Homewaters: Exploring Waterways that Inspire, from Alabama to Wisconsin

Posted Wed, 11/20/2019 - 11:24

Everyone at NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration plays a crucial role in our mission. For many of us, our journey into the marine world can be traced back to a special place that first sparked a love of water and wild places. In our new monthly series “Homewaters,” explore some of the waters that kindled a passion that would go on to last a lifetime.

Kusel Lake, Wisconsin

My Great-Grandpa built the cabin on Kusel Lake in northern Wisconsin. It’s where my mother, and her mother, and I grew up. My earliest memories are in that water; splashing, skipping stones, wading in soft sediment and digging for clams with my toes, fishing with hotdogs, shoveling the ice to skate, and catching turtles, then painting on their backs with old nail polish. Unscheduled summers allowed me to be inquisitive, to watch pollywogs in the reeds, families of loons on migration, and build campfires from sticky branches of white pine. 

I like how lakes are small enough to know intimately. Tracking water levels by how far you can touch the bottom, fish stocks by your neighbor’s catch. I know Kusel Lake through early mornings sitting on the dock while my grandparents sipped coffee. I know it from nearshore canoe voyages with my sister who likes to stay where you can see the bottom, and from my mom who collected wildflower seeds along the shore. I learned so much from The Lake. 

Over the years I’ve worked on oceans and waters around the world, but lakes are special. During my Peace Corps Service, I lived in an unelectrified fishing village on Lake Malawi in Southern Africa. The culture shock was overwhelming until I realized Lake Malawi wasn’t that different from Kusel. The smell of lake water in hair, how kids splash and play, and the way fishermen exaggerate -these things are universal. Freshwater feels like home wherever I go. 

–Megan Ewald, Environmental Communications Specialist in Silver Spring, Maryland

Gulf Coast, Alabama

I was lucky enough to grow up in Mobile, Alabama where Gulf beaches, bayous, lakes and rivers all have unique charms and hold my fond memories. I had a particular affinity for beaches and rivers, where I loved to waterski, as a child. Our family would travel each year to Gulf Shores, Orange Beach, or Dauphin Island. I remember doing all the “normal” things. Building sandcastles, running as fast as I could to catch seabirds, digging out what we called periwinkles (coquina), catching ghost crabs, and walking the beach at night to see if the ocean was glowing.

On those spectacular nights, I would beg to go swimming in the bioluminescent gulf waters. Some nights there were flecks of light like the stars had fallen into the sea, and others the water was bright blue as the light followed my every move. The bioluminescence piqued my curiosity, what caused this amazing light? I wanted to know, I wanted to learn.

After a field trip to Dauphin Island Sea Lab at the age of 11, I decided I wanted to become a marine biologist. I never wavered from that dream and pursued it all the way to Hawaii for my undergraduate and graduate studies. It led me to join research cruises across the equatorial Pacific, diving in remote locations to study coral reefs and to the frigid waters of the Oregon coast. Eventually, my adventures led me home to Mobile. I’m now enjoying the circle of life and am thrilled to take my two daughters to the beaches I grew up on. My girls already love the waters of the Gulf, almost as much as their mama! 

– Kim Albins, Emergency Management Planning Specialist in Mobile, Alabama

Far Rockaway, New York

As a native New Yorker, born and raised in the Bronx, I have very fond memories of my family’s semi-attached house with a  playground down the block. However, some of my best memories are from the bungalow colony we used to visit in Far Rockaway, New York during the late 1950s and early 1960s. My father’s family had purchased ten summer bungalows and we’d go there to escape the summer heat - there was no air conditioning in those days. My mother would take my sister and me, and my dad would visit on weekends off from his store in Harlem. We had plenty of cousins to play with and were just a block from Jamaica Bay and two from the Atlantic Ocean. 

My parents had hours of 8mm home movies from these summers, as we ate ice cream on the beach (dripping down our faces), running around the colony courtyard, digging holes in the sand, building sandcastles, running and jumping in the waves, and getting tossed by my dad into the water. I remember throwing cardboard hangers like boomerangs, lifeguards whistling because of shark sightings, and walking barefoot on the boardwalk and having my mom dig splinters out of my feet. 

I truly believe this is where my love for the ocean originated.The home movies show me as a very active child, playing in the waves and splashing around with a huge smile on my face. Unfortunately, in the winter of 1963, some local kids broke into one of the bungalows and started a fire that got out of control. Our family took it as a loss and never rebuilt, but the memories remain cemented in my mind. 

– Ed Levine, Regional Operations Supervisor in Silver Spring, Maryland