I recently read Dan Egan’s The Death and Life of the Great Lakes. Highly recommended to those who love the Great Lakes—and to those who don’t know much about the world’s largest reserve of freshwater. These lakes are precious, and this book describes compellingly what human meddling has wrought. Why, this book is so good, it even quotes my big brother Keith Richards.* A paraphrased passage:
If you take an ear-popping elevator ride 1,353 feet to the observation deck of the landmark Chicago skyscraper now called the Willis Tower but still known as the Sears Tower, you will have a hard time trying to explain to someone who has never seen a Great Lake the immenseness of the blue expanse below. About the best you can say is: “It looks like an ocean.” But that doesn’t capture the essential fact that the Great Lakes are not saltwater. So even that view from atop the Sears Tower doesn’t convey the vastness of the trove that is the world’s largest sweep of freshwater.
Most of all water on the planet—some 97 percent—is, of course, saltwater—basically useless to humans as sustanance or for irrigation. The sliver of freshwater left over is mostly locked up in the polar ice caps or trapped so far underground it is inaccessible. This leaves the Great Lakes holding roughly 20 percent of the world’s freshwater.
But that is just a number. Using words, it is impossible to even scratch at the depth of this natural bounty. Unless you’re Keith Richards.
“You go and look at Lake Superior, and you say, ‘Look at all that water,'” Richards once mused. “And that’s just the top!” Indeed. Lake Superior is in places more than a quarter mile deep.
*Keef, my consummate fellow Sagittarian, rarely fails to speak his mind, always calling it as he sees it.