Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Alewife blog.

I was cleaning out some e-mail this morning, a job like warring with pesky kudzu, when I came across something I'd sent to my staff (both of them) on March 18:

"An editor's pet peeve:

"Human beings never, never, never 'state' anything, unless they are UN officials or members of the French government.

"At least in this magazine."

So there we were, headed north on Lincoln Memorial Drive, which is Milwaukee's equivalent of Chicago's Lake Shore Drive, except that it's more of a parkway, with Lake Michigan to the east and a long string of parkland to the west.

"There's a beach! There's a beach!" Lilly said this with an enthusiasm I'm not sure I still have, or could have, or should have, since so many years have passed since I was five.

"We'll come back to it," I said, focusing on the road. It was a dangerous road, not because of the traffic exactly, but because either side was so nice to look at -- swaths of new green trees on the one, a hazy lake-blue horizon, finer than any Turner painting, on the other.

"Daddy, I have an idea. Let's go to the beach! That's a good idea."

"We'll come back to it." I had noticed a nice flat beach out of the corner of my eye. More than one, actually, plus a marina, and some areas where the shoreline was marked by huge squarish boulders, much like in parts of Evanston, Ill. Yuriko had also spied a coffee shop with al fresco seating. People were out and about, walking and bicycling under sunny skies and safe in the knowledge that most of them wouldn't have to work the next day.

"Daaaaaa-dy. I wanna go to the beach!"

The road arc'd away from the lake, just before Milwaukee proper peters out, and connects with a road lined with many fine old houses, and I followed this for a time, a short time --

"The beach, Daddy, the beach!"

There’s no lobbyist in the world like a five-year-old. I turned around and we made out way back to the beach -- McKinley Beach, just north of McKinley Marina. It's a broad, open beach of white sand, but the thing that amazed me was the parking lot. On a Sunday, a warm holiday-weekend Sunday, the parking lot wasn't full. Not even close. This is a distinct difference from the Chicago lakefront, where every available parking space is unavailable all the time, except on zero-degree days in February. Perhaps it's the difference between a CMSA of 9.1 million and one of 1.7 million people.

We really weren't prepared for the beach, and we refused to change Lilly into a swimsuit, since we rightly guessed that the lake was still very cold. It didn't matter. Lilly was in her element, collecting little shells, throwing pebbles in the water, and blowing soap bubbles. Yuriko and I sat around, with Ann in her car seat sleeping, and that wasn't too bad either. We had all the elements at hand: earth, in the form of sand; air, represented by a steady wind from the lake to keep things cool; fire, which was the Sun hanging overhead; and water, everywhere to the east, making gentle little waves.

And we had dead fish. Littered along the very edge of the beach, and in the water immediately off shore, were scores of lifeless silver fish, four or five inches long. Not rotting, yet, but gross enough. Not a complete surprise, either, since I'd seen their mortified ilk on the edge of Lake Michigan in previous years.

Turns out these are alewife, an invasive species in the Great Lakes that got in after the completion of the St. Lawrence Seaway (blame Canada!). But as invasive species go, the alewife aren't like gangsters who muscle in on new territory and rub out a lot of happy-go-lucky fish -- no, they're more like the hapless Englishmen in Jamestown, not quite suited to their new environment. It seems that even minor sudden changes of water temperature kill off these fish in great numbers. Which then end up on the beach.


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