Our Great Lakes are an extraordinary gift. They are also an extraordinary responsibility. As I read The Living Great Lakes by Jerry Dennis, I realized how often we all take for granted the wonder of the world (unofficial) that surrounds us here. We also tend to assume the Lakes, the dunes, the beautiful sandy beaches, the fish, and the water that has been so well cleaned in recent years are now unchangeable and ours to keep forever.
Lake Michigan ~ photo: Lisa Goranson
First of all, there is nothing static within the Lakes’ system. It is always changing. Second, we must be eternally and actively vigilant and protective. The rest of the country would like our fresh water. To those who live in the desert Southwest, I would say, “You knew it was dry when you moved there. If you want water, move back, bring your jobs, and pay your taxes.”
Lake Superior ~ photo: Greg Kretovic
This, like almost any other topic about the Great Lakes is a sure conversation starter. I have learned a great lesson from leading four discussions on Dennis’ fascinating book: if you are at a gathering of strangers and have nothing to say, don’t talk about the weather—just say “Do you have any stories about the Great Lakes?” I have heard wonders: beautiful, romantic tales; tragedies and near tragedies; fascinating adventures; fun facts; and lots of humor.
Lake Huron ~ photo: Michigan Travel Bureau
I believe if you are lucky enough to live in Michigan, you end up with Lake water in your blood. We continually marvel at the rest of the country’s ignorance about the majesty, power, and size of our Lakes, and we are both eager to share them and wanting to just keep them for us.
Lake Ontario ~ photo: M. Knutson
One of my favorite stories to come out of the recent discussion leading is this: A small boy was brought to the Lake for the first time, looked in absolute awe for a moment, and said breathlessly, “Who made this?” Whether your answer is based on science or religion or story, it’s a very good question. I would follow that with another: “Who will keep it this way and work to make it better?” I hope as you read this you are saying to yourself “I will.”
Lake Erie ~ photo: EurekaLott
~Sherry Ransford-Ramsdell, Reading Together Steering Committee
English Teacher (retired), Kalamazoo Public Schools
Lighthouses are iconic to those of us who live in the Great Lakes region. They can be seen dotting the coasts of all the Great Lakes, signaling safe harbors, watchfulness, and a serene beauty, visually contrasting with water, sand, and grassy dunes. Sometimes painted bright colors, sometimes white or dark colors, they area a reminder of the importance of commerce, economy, and leisure activities to our area. Picturesque, they are the subjects of postcards, paintings, photographs, and drawings. Lighthouses also appear throughout Dennis’s The Living Great Lakes.
Postcard of South Haven Harbor Pier and Lighthouse, ca. 1900
Courtesy of the Michigan Maritime Museum, South Haven, Michigan.
If you have wondered what it’s like to be a lighthouse keeper, you now have the opportunity to read the first hand experiences of a lighthouse employee. This week Western Michigan University Libraries launched a new web-based digital project featuring the logs of South Haven Lighthouse keepers, William P. Bryan (1829-1892) and James S. Donahue (1842-1917). The project, South Haven Lighthouse Log, features a log kept between 1872 and 1880 chronicling the daily events of the lighthouse and it’s attendants. In the near future more logs kept by Donahue will be added to this project. Below is an example of what you will see at the project web site.
Sample page from 1876 written by James S. Donahue
Imaged by the Waldo Library Digitization Center. Courtesy of the Zhang Legacy Collections Center, Western Michigan University
James Donahue, a Civil War veteran with a wooden leg, was lighthouse keeper from 1875 until 1908. His log entries reflect the necessities of his job, events that he sees from the lighthouse, and snippets of his personal life.
Donahue at the Public Works on North Beach, ca. 1890-1905
Courtesy of Michigan Maritime Museum, South Haven, Michigan
WMU’s South Haven Lighthouse Log can be viewed here. Click on the cover and page through to the log entries. To learn more about the South Haven Lighthouse, visit Lighthouse Digest at http://www.lighthousedigest.com/Digest/StoryPage.cfm?StoryKey=539
Participating in the Reading Together events over the next few weeks will be fun and at the same time bring you closer to the history, ecology, and adventure of our own Lake Michigan. Be sure to stop by the Central Library to experience the Grayling Ceramics and illustrations by Glenn Wolff.
~Miranda Howard, Reading Together Steering Committee
Waldo Library, Western Michigan University