Nature writer Dennis (From a Wooden Canoe, 1999, etc.) enlivens his fine guide to the Great Lakes with a storyteller’s sense of pacing, savvily blending the factual with the picaresque.
“Though I've lived near the Great Lakes most of my life,” he admits, “there came a day a few years ago when I realized how little I knew about them. To get better acquainted, I drove around each of their shores.” More than once, in fact, with frequent dallyings. Dennis spends a good amount of time on both developed and wild waterfronts, telling of the broad and curious array of people who lived there, tracking from the Paleolithic past through to the industries of sand and salt and honeycomb stone, describing the evolution of coastal geomorphology whose vivid geology is matched by an equally vivid history of bad weather. He spends even more time out on top of the waterscape aboard the schooner Malabar. These are burly waters with their own weather systems and tragic tales resulting therefrom, as well as a thousand landscapes to pass as the Malabar, sails from the author’s hometown of Traverse City, Michigan, to New York City. Dennis writes about them all in polished and alluring prose—not fancy, but not homespun either, just comfortably well worn. To explore sections of the lakes he doesn't visit on the Malabar he employs other means, from canoeing the northern shore of Superior to swimming off the shore of his house on Leelanau Peninsula. He threads environmental history throughout, from the utter degradation of the mid-20th century, when the US all but wrote the lakes off as dead, to what can cautiously be considered their resurrection, although the water’s clarity is mostly due to the zebra mussel, which trails botulism, toxic algae, and species loss in its wake.
An enticing homecoming party for the Great Lakes, with a welcome-back for some readers and an invitation for others.