Up north, the air is different. You sense it as you near the lake. It’s as if all the stale or dirty air that passes over North America gets dumped into a giant washing machine at the end of Wisconsin, along with a Paul Bunyan size vat of Pine-Sol. Over the lake the air is agitated, rinsed and put through a spin cycle or two. By the time the air reaches Michigan it smells fresh. Clean again. As nature intended. You breathe it in and immediately your lungs know that they’re in contact with some premium grade gases.

But the difference extends beyond a simple assessment of the air’s purity. Intangible elements contribute to the air’s difference as well. I’m not sure how to describe it. I guess that’s why it’s intangible. But I can tell you what it’s not. It’s not the smell of ozone. It’s not the feel of lightning about to strike when the hackles on your neck begin to stand on end. And it’s not radiation leaking from the nuclear power plant four miles down the shore, either. It isn’t anything really physical, but rather, metaphysical. It’s a sense of awe in the presence of something truly great. It’s the overwhelming wonder of your first view of the Grand Canyon, standing from its rim and staring down into its depths. It’s the cry of an eagle soaring overhead. It’s the fragility of a daffodil blossom. It’s the voice of the wind as it passes through a tree’s branches. All of this, but different. Up north, the air is the breath of the lake as it’s inhaled and exhaled. It’s young. And it’s old. It’s wild. And it’s alive. Like the lake itself.