Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 72.djvu/341

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

By Professor E. A. BIRGE


AN inland lake has often been compared to a living being, and this has always seemed to me one of the happiest of the attempts to find resemblances between animate and inanimate objects. Unlike many such comparisons, which turn on a single point of resemblance and whose fitness disappears as soon as the objects are viewed from a different position, the appropriateness of this increases rather than diminishes as our knowledge both of lakes and of living beings is enlarged.

The lake, like the organism, has its birth and its periods of growth, maturity, old age and death; and this fact is an obvious one, for of all the larger features of the landscape, the lake is the youngest and the most temporary. Its birth lies in the recent past, and in no very long space of time its existence must come to an end. In any lake district, lakes may be found in all stages of maturity and decay, and many dead lakes will be seen—places where lakes once existed which are now extinct. Lakes show not only the cycle of individual existence, but also the rhythm of seasonal activity. The activity of the lake in summer, both physical and vital, contrasts sharply with its torpidity in winter. And the lake resembles the organism not only in its annual recurrence of activity. The comparison may be pushed farther and extended to the minor fluctuations of the vigor of vital manifestations which characterize lake and organism alike.

In all these points, and in many others, the lake resembles a living being; but in no respect does it resemble an organism more closely than in the topic on which I am going to speak to you, namely, its respiration. In this comparison, the resemblance is rather in processes and operations than in form. The lake is morphologically a very simple creature, resembling rather a gigantic amoeba than a more highly organized being. Perhaps it would be better to compare the lake, for the purpose of this subject, not with the organism as a whole, but with the special respiratory substance of the animal—the blood.

Like the blood of the higher animals, the lake consists of an unorganized fluid—the plasma of the blood and the water of the lake—and of numerous organized and actively living parts—cells in the case

  1. Address of the President at the Thirty-sixth Annual Meeting of the American Fisheries Society, Erie, Pa., July 23-25, 1907.