My Watermark is Lake Superior in Thunder Bay, Northwestern Ontario.
The Great Lakes have about 20% of the world’s freshwater. Lake Superior is the headwater of the Great Lakes and it’s absolutely beautiful. It doesn’t have very large populations: a few people in Duluth, a few in Thunder Bay, and a few other small towns. It’s the biggest and most beautiful lake in the world.
When I was about 5 years old and people would ask what I wanted to be when I grow up, having read lots of Canadian wilderness books, I would say: I’m going to be a biologist, a forrester, a bush pilot, a trapper, a wilderness guide, and I’m going to build a log cabin and live in it in the woods. And that’s exactly what I did!
When I was 30 years old I quit a great job running most of the environmental programs for Connecticut, and moved first to a tepee, then to a log cabin in the woods – I lived there in the wilderness for two years. I then came to Thunder Bay to lobby for a large wilderness reserve north of Armstrong, and it’s now one of the largest in the world. At first, I thought it might take me 5 years – I had a history of environmental lobbying in the U.S. – and instead, it took me 25 years. It turned into a long term project.
My favourite spot on the Great Lakes in the area between Duluth, Minnesota, along the north shore of Lake Superior, all the way to Sault Ste. Marie on the other end. It is the most amazing piece of real estate. It was torn out by the glaciers, and the north shore is very rocky and precipitous, has lots of islands, and is very spectacular. The drive from Sault Ste. Marie along the north shore of Lake Superior to Thunder Bay is one of the most beautiful drives in the world.
Water is life; it’s that simple. The only reason there’s life on earth is because of water. Human are mostly made of water, and without water, there wouldn’t be any kind of life. But it’s also aesthetic. I think we’re hardwired, through hundreds of thousands of years of living, camping, hunting and gathering near water. And so where do we congregate now? The world’s great cities, campsites, folk concerts, are usually by water. We love water; we swim in it, we drink it, we paddle on it, and water’s important to all of us.
When I was in highschool, I read “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson. It was a mind altering book about conservation and pesticides, and one of the first books published that made us think about interconnected ecosystems and our impact on the environment. I went on in my early 20’s to be in charge of pesticide registration for the state of Connecticut and I promulgated regulations to ban (the pesticide) DdT. The Governor wasn’t happy about it, and when the Governor tried to bully me out of it, as a young, confident man, I said: “well Mr. Governor, you have a hard choice, you can back me on this or you can fire me”. And he didn’t fire me.
Connecticut banned DdT, and then New York, California, and later Canada. It’s really a success story. Early on I had a backbone, and I’ve always said the answer to persistent, toxic substances is persistent environmentalists.