Book Reviews: Time is always right to reflect on the importance of the lakes
Aug 22, 2019 06:37AM
By Glenn Young of the Petoskey News Review - August 22, 2019
Today, like most days this summer, I paddled a kayak along the shores of Lake Huron near Mackinac Island.
Through the summer, I have paddled in wonderful conditions, against sunrise and sunset. I have also paddled in extreme conditions, fighting strong winds and rolling surf.
This is all has me thinking again about some of the books I like most about the Great Lakes and why such reporting resonates.
The two books that keep resurfacing for me are “The Death and Life of the Great Lakes” by Dan Egan and “The Living Great Lakes” by Jerry Dennis.
Egan’s reporting is historical, as well as cultural, coursing through the many and myriad ways the lakes have endured the ebb and flow of pollution, overuse, disputes over usage, even the introduction of non-native species.
A Milwaukee native, Egan earned praise for his environmental reporting before embarking on the more comprehensive analysis in his book.
Writing about threats from outside, Egan outlines the historical line through the lakes, connecting the St. Lawrence Seaway, the Erie Canal, and the Caldwell Canal. These routes have all contributed to an increase in commerce and capitalism, but also the zebra mussel, the round goby, and more invasive species that threaten the health of native populations of fish life.
Egan explains that the route for invasives came via shipping innovations, such as containers that are now standard fare on ocean-going freighters.
Some 20 years later, the driver, Malcom McLean, “converted a World War II cargo ship so containers could be stacked like Legos on top of each other,” and the birth of the ubiquitous cargo containers that now make up much international commerce was born.
“The Living Great Lakes” from Jerry Dennis is the other book that comes to mind when considering the enormous impact of the lakes on regional and even global developments.
As part of the crew on the schooner Malabar, sailing from his Traverse City home to the East Coast, Dennis recounts a boatload of history and culture as well, detailing the many ways the waterways shaped those who passed through or settled nearby.
Before his long sail, hoping to learn more about the lakes he’d always recognized, Dennis “explored beaches and shoreline villages and city lakefronts” while living in on a quiet stretch of Lake Michigan’s northern shoreline.
Here he also discovered “Whaleback, a wooded promontory in outline shaped like a giant sperm whale — Moby-Dick beached and grownover with forest, his blunt head yearning lakeward, his fluke raised behind.”
Unsure how to go farther, how to take account of the enormity of the lakes, Dennis “stood safe and dry on shore and looked across all those miles of Lake Superior and saw all that I was missing — and decided I needed a boat.”
That boat, Malabar, takes him through new discoveries and old memories alike.
There are a good many books about the Great Lakes, some new some not so new. Spend as much time on the water as I have this summer, and some of those books are sure to rise to the top.
“The Living Great Lakes” by Jerry Dennis, and “The Death and Life of the Great Lakes” by Dan Egan work well together to tell the lakes’ stories through first-person reporting, as well as careful research.
Glen Young teaches English at Petoskey High School. His column, Literate Matters, appears the second and fourth Thursday of each month. Young may be reached at P.O. Box 174, Petoskey, MI 49770. Follow @glenyfish on Twitter.
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