Witnessing the watershed

From left, Ariana Hones, Marcel Hones and Kathleen Hones witness the culmination of the greater Green Lake watershed as they sit on the shore of Lake Michigan. Ariana Hones and submitted photo

by Ariana Hones

“Like the fur of the chinchilla. Like the cleanest tooth. Yes, the fishes say, this is what it feels like.”

Dave Eggers wrote that line in his essay, “What the water feels like to the fishes.”

I have poured over his musings in points of my life whenever I have wanted to understand the experiences we are raised to see as ordinary.

Such, as he describes, what water feels like to the fishes.

When I stood atop a grassy knoll on Pollack Farm next to an open pit, I found myself surrounded by the faces of farmers, shoreline owners and community members who wanted to also understand the aspects of our lives that are so common they go unquestioned:

What does healthy soil feel like when you grasp it in your hands?

What is the feeling when uncovering an alfalfa root 3 feet deep in the ground, that spreads nutrients and protects crops that will one day feed America?

I was at the Conservation Field Day sponsored by the Green Lake Association, learning about the cultivation of crops that create healthy food, which in turn creates a healthy community and environment to live in.

I experienced simulated rainfall onto patches of dirt that came from traditionally farmed soil; dirt with “no till” practices and natural prairie.

This showed how water run-off changes depending on the quality of the soil.

This was important because it demonstrated to the gathered community members how the greater Green Lake watershed is impacted by farming practices.

Stephanie Prellwitz, executive director of the Green Lake Association noted, “This water will run into Green Lake, then the Puchyan River, then to the Fox River and finally it will end up in Lake Michigan.”

All my life, I have been surrounded by fields of corn and soybeans. Growing up in a family of farmers that has tended land for generations, I had never stopped to consider this phenomenon that occurs around us each and every day, an essential part of our lives:

How does water run?

This summer, I have kayaked in Green Lake, canoed the Puchyan River, dined on the banks of the Fox River and at the end of Conservation Field Day, drove to Lake Michigan.

To bear witness to our watershed.

An ocean in the middle of the country.

Crystal blue waters with only a spot of E. coli.

On the shores of Lake Michigan with my family, I thought about Dave Eggers.

His desire to know what the water feels like to the fishes.

I thought about all the people I have come to know in my life, and especially this summer, who want the very best for Green Lake and its watershed.

I thought about all the people who made their way to the Pollack Farm for a day of learning how to do right by a small patch of land in the middle of a very big world.

The rolling hills carved by ancient glaciers, the land and water so familiar, we forget to appreciate its existence.

What does the water feel like to the fishes?

What does it feel like to us?

Perhaps, like coming home.