“lakesense”

I grew up near the Lake Erie shore, and I have always had this… how to describe it? It’s a sense of where the lake is. A lot of people I know who grew up in the area have it. For me, it kicks in once I get within about 10-15 miles of the lake — I can feel it, and if I can feel it, I know where north is.

I don’t know if people who grow up by any body of water have this, or if it’s something about lakes, or even the Great Lakes… I’m not sure, maybe I am just the weird one. But this past weekend, I went to Muskegon, MI, with my band to play at the Association of Concert Bands performance… and after a few hours there, my lakesense kicked in. I could feel Lake Michigan, except it was to the west instead of my usual feeling of Lake Erie being to the north.

This facilitated navigation, of course, combined with a basic knowledge of the layout of the town. It was quite handy, and at the time it was a passive feeling, meaning that I didn’t even realize that lakesense is what I was feeling. However, I’ve only been to Lake Michigan once before in my life, which makes me think that it’s something about large bodies of water and being acclimated to them in some way.

I didn’t pay attention to this when I was near any oceans, but I worry that if I try to pay attention to it, I’ll become too aware of it and either miss it entirely or unintentionally fabricate it.

Does anyone else experience this?

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8 thoughts on ““lakesense”

  1. Bill Price says:

    Maybe it has something to do with a sense of topography? Generally, the direction which decreases in elevation will point to the lake.

    • parnopaeus says:

      That’s an interesting hypothesis. I don’t know if it’s topography related… I don’t get that sense in Pittsburgh, for example, although it may just be some sort of interference. The Muskegon lakeshore area was really flat, too (resulting in sand all over the place), while the Lake Erie shoreline I grew up around is full of ridges and cliff faces. It would have to be a pretty awesomely subtle sense!

  2. Kristopher says:

    I have this, but not with the Great Lakes… as you know, I grew up in Michigan, but about as far from the Great Lakes as it’s possible to get in Michigan: about 45 minutes to Lake Huron. But I spent a significant amount of time every summer “up north” at my grandparents’ house on a small, fishing lake – and there, I definitely had lakesense. The complicating factor is that in this town where my grandparents lived, there were several lakes: four that I can name off the top of my head and my lakesense always referred me to the lake I was closest to. I wonder if it has anything to do with smelling things in the air? Isn’t it true that we have a stronger sense of smell than we think we do?

    My little brother bought a house about 10 miles from Lake Michigan; next time I’m there, I’ll have to tune in and see if it kicks in for me!

    • parnopaeus says:

      I have often remarked that I can smell Lake Erie – you might be onto something there! My lakesense only kicks in with things about the size of a Great Lake – I can’t do it with rivers, or ponds, or smallish lakes (e.g. Lake Norman in North Carolina does nothing for me). Maybe it’s the smell of the large freshwater lake I’m tuning in to?

      Let me know if it works for you when you visit your brother!

  3. Natalie says:

    I’m a Clevelander, and I have it. I suspect that smell has something to do with it…or maybe not smell, maybe the feel of the air. I don’t know. Something changes when you near the Lake. I suppose my inability to articulate is support for chalking it up to “lakesense.”

  4. Katherine says:

    I think the idea of the smell, or the feel, is interesting, and certainly plausible. I’ve never really thought about it, but now that you mention it I think I also have lakesense (having grown up on a lake, 5 miles from Lake Michigan). I really can’t imagine NOT being somewhat aware of where the lake is… at least when I’m a couple of miles from it (I’m not sure mine extends as far as 15 miles). Maybe it’s the feel of the air? Definitely when I’m close to the lake (within a mile or two), I can feel it, even if I can’t see it.

  5. foreverhome says:

    I also have Lake Erie lakesense, and I also think it’s related to the sense of smell. Do you also believe when you move away from your lake, you never feel quite “normal”, or rather that you feel like something is missing day to day? I know I do.

  6. Cari says:

    I think I can smell and feel Lake Erie, but I don’t have the precise directional ability you have!

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