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By Charlie Townsley

Charlie Townsley is an organic farm boy from Wisconsin who, after getting a bachelor’s degree in architecture at the University of Minnesota and practicing design in Minneapolis for a couple years, is now in his first year of Penn’s city planning master’s program. Charlie’s program concentration is in housing, community, and economic development and he is passionate about all things related to community building and empowerment. Outside of school, you can often find him exploring new restaurants, dive bars, or hikes.

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Lake Wind

Blows over warm bodies

Ignites ripples

Brushes water’s edge

Lake Wind

Plays with loose fabric

Mingles with summer voices

Dapples adolescent leaves

Lying, open to the world,

I conversate with the Water

The Wind, our shared medium

The day, our admired subject

Few speak so softly

Yet enchant so many

Each cool brush

A reassuring sigh

Needing nothing

Giving everything

Lake Wind entwines

This city of mine

Image: City of Lakes: downtown Minneapolis from the shore of Bde Maka Ska.

Linocut by Nate Ehrlich
“Bde Maka Ska is the lake’s original Dakota name but for nearly 200 years from 1820 to 2018 it was known as Lake Calhoun after former President John C. Calhoun – a vocal proponent of slavery.”

I wrote this poem about Bde Maka Ska(beh-DAY mah-KAH skah)in Minneapolis while sitting at the lake’s edge. It is the largest in the Chain of Lakes that are a defining natural and social feature of the city. Bde Maka Ska is the lake’s original Dakota name but for nearly 200 years from 1820 to 2018 it was known as Lake Calhoun after former President John C. Calhoun –a vocal proponent of slavery [1]. I actually wrote this poem the summer before the name change was officially recognized. At the time, I thought of it as a meditation on the spiritual value of natural spaces in the urban landscape. I was enjoying a warm summer’s day by a beautiful natural feature of my city, and I felt compelled to capture the moment. It is interesting to reflect on this piece now that I am living in Philadelphia and a new hydrologic feature punctuates the rhythm of my life. Nearly every day, I cross the Schuylkill River to get to campus, which the city calls by its colonial name. In this case, from the Dutch in the 1600s meaning “hidden river.” [2] Long before the forced erasure of native peoples from this land, the Lenape people referred to this river as “Ganoshowanna” meaning “falling water.” [3]


The different names by which we know these two water bodies today call into question the role of natural features in the urban landscape. Are they amenities for a city’s current residents to use as they see fit or are they indigenous places deserving of protection? How does our understanding of a river, a lake, or even a park, influence the way we interact with that space? For me, understanding the deep history of a place means to cultivate a relationship with it based on respect and stewardship rather than simply passing enjoyment. As the poem alludes to, indigenous places are the bedrock of many cities in the U.S. Recognizing that foundation means to recognize our place in it and hopefully, by so doing, to strengthen our bonds to the natural features that shape the places we call home.

[1] Chanen, David. “The State Officially Changes Lake Calhoun to Bde Maka Ska.” Star Tribune. January 19, 2018.

[2] Schuylkill Banks. “Let’s Celebrate the Schuylkill River!,” June 15, 2020.

[3] “The Lenape Gave Much Better than They Got.” Accessed February 22, 2022.

Image: Map of Lenape territory of Coaquannock, today known as Philadelphia region. Map includes Lenape names of villages, localities, waterways, islands, and their interpretations.

Source: Historical Scoiety of Pennsylvania
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