The ex-lakes

I have yet to find a good phrase to refer to my two work sites. Both were once lakes that have drained down as the Elwha River returns to its natural flow. However, there are no names associated with those particular stretches of the river, only for the lakes that used to be. Calling them “Lake Aldwell” and “Lake Mills” is now a misnomer, but “Former Lake Aldwell” or “the Lake Mills Basin” just seems to take too long to say. I often default to calling them the abbreviated “Aldwell” or “Mills,” but feels like a cop-out, like when you can’t decide to call someone by their first name or last name and so avoid calling them anything at all. Which, honestly, I do all the time. But it’s a lot easier when you’re talking to someone, and a bit harder when you’re talking about someone or some-geologically-and-ecologically-defined-region.

Consequently, in my head I have taken to referring to these regions as “ex-lake Aldwell” and “ex-lake Mills.” Slightly disrespectful, perhaps, but it fits in such an amusing way. One day it might be nice to name the for what they are rather than what they used to be, but standing in them now, looking around at the still open expanses being slowly conquered by brave, pioneering vegetation, they truly feel like something that was once a lake, and is now only barely beginning to figure out what it will become. Ex-lakes, healing with time and moving forward in succession.

The two have very different personalities. Ex-lake Aldwell is narrower in a way that makes it appear smaller, as the majority of it is out of sight at any given time. Exposed for longer, it’s greener and feels more welcoming to seeds, birds, and the wandering researcher. Mills gives off quite a different impression. Where Aldwell welcomes visitors in, ex-lake Mills rises up imposingly, presenting expanses of flat sand dropping away into steep cliffs. It is fantastic, awe-inspiring, and feels enormous no matter where in the reservoir you stand.

The two also present different challenges to the researchers working on revegetating them. Ex-lake Mills has large stretches of coarse sediment, more sand and rocks than soil, which challenges any plants to survive with little water or nutrients but lots of sun and wind. In contrast, ex-lake Aldwell is perhaps too friendly, embracing a variety of highly invasive species that threaten the establishment of native species.

To me they’re these incredible beings that have been given the chance to begin again, to be reborn and returned to a healthier, more natural state. I will have very little to do with guiding that rejuvenation, but I have been amazingly inspired by these budding ex-lakes, and I love them like they’re children taking their first off-balance steps.

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