I have never lived in a state without a Great Lake. The four states I've lived in -- Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan in that order -- all have different perspectives of the Lakes and influence each state's residents differently. If you're directionally challenged in Chicago like I am, remember Lake Michigan is always in the east. When I was in Ohio in the 1990s, people were still talking about the time Lake Erie caught on fire. Even today residents of Gary, Indiana know that nearby Lake Michigan beaches can include asbestos fragments as well as sand, glass, and rock. And of course in Michigan the Lake gives us both stunning summer sunsets and punishing winter lake effect snow.
We have abused the Lakes, even as they have nurtured us, fed us, and kept us from losing our way. The lakes keep us rugged, keep us occupied, keep us employed. Chicagoans call Lake Michigan "the Lake" as if there is no other. (If you call it "Lake Michigan" they know you're from out of town.) The Lakes are central to Midwestern life, even local vocabulary. Jerry Dennis's encounter with the Great Lakes chronicles his journey, and reminds us that we all have stories to tell about how the Lakes influence us and become part of our memories. I look forward to this year's Reading Together programs and hope to hear some more wonderful stories about the Great Lakes!
~Dr. Stacy Nowicki, Reading Together Steering Committee
Library Director, Kalamazoo College
Growing up in Eastern Pennsylvania, my family would make an annual camping trek to “the Shore” which is how we referred to the Atlantic beaches of New Jersey. I remember the anticipation of this trip: the planning, the coordination of trying to get everyone and everything loaded into our old green Chevy van for the 2 hour trip. The journey was always part of the adventure as we transitioned from the rolling hills of Pennsylvania through the industrial landscapes of New Jersey and finally to one of the commercialized tourist towns which line the coast. Arrival at the shore was announced by an overload of sensory triggers; the sight of the tourist shops and inns, but more powerful and memorable was the smell of dead fish and salt air. We had arrived.
I first visited Lake Michigan as a college student. I anticipated a similar journey to the beach, but instead was surprised to find that the transition to the big lake involved picturesque farming communities, vineyards, and orchards before finally reaching sand dunes and a largely undeveloped shoreline. Looking at Lake Michigan for the first time, I felt like I had landed on a different planet. I had arrived at a vast ocean, yet I had somehow missed the telltale signs. Where was the commercialization? Where was the smell of salt and dead fish? All were mysteriously absent. Also missing were the sea creatures like crabs and jellyfish which were replaced by more familiar land animals like deer and snakes, but also many exotic wildflowers I had never seen before. I could not believe there was such an amazing, pristine, salt-free beach stuck in Middle America and I fell in love.
In The Living Great Lakes, Jerry Dennis turns both of my transitional journeys on their heads. Instead of focusing on a land centered journey to visit the sea, Dennis focuses on a water centered journey relating to the land. He reflects on the water ahead, the water behind and the passing shoreline as viewed from a boat as his journey to truly discover the Great Lakes. Dennis takes us on an amazing travelogue, first aboard a 44-foot racing sloop competing in the Chicago to Mackinac sailboat race and later aboard the 100-foot long, tall-masted schooner, Malabar on an epic journey from Traverse City to Coastal Maine. Along the way, Dennis shares stories and observations, history and natural science. In addition to the physical journey Dennis presents, he also takes us along on a journey to better understand the world around us and how we, as humans, impact that world both positively and negatively.
As part of the 2015 reading together program, we have planned a terrific schedule of events surrounding this book including programs for children and adults focused on Great Lakes science, history, challenges, concerns and appreciation. Help us celebrate these fresh water treasures by taking part in these programs… and make a vow to reconnect with the Great Lakes this year.
~Jason Byler, Reading Together Steering Committee
Kalamazoo Nature Center