Why lakes are better than oceans

FLINT – During my annual summer week up north, I saw a T-shirt that said “The Great Lakes – no salt, no sharks, no problems.”

I could have written that myself. I’ve always thought the Great Lakes – in fact, all freshwater lakes – are vastly superior to the ocean.

A big part of it is fear, I’ll admit. Oceans have all sorts of creatures that want to eat you, bite you or sting you. Remember the poor Crocodile Hunter? He was zapped in the heart by a stingray and died. That would never happen in a lake. A snapping turtle mistaking your toes for a snack is the worst thing that can happen to you in a lake.

Sharks are by far my biggest fear. I was 14 when “Jaws” came out and the words “I think we’re gonna need a bigger boat” have been stuck in my brain ever since, along with that scene where Quint slides down the deck of the Orca and becomes an appetizer.

I’ve been in the ocean five or six times without incident. But the last time was still the last time I’ll ever venture into the sea past my ankles.

I was standing in waist deep water off of Sanibel Island, Florida, being very brave indeed, while my kids splashed around me. Just as I was beginning to relax and enjoy the warm ocean water, I heard shouting from down the beach and saw people pointing at two fins headed straight for us.

“Aaaaaaagh, sharks!” is what I think I screamed before leaping clear out of the water with my legs spinning cartoon style.

When I looked back from the safety of the beach, everyone else – the kids, the lovely yet formidable Marcia and others who were in the water at the time – was pointing and saying things like, “Isn’t it beautiful?” and “I hope they make another pass.”

Another pass? Are you crazy? I thought.

Then it dawned on me they were dolphins not sharks.

OK, it was embarrassing. And Marcia made fun of me later for not dragging her and the kids out with me. But in my defense, I was the meatiest, most attractive meal of the bunch, so the sharks were bound to come after me first, and I was simply drawing them away from the others.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

But even if that weren’t the case, could you blame me for being leery of ocean? I didn’t grow up on the Gulf of Mexico around sharks, stingrays and jellyfish. I grew up on Lake Michigan around minnows, trout and bass.

I swam in the lake every day during the summer (which, in the U.P., is the very best week of the year) without ever having a single fear that something was going to rise from the depths and have me for lunch. The worst thing that can happen to you in Lake Michigan is a getting a glob of seaweed in your mouth.

You can have the ocean. I’ll stick to my lakes. Call me crazy but I’ve never wanted the last thing anyone says about me to be “Hey, where’d Andy go?”

– – –

Andrew Heller, an award-winning newspaper columnist, appears weekly in the Daily Press. He graduated from Escanaba Area High School in 1979. Follow him at andrewheller.com and on Facebook and Twitter. Write to him via email at andrewhellercolumn@gmail.com.