High Water – The Seiche Effect


July 25, 2020. You don’t have to live on an ocean or river to experience high water. Here in the Great Lakes, it’s caused by a seiche (pronounced saysh) — an oscillating wave in a standing body of water. Folks here call it “the bathtub effect.” It’s the inland equivalent of a tide, but it arrives several times a day.

Because Camp Many Moons is at the narrow head of a long bay, the seiche effect is prominent here. The water rises (and falls) at least two feet with each event.

We watch the water rise until it laps against the metal frame of the dock and then fall until we can see its wheels. We watch it expand our little inlet as it pushes up onto the banks, and then recede until the marsh flowers and grasses are fully visible again. We watch the cedar grove at the inlet entrance turn into an island and then back into a peninsula.

We see logs and lost life jackets float by, first in one direction and then the other. Sometimes we wade in to pick up a floater, especially if it’s an interesting piece of driftwood.

The seiche also adds to the adventure of kayaking or paddling. When you go “with it,” it’s easy. When against, you need to pull hard to compensate. (Isn’t that the case with social change also! When you can go with it, it’s much less traumatic.)

Lake Superior was called “Gitchee Gumee” (big sea) by Native Americans. Although we are about 12 miles from the open sea, the seiche reminds me that it’s there. And it’s big.

The water level of the Great Lakes was historically high last year and this year’s forecast suggests the same. Will it threaten our shoreline, our camper, even our vision for this place? When combined with the severe storms that can happen any season, it’s very possible.

We do what we can to mitigate the impact. This spring, we added big rocks (which we picked and carried ourselves) to the shoreline. But the fragile trees that hang over the waterfront remind us of our fragility. Mother Nature doesn’t obey human plans. She has her own! That’s one reason I chose this place: to observe the impact of nature. And of humanity too.

It isn’t always comfortable, but it’s always educational.

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