Every Mother’s Day, I take a walk along the lake.
Some years, blue waters mirror blue skies, scattering light across small waves. I find myself stopping a lot on those walks, head tilted toward the sun. I feel it all: warmth, joy, awed gratitude for you three babies who are no longer babies. Of course, there are also many years of strolls in dense fog, icy mist, even a drizzle that turned downpour a full mile from the car. Weather to match seasons of mothering, I’ve decided.
I go to the lake because I want to remember. The waters of Little Traverse Bay hold the seasons of your stories, too, from freshwater baptisms to first solo swims. And while, in truth, I travel this shoreline many times every week, I bring a different kind of intention to Mother’s Day.
This is a walk I take to honor the sacred space between mother, child, and the place we both grew roots. We have shared water for as long as you have existed. In our collective story, however, it is this lake that most defines us. I’ve discovered kinship (and a little fear) with a momma bass protecting her nest. You discovered freedom, venturing deeper and farther from shore as your limbs grew longer and your sense of self, stronger. Together, we’ve experienced the wonder of sipping stars, our hands scooping swaying bits of light in inky black waters. We’ve chased darting minnows, learned to float, found ourselves mesmerized by rippled sand and smooth stones. Together, we’ve become heart-bound to this place, like so many generations before us.
This year on Mother’s Day, I’m going to walk thinking about that word: generations. As the three of you grow—one an adult, one a teen, and one a pre-teen—I find myself waxing poetic a little less about the mess and fragility of daily life. I still dwell on sweet memories of baby feet lifting quickly from cold water. But mostly, I think about your futures. I imagine the first time you’ll bring your children to this lake. I want it to be a touchstone for you, always.
And because I’m a mom, I also worry.
As much as I’d like to believe Lake Michigan will always run in your veins, I can’t ignore the truth: threats to our Great Lakes—20-percent of Earth’s available fresh surface water, you are always quick to remind me with pride—seem to increase each year. The same is true for the groundwater that flows from our taps and the big stone foundations in town, built wide enough for two, or four, or six people to enjoy at once. We know there are aging pipelines and corporations syphoning away public waters for profit. There are already more than 2,300 contaminated sites with restricted groundwater use in the state. Infrastructure and policy updates are desperately needed. There will continue to be growing pressure on the Great Lakes basin because of climate change.
It almost feels like too much to combat. Almost.
At a recent Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council awards ceremony, one of our community’s elders, Frank Ettawageshik, talked about what it means to be a “good ancestor.” As wise words tend to do, this phrase stitched itself into my muscles and bones. So too did Frank’s message about doing good work to protect what we love, about thinking seven generations ahead, to ensure the place we leave behind will still thrive for children who’ve yet to be imagined.
To be a good ancestor is a call to action for all mothers, and for those of us who have raised our children alongside these Great Lakes, the echo back is clear: we must be water protectors. We must ensure, my dear ones, the waters of your youth will still be the world’s best reset button when the next generation of crabby toddlers or angsty teens is ready to jump in, dive under.
When I go for my walk this Mother’s Day, I’ll take a little time to float in the memories: the afternoon you skated on the harbor, a thaw and refreeze making a perfect, smooth, blue-green glass ice; the goosebumps on your arms as you begged for one more minute in the bay long past twilight; the holy silence we fall into each time we listen to the aches and groans of shifting ice or lapping waves. I will pause to hold these moments, because they are fuel for the work of protecting what we hold dear.
This is my promise to you: I will never stop learning to be a better steward of freshwater resources. I will invite other mothers and grandmothers to stand up and speak up on behalf of our water. Together, we can educate and empower. We can celebrate the solutions-based work and leadership organizations like FLOW have to offer. We can always make time for one more jump in the lake.
We can be good ancestors.
Kate Bassett is FLOW’s development director. She has been a storyteller, community builder, and passionate advocate for the Great Lakes since moving to northern Michigan 18 years ago. As the editor of the Harbor Light News in Harbor Springs for nearly two decades, Kate has worked to connect people, celebrate a sense of place, and create partnerships to improve economic, environmental, and educational collaborations in the region.