Indiana Dunes National Park

A dune ridge in Indiana Dunes National Park offers a view of Lake Michigan.

Humans are drawn to water by what must be a primal instinct.

I thought about that last week as I paused beside the fountain outside Eckhart Public Library, my favorite spot in Auburn, which I’m lucky to pass on my trek to and from work each day.

I learned last week that the fountain’s basin holds 6,000 gallons. That’s about the best we can do for a large body of water in DeKalb County. The fountain might rank as our second-largest lake.

We have a stream running through Auburn, but when I hiked alongside Cedar Creek two weekends ago, at the end of a dry summer, I could have waded across it without getting my knees wet.

Even so, my beautiful wife, Betsy, enjoyed the sound of the creek splashing across a patch of stones.

She’d much rather be listening to the waves crashing against the beach at Lake Michigan on a windy day.

Two weeks ago, my colleague, Jeff Jones, wrote about his lifelong fascination with Michigan’s Great Lakes. I share his sentiments. A trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan when I was 11 made a lasting impression.

Water holds an attraction for me in spite of its persistent efforts to kill me. From an early age to adulthood, I’ve survived at least four near-disasters — in Sylvan Lake, Lake Wawasee and twice in Lake Michigan.

The first two episodes, at a tender age, discouraged me from learning to swim until my early 20s. The last, in my 50s, came from being a little too confident about my swimming ability and a lot too naive about rip currents.

Still, I keep returning to the shorelines. We’ve traveled to see the Pacific Ocean in California and the Atlantic in North Carolina, not to mention Lake Superior in Canada.

The ocean is great for viewing, but I’ll take Lake Michigan for actually getting wet.

In San Diego, they warned us to shuffle our feet if we went wading, to make sure we didn’t step on a stingray. That was enough for me to decide I would just look, not touch, the Pacific salt water, which tends to leave you feeling a little slimy, anyway. Our neighbor state cleverly promotes its biggest tourist attraction as “Lake Michigan: Unsalted.”

The coastline in southwest Michigan ranks as Betsy’s No. 3 favorite place to travel, right behind wherever our wandering sons happen to be living at the time. They’ve always picked spots that are fun to visit, but it was especially great when one was in Ocean Beach, California, and the other had a house within walking distance of Michigan’s lakefront sand dunes.

I grew up in Kendallville, which has its very own Bixler Lake, but during that stage in my life I approached its beaches with hesitation — due to my early flirtations with drowning.

Today, it makes little sense that Betsy and I — wannabe beach bums — have lived together 45 years in a county with practically no water at all. My explanation is that she was here, so I didn’t want to be anywhere else, and at least I have a fountain.

Dave Kurtz is the editor of The Star newspaper. He may be reached at dkurtz@kpc media.com.

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