Author Peter Tobiessen’s love for the Adirondack lakes and his concern for their welfare is most apparent in “The Secret Life of a Lake.”
Tobiessen has taught aquatic biology for many years at Union College in Schenectady, and he has conducted numerous research experiments on lakes, ponds, rivers and streams throughout the Capital Region and the Adirondacks. He writes early on how many people have an insatiable desire to be near water.
“Some have even suggested that our affinity for lakes arose from our prenatal sloshing in maternal amniotic fluid. I only know that when I’m near a lake, I feel a kind of peace that I rarely find elsewhere.”
An important part of this highly researched yet very readable book is Tobiessen’s detailed descriptions of what lies below the peaceful surface of a lake with “. . . its complex ecosystem of fascinating creatures interacting in weird and wonderful ways.”
For his research, Tobiessen focused primarily on the model system of Sacandaga Lake, near the Adirondack villages of Speculator and Lake Pleasant. (Sacandaga Lake, in Hamilton County, is a natural lake, not to be confused with the larger Great Sacandaga Lake, a reservoir, about 25 miles away.)
“Although the focus will be on a lake in the Adirondacks in northern New York and other nearby lakes,” he writes, “the principles discussed will be relevant to most medium-sized lakes in the northern United States and Canada.”
Sometimes books by academics can be tedious, but this one is not only informative, it’s easy to understand. The author does not go on page after page explaining a complicated scientific idea. There are also numerous and helpful charts, diagrams and photos.
I can see the book being used in high school and college classrooms, and I especially enjoyed the early chapters when Tobiessen explained how glaciers and the colliding continental plates created the geography, lakes and mountains of North America.
Like the author, I’ve spent numerous hours kayaking, canoeing, and swimming in various Adirondack lakes but, unlike him, I never thought too deeply about the fragile ecosystem that lies below the water.
Reading the book has changed my thinking. Tobiessen has done an excellent job at showing how important all things in the water are, from microscopic algae to the quintessential Adirondack loon.
This complex ecosystem needs to be in harmony so that invasive species, such as Eurasian watermilfoil, which is spreading with alarming regularity in Adirondack lakes and can make a lake impenetrable, do not take over and destroy the water areas we enjoy the most. The author also points out that some fish can also be harmful to a lake’s ecosystem.
He concludes with a chapter on how humans have also affected our lake environments.
“Thoreau left civilization to live at Walden Pond. More and more, however, civilization has moved into wild areas such as the Adirondacks and now encroaches on our lakes. Forests have been replaced with development. Small lakeshore camps have been replaced by year-round houses, and some McMansions.
“In addition to these local pressures on our lakes, global phenomena such as air pollution and invasive species add to the mix. Have these ecological stresses affected our lakes, or has the natural resilience and stability of these ecosystems been able to withstand the pressure?”
Effects of change
The book does not debate if climate change is occurring, but it points out through actual research the effects of climate change on the Adirondacks today.
If you love the Adirondacks the way I do, then read this book. You’ll learn so much about the lakes of the region and how important that water is to maintaining such a beautiful and vibrant park. The book has also motivated me to work harder at preserving our lakes and to help maintain them for future generations, and hopefully it will do the same for you.
Tobiessen concludes with this wise sentiment: “We must encourage an environmental ethic that discourages simple, thoughtless actions such as emptying a bait bucket into a lake, not cleaning a boat or trailer of vegetative matter before putting it into a lake, or purchasing animals or plants well known to be invasive.
“The time of passively enjoying our lakes is past. We must all contribute to the effort of their maintenance, and even restoration, if we are not to have a destiny for our lakes as implied by the N.Y. Yankee/player/manager Yogi Berra, who said, ‘The future ain’t what it used to be.’ ”