The Law of Serendipity had settled in on my morning viewing of The Weather Network. On its twice-hourly newsbrief, the local Ontario reporter was interviewing Jerry Dennis on material related to his new book, The Living Great Lakes: Searching for the Heart of the Inland Seas. I had heard of Dennis previously, enjoying his book It's Raining Frogs and Fishes : Four Seasons of Natural Phenomena and Oddities of the Sky which is a light-hearted, yet factual look at the natural seasons around Michigan, where he resides, and the Great Lakes. My love for the Great Lakes, my home place (I have lived within 100 kilometres of all but Superior), required I seek out this new book.
My heart did skip a beat when I heard the book described as a complete look at the Great Lakes written on Dennis' travels around them. Years ago, I had so wanted to circumnavigate the Great Lakes, a trip in each season ala Edwin Way Teale and write about the natural beauty of this region, and now, I thought, that book had been written. Though I imagine I will never get the chance to write that book, that is not the book written by Dennis. We had a major difference in our approach. He wrote from a perspective of being on the Lakes while I wanted to write about life on the Great Lakes Basin, the area influenced by the great-sea waters.
Since I had thoroughly enjoyed It's Raining Frogs and Fishes, I had high expectations for The Living Great Lakes. And I was not disappointed. The Living Great Lakes reads so smoothly and held my interest so fully, I finished it in two days. If you have not read any of Dennis's other works, I would compare his style to another of my favourite authors John McPhee. Both are masters at interweaving a narrative of spending time with the focus of their articles and book in this case, the ferro-cement schooner Malabar with the science and history of the larger subject at hand.
In The Living Great Lakes, the author tells the story of the Great Lakes while serving as a crew member on the Malabar on a six-week trip through the waters of Lakes Michigan, Huron, Erie and Ontario as they deliver the vessel from Grand Traverse Bay, Michigan to Maine (via the Erie Canal). Amidst the tale of that journey, Dennis spins us captivating anecdotes from his childhood, such as a 1967 family salmon-fishing outing on Lake Michigan that put them in the midst of a storm-related rescue of unsuspecting anglers, and well-informed discussion of the Lakes' natural history, social history and human impacts. He does not overlook the impact of weather and climate on the human use of the Lakes.
What John McPhee has done recently for the shad (see my review of The Founding Fish), Dennis has done for my Great Lakes. The book made me wish I could pack up and return to live along its shores. I highly recommend The Living Great Lakes as a must for summer reading, even if you are an old Laker like me, it contains new information and adventures that will entertain you. Someday, I'll have to come up with a Weather Doctor rating scheme say rainbows for the books I review. When I do, The Living Great Lakes will receive the highest rating.
Weather Doctor's Book Review: The Living Great Lakes: Searching for the Heart of the Inland Seas ©2003, Keith C. Heidorn, PhD. All Rights Reserved.
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