Last night, drizzle pock marked the smooth waters of Park Lake and I walked into the warm waters for a swim. I waded out to chest deep and stopped when sand ran out and my feet sank into marl. Clean marl has little to harm feet and might be as good as a mud bath pedicure. I freaked about leeches. I had a leech fasten onto my hand one summer at Camp Tapico, and I stood shaking my right hand frantically on the Three Birches beach of Grass Lake, screaming, "Leech, leech, leech, leech, leech"! A camp counselor arrived from out of the birches and calmed me by taking my right hand in his hands. Then he lightly flicked the leech with his forefinger. Leech started crawling. The mouth had yet to fasten, chomp and draw blood. He plucked it off and dropped the spineless thing in shallow water. I watched in fascination as this animal swam in two inches of water, floating like a cloud, changing shape. I had spotted a snapping turtle earlier that week, a week of camping at the now "surplus" scout camp. Leeches had found a way to fasten on the legs of the shelled creature, catching a ride and a bloody meal. I knew what a leech could do. Today, I speculated what a leech could do if it bled me, Colonial American medicine. Lower my blood pressure could it? I turned on my back and began my back stroke, raindrops catching in my eyebrows. I tried to cast my imagination back more than nine decades when Park Lake awaited children from Bath School, walking with lunch buckets, enjoying an end of the school year picnic. Webster Road now surmounts a freeway before arriving at the surprisingly wild urban lake. A woods of many untouched acres on the south shore buffers the lake from the sprawl of student apartments. That woods might not be in public hands yet. A man pulled into the parking lot and put in his kayak. He made a quick paddle to that wooded shore where Lotus blossoms still flowered among the expanses of lily pads. He knew where to go to fish, a big net at ready, a flag almost rising from his stern. An unlit Coleman lantern on his bow told me he was out to reach his creel limit. I admired his strong, sure paddling, guessing he had rowed crew for Michigan State. That's when a Labrador Retriever splashed into the shallows. A woman followed her Lab, up to the ankles. An old campfire song sang itself in my memory, "She waded in the water and she got her feet all wet. But her who hah wasn't wet yet". "Stop that", I told myself. "Can't I take you anywhere, self? Besides, who hah isn't the word. Two claps go there. I'm not Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade from Scent of a Woman, already? Al Pacino would want me to mind my manners". She said "Hi"! "Thanks, I'm not drowning. No need to send the doggie out to rescue me". I am chronically joking. It's a disease, I swear. She laughed. The yellow lab set about retrieving fish from the lake waters rich with fish. The dock by Kathy's Pier Delight passed over waters teeming with pounder blue gill, bullheads and lunker largemouths. Kids had tossed fish food off the dock all summer long until August 28, the last day of the season. Pedal boats rented for five dollars an hour awaited a worker to put the plastic crafts away. The yellow lab had plenty to keep his mouth and paws working. "Funny," she said. "He won't chase a stick. Won't catch a frisbee like Zeke the wonder dog. But he's wild about fish. He catches nothing". I was passing a few days in Bath absorbing the local lore. So one talks to locals if one wants lore. I point to Kathy's Pier-Delight and asked, "Do you think that's a cupola on top, like the one in Bath's memorial park"? "Could be. That's a new building designed to look like an old building". Later that night, a red bulb lit up; the cupola looked like a lighthouse. "Kathy has a picture of the old dance hall that jutted out over the lake waters. There's a few posts still left on the edge of the swimming area". "Did it burn down"? All the pine dance halls burned down. Most of the pine resort hotels went with them. The Michilinda Lodge made it to the Twenty-First century before fire took it. Dance halls popped up everywhere in the Great Lakes region, from Port Stanley Ontario to Saugatuck, even Fruitport, Michigan. No sprinkler system, one tossed match from a pipe smoking arse was all it took. During the Depression, fire popped up in downtowns and forests with uncanny frequency. Tommy Dorsey and many traveling big bands had entertained at the Park Lake Pavilion, dancers arriving by interurban rail, the rails torn up when cars made public transportation look bad. Surprise, the Park Lake Pavilion went up in flames. "Kathy's has photographs framed on her walls". "She's closed for the season. I will check the internet". We talked about the lake and Lansing until the sky filled with rosy hues. The yellow lab had failed again to catch a lunker betwixt his paws and tiredly made little lunges into the darker waters. "I have to walk him home and towel him off. I once had to take him to the vet because he wore himself out. I thought he was deadly sick". "You're a great dog mom. Thanks for taking care of your fur baby"! "Wow, turn around and look at the waters now". I turned aroun in the water, now warm as bath water, and the sun had turned the wavy surface magenta and gold. I was mesmerized and thought to myself, "I shall never leave these waters even when they freeze. She has yet to see my feet. I am a merman". When I turned to say,"Yes, you are right. It's splendid", I found that woman and dog had left an empty beach.
Historic Photograph of Park Lake Dance Pavilion