As I Write This, You Are Dying: A Letter to Lake Erie

Markie Miller March 3, 2020

This true-color photo shows a harmful algal bloom in Lake Erie harmful in August 2017.

Editor’s Note: On Feb. 27, a fed­er­al judge over­turned the Lake Erie Bill of Rights,” a law passed by vot­ers in Tole­do, Ohio last year in response to pol­lu­tion, which caused an algae bloom in 2014 that poi­soned the city’s drink­ing water. Markie Miller, an organzi­er with Tole­doans for Safe Water, which advo­cates for Lake Erie’s rights, wrote the fol­low­ing let­ter the night before a court hear­ing on the law.

Dear Lake Erie,

As I write this, you are dying.

I am search­ing for the right words – of com­fort, inspi­ra­tion, even accep­tance – because all you ever seem to receive is an I’m sor­ry.” An apol­o­gy, no mat­ter how sin­cere, feels hol­low and cold. It will not bring you redemp­tion or peace.

You have sus­tained me for 30 years through your con­stant and self­less pres­ence. Yet it was not until you were sick that I ful­ly under­stood the qual­i­ty of life you were capa­ble of providing.

I have watched you more close­ly since that time. I keep my dis­tance, respect­ing the con­di­tion you are in, and observe the decline of your allure from the Tole­do shore­line. Your appear­ance is always calm and sub­tle, despite your pain. Aggres­sive waves do not break against your west­ern bays unless encour­aged by the wind. Yet, this char­ac­ter­i­za­tion is mis­lead­ing. We for­get you are not always so tame and soft-spo­ken – in fact, you can be fierce, pow­er­ful, and free.

I caught a glimpse of your sick­ness in 2014 – but your screams were muf­fled by our own con­cerns and fears. I can­not jus­ti­fy any fur­ther silence. You under­go end­less mon­i­tor­ing and test­ing, but it’s done with an inher­ent dis­re­gard for your life.

Your care­tak­ers” claim own­er­ship of you as an excuse to throw mon­ey at you in exchange for your ser­vices – and silence. Can they real­ly not see that the rhyth­mic dance of your waves along the shore has grown weary, heavy with the flesh of dead fish, void of the life and recre­ation that adorns the beach­es and open waters of your sis­ters? I want to say they are igno­rant of your pain, but I know better.

How long can I enable this abu­sive rela­tion­ship with­out guilt?

There will be no chance of defend­ing your mem­o­ry. At your end, we will soon fol­low. The sever­i­ty of that sit­u­a­tion sits heavy on my shoul­ders and deep with­in my gut. I have fought hard for your rights with­out always real­iz­ing how much they reflect my own.

I am sor­ry. I promise this sor­row is fleet­ing – it has served me as a moment of rest. I under­stand your desire to be seen as sto­ic and brave. Damsel in dis­tress does not suit you – a qual­i­ty you have passed on to those you sus­tain. I like­ly will not weep for your loss. If that day comes, I will be too exhaust­ed from this fight to shed tears of sorrow.

In your revival, we will find life; in your death, we will find only blame. Blame for our mis­guid­ed obe­di­ence and trust in a sys­tem of law that upholds injus­tice, legal­izes your abuse, and has ensnared us with a false illu­sion of representation.

Today I feel bur­dened with knowl­edge, but tomor­row I will feel empow­ered by truth.

I will always fight for your sur­vival, nev­er your memory.

With devo­tion,

Markie

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