Archived Story

Take in the beauty of Fountain Lake

Published 9:04am Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Column: Notes from Home

Sweat trickles down my face and into my eyes, which were already itchy from hay fever. Now they sting, too. My nose drips. My breathing is heavy and labored as my feet pound down on the path. Little bugs swarm around my head and my knees hurt. But off to my right sunlight sparkles on the surface of Fountain Lake. There’s a cool breeze — slight but noticeable. Contemplating the beauty of the lake doesn’t erase the unpleasant elements of my daily fitness run, but it helps ease the discomfort.

Much like my feelings about running around Fountain Lake, Albert Lea’s relationship with the lake is complicated. It’s a beautiful part of the landscape, but it’s also in the way and taking care of it isn’t always easy.

Sitting practically in the center of town, the lake is the primary explanation for why many of the streets around town are so curvy and skewed, and at least a few intersections so convoluted. No East-West or North-South straightaway’s. Especially when you include Albert Lea Lake’s location just southeast of town, shift changes at major employers or the end of classes at the high school mean that hundreds of cars are funneled into the few points where streets allow passage between the northeast and the southwest quadrants of our community.

Then there are the weeks — especially after sustained heat waves — when Fountain Lake turns green or begins to exude an odd, unpleasant odor. Fixing that problem, and some others, will require long term decision-making about watersheds, lawn chemicals and dredging. Dead fish often lie on the lakeshore, usually the discarded carcasses of bullheads baked in the sun and picked mostly clean by gulls and other scavengers. There’s the middle-aged merwoman perpetually waving from her rock, sometimes adorned with a sports bra.

On the other hand, Fountain Lake is also Albert Lea’s crown jewel. We are one of the few communities that have a lake at the center. There it bides in early mornings, hardly a breeze disturbing its mirroring surface, as blue as the sky. Songbirds greet the day as they swoop over the lake and flit from tree to tree in the urban forest lining the shore. Sunsets framed by the lake and those trees can be gorgeous.

At least once each week, starting in spring and continuing as late in autumn as the weather allows, I walk, run or bike around its shoreline. That kind of exercise is often when I think about things — when decisions I face or problems that need solving get worked on by the little grey cells. And so often, just as I’ve created a mare’s nest or thought myself into a corner, I’ll come around a bend, catch yet another view of wave and sunlight, and things sort themselves back into the proper perspective.

One of my favorite stretches is the one that starts near Brookside, by the boat ramp and Community Ed’s boat house, and runs through the cemeteries to Pioneer Park and the City Beach. Since I almost always run and bike clockwise around the lake, on my right is the natural beauty of wooded lakeshore and water, while on my left is the still quiet of the slumbering dead.

From the numbers of people walking, running and biking on the lanes and sidewalks around Fountain Lake, I’m guessing I’m not the only one who feels the way I do. They probably also have things to think about that somehow don’t press as hard when they’re outside, walking by the water. And those people have probably also noticed the lake has bad days (especially if they live nearby).

I’m glad we settled in a community with this asset in its center, even with the problems it causes when I’m using my car to complete some errands instead of my feet or a bicycle to travel around its edge.

Albert Lea resident David Rask Behling teaches at Waldorf College in Forest City, Iowa, and lives with his wife and children in Albert Lea. His column appears every other Tuesday.