water temperature climbs into the low 80s, your skin takes on a bluish tint. You swim out, not as buoyant as in a salt sea, but energized.

In America, we call it fresh water. Elsewhere, it’s sweet-water, which seems more accurate. Fifty yards out, you turn and look back. The city looms like a thunderhead. The Hancock building stands above the rest, a massive obelisk crossed by huge supports. It was the world’s sixth tallest when I was a child, but now, mostly because of Abu Dhabi’s busy hands, is out of the top 20.

The Hancock’s observation deck is where you go for the wide angle. The western windows show why Chicago was the birth place of the skyscraper. The grassland prairie is so punishingly flat, with roads going on forever, it makes sense that the people in town would build their own heights, mountains, overlooks. From the northern windows, you see the shore and the village where I grew up, as well as Wrigley Field and the Baha’i Temple in Wilmette. In the south, you see factories, smoke stacks, haze. But the big picture is east. It’s water. And water and water and water. You strain to see the other side but never will. It’s 75 miles across from Chicago to Michigan, and close to a thousand miles around.

Wildness at the edge of city -- beautiful!