Book Summary

For Love of Lakes

We say we love our lakes yet we not only allow but participate in their deterioration.  Despite our professed love, nationwide more than 43 percent of surveyed lakes and 80 percent of urban lakes do not meet water quality standards.  Aquatic ecologist Darby Nelson’s puzzlement with this paradox finally bubbled over, leading him to set out on a lake journey to try to gain understandings.  His cut-off blue jeans and soggy tennis shoes journey of paddling and wading, listening and sniffing, turning over stones and touching, took him to large lakes and small, from Minnesota to Canada, New England, and lakes in between seeking answers

He has written a book describing his discoveries.  For Love of Lakes is published by Michigan State University Press.  The book weaves a delightful tapestry of history, science, emotion, logic, and lake natural history for all who love lakes or enjoy nature writing. For Love of Lakes is an affectionate account documenting our species’ long relationship with lakes—their glacial origins, Thoreau and his environmental message, and the major perceptual shifts and advances in our understanding of lake ecology.  This is a necessary and thoughtful book that addresses the stewardship void while providing improved understanding of our most treasured natural feature.

Darby’s background in science and teaching initially led him to expect the paradox arose because of peoples’ lack of understanding of how aquatic systems worked, that with expanded informational programs, our behavior toward lakes might improve, that inadequate knowledge could easily result in inadvertent actions that degrade lakes.

Nelson learned that though information can be helpful, there is more to the paradox than lack of education.  A plethora of other factors can and do influence our behaviors toward lakes:

  • Our strong innate landscape preferences.
  • Our inability to fully perceive a lake because we can only see the shore and the lake surface, but not the 99 percent or more of a lake that is hidden from view.
  • Our tendency to see what we want to see and hear what we want to hear.

Also, public health studies show that education efforts have failed miserably to change behavior compared to the much greater success of emotional engagement.  Public health expert, Valerie Curtis, argues that “to break unhealthy habits, campaigns need to target emotions, because they are the decision makers.  Where the heart leads, the habits will follow.”  Lake stewardship campaigns might well learn from the experience of the public health folks.

For Love of Lakes speaks from the heart of the author to the heart of the reader and so has the potential to change behavior toward better lake stewardship.

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