Cover photo is of Put-in-Bay on South Bass Island looking west from Kelleys Island.
As my use of multiple forms of end punctuation in the title suggests, the sentence they conclude can be voiced in a declarative (.), interrogative (?), and exclamatory fashion (!).
In the past month, I’ve had two different close acquaintances, not from the immediate area, half-question/half-exclaim, “There are Islands in Lake Erie?!” (Clearly, they hadn’t read my books.) To which, I calmly replied declaratively, “There are islands in Lake Erie.”
I admit that my initial response was surprise at their surprise. On reflection, however, for the first twenty-five years of my own life — although I had lived the entirety of it less than a mile from Sandusky Bay — I had been on the water myself only a couple of times and to any of the islands just once as a child and once as an adult. The islands of the Bass Archipelago may just as well have been the Cyclades of Greece in terms of the likelihood of my visiting them. Sadly, like so many of life’s experiences, one has to be able to afford the time and money required to make the trip in person.
With the recent termination of service by the Goodtime I, the opportunity for many in the area to spend a few hours on the lake and on the islands has been severely diminished. You can read the article below to learn more about how you can help save this Sandusky and Lake Erie treasure.
There are, in fact, many locals who have never been on the lake or to any of its islands. Therefore, why was I so surprised by my acquaintances’ ignorance of their existence? I’m sure some of it is a sensitivity common to those of us who live in the so-called “fly-over states.” Many natives of New York City, for example, are completely dismissive of any island other than Manhattan and believe that all that lies between themselves and Hollywood are endless stretches of wheat and corn fields. The same attitude is not uncommon among West Coasters. We who live in those states are rightfully proud of the unique offerings of our regions, and on one hand, want to share them with the world while, on the other hand, we want to keep them to ourselves. It’s a paradox.
I think another explanation for the lack of awareness of those who didn’t grow up in or ever visit the Great Lakes region is those folks’ perception of what constitutes a lake. Erie, like all of the Great Lakes, could just as easily be identified as an inland sea. For many, however, lakes have only been experienced as relatively-small bodies of water, like many of those found in Minnesota, Michigan, and in New York State’s Finger Lakes region. Personally, having spent my entire life living near Lake Erie, for a body of water to be classified as a lake, the other side cannot be visible when standing on its opposite shore. I’d call that a pond. But now who’s displaying a bit of geographic arrogance?
I have visited all of the major and publicly-accessible Lake Erie islands in American waters: Johnson’s; North Bass, Middle Bass, South Bass, and Kelleys. Like Goldilocks, I’ve tried the various islands on for size. Like her, I’ve found the mean (as in average or central) to fit best. Other than the Confederate Prisoner Cemetery, which is well-worth the visit, Johnson’s Island now consists of mostly private residential lots. South Bass/Put-in-Bay is an extrovert’s playground. Middle and North Bass are perfect getaways from . . . well . . . pretty much everything. For me, Kelleys Island provides just enough of what each of the others offer in spades.
Another reason for my appreciation of the nearby Erie Islands is that I find them to provide excellent settings for a novelist. For one, islands are sexy. They possess an aura of “anything could happen” and “the rules don’t apply.” As Fitzgerald described the parties at Gatsby’s West Egg mansion on Long Island, on islands, adults “conduct[ed] themselves according to the rules of behavior associated with amusement parks.” Such relaxation of norms makes for plentiful fodder for plot-making. In my most recent novel, Island No. 6, Kelleys Island’s location along one of the Western Hemisphere’s major migratory bird routes, allowed me to explore the potential outcomes of a viral bird flu outbreak and to muse over man’s natural state when all of the conveniences of modern society are stripped away.
My final affinity for Kelleys Island is that it has been an ideal location for a writer’s retreat. Whether seated at a bar on a sunny afternoon draining their wi-fi, or as I am as I write this, sitting in a condo while the rain pitter-patters against the skylights, I never fail to find the inspiration and solitude so vital to my creation process.
In closing, if at all possible, I recommend, as the saying goes, you “put an island in your life.” Whether for relaxation, socialization, or inspiration, I promise there is an island to suit your wants. And, just in case you still don’t understand, “There are islands in Lake Erie.”
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