If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?
The answer is yes.
If a tsunami sweeps across an inland lake in the boreal forest, and there is no one there to see it, did it happen?
It depends on the track it leaves.
I have paddled across a big lake in a storm, in the teeth of a gale, for a solid two hours, non-stop, because if I stopped, I was dead. When I finally looked back, there was no track. It might have never happened.
Lake Nipigon is one of Canada’s biggest lakes. I have canoed it, but . . . never in a storm. I was caught in a storm there once, and, apparently, I lived.
If I’d been out a couple weeks ago, I would have, apparently, died.
In this neck of the woods, they call a tsunami a seiche (pronounced SAY –sh). A strong westerly wind piled the water into a ridge and sent it rippling across the broad expanse of Lake Nipigon into the southeast arm, where the steep hills and narrowing corridor exacerbated the phenomenon.
I know it happened because I saw its track, two weeks later.
In September of 2009, my friend Peter took me sailing up the arm and into the open lake. I was researching the shoreline for my novel, The Beardmore Relics. It was breezy, but pleasant. And we returned safely, apparently, to the dock.
That dock is no longer there. It was a huge dock, fastened to cedar pilings that have survived the battering of storms for better than fifty years. It may be closer to a hundred years. The dock is gone. The pilings remain.
The seiche drove debris six feet up the shoreline at the Royal Windsor Lodge.
I haven’t heard other damage reports, but I suspect the eastern shoreline of Lake Nipigon has changed dramatically in some places.
Years ago, I examined some Pukaskaw pits on an island on the east shore. These are circular pits excavated in a cobblestone beach. They are ancient aboriginal artifacts. I, and perhaps a handful of people, knew they were there. The academics whom I told about them, never took the trouble to verify their existence.
The summer of ’09, I went looking for them again. The pits were gone. Even the cobblestones were gone.
Storm surges on Lake Nipigon have no doubt wiped out a lot of history.
In my novel, a character takes refuge in a Pukaskaw pit about ninety years ago during a storm. Today, in a similar situation, he’d be, apparently, dead. Fortunately, he lives on . . . in my novel.
The Royal Windsor Lodge complex of buildings dates back almost a century. Some years ago, a seiche took out the huge two-story boathouse that had withstood the battering from time immemorial.
It may be that only a few dozen people know about the tsunami that ravaged the east shore of Lake Nipigon two weeks ago. It is almost certain that nobody official knows about it – and that most certainly includes Environment Canada.
Some more history has been lost . . . and even the fact that is has been lost has gone unrecorded . . .