Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Journey by Book

Back to the cold. This is a picture taken from the second floor of the Kenosha Public Museum, which across the street from our house. It’s one of my favorite lake views, even on a gray day.

Now back to books, which provide much comfort and entertainment on these cold winter days.

The idea of being from the Great Lakes and not just the Midwest came to me when I was reading a book called Great Lakes Journey: A New Look at America’s Freshwater Coast by William Ashworth. I am only half way through Ashworth’s book, but it has given me much to think about. The idea of being a Great Laker was only one idea.

The book jacket says that Ashworth is a reference librarian in Ashland Oregon, but when I checked his website he is much more than that. He is a musician and writer as well as a fine photographer. I do not know Ashworth personally but he seems to be a real Renaissance person.

In 1983, Ashworth toured the Great Lakes Basin and wrote about his trip. I have not read that book but in Ashworth’s own words, “it told of the Great Lake’s past and present and some of its uncertain future.” Ashworth made the same trip again in 1998 and the book I am now reading is an account of that follow up journey.

Ashworth and his wife Melody drove from Oregon to Wisconsin, through Shawano to Green Bay. He describes entering the Great Lakes basin at Embarrass, Wisconsin. Believe it or not, Embarrass is the name of a town, and believe it or not, I have been there. So have all the people who have visited our dear friends who summer on Clover Lake.

All the way from Door County, through Milwaukee, Waukegan, Chicago, Naperville, the Indiana Dunes, and the western shore of Lake Michigan, I have been to the same places the Ashworths visited. It’s only when they get to Traverse City, Michigan that they loose me. We meet up again when they are back in Detroit and Windsor Ontario, which is where I am in the book as of today.

Ashworth writes about many things. To name just a few
– The protection of natural sand dunes
– The zebra mussel invasion
– The effect of PCB’s and other toxins on the water
– The effect of increasing recreational use of the lakes
– The decline of local business in newly populated areas
– Out-of-basin water diversions
– Efforts to maintain water quality

One thing that has really struck me is when he writes about how the population along the lakeshores has increased since his last trip. So many people want lake views. I know that is true because Michael and I are among them. What I hadn’t stopped to consider was how increasing numbers put stress on resources and change the culture of communities along the lakes.

That increase in population is a mixed bag because in this economy more people, whether full time residents or summer folk, can mean more money for the local economy. Here in Kenosha we would be delighted if more of those folk who park their big boats in local harbors spent more money in our stores and restaurants, and there are many here who are working hard to make that happen.

However, more boaters also mean more pollutants, more noise, and more traffic. How to balance these and still give each person some space is an issue experts debate. Preserving the environment is important; maintaining and growing the economy is, too.

I am looking forward to the next leg of my reading journey as we move from Saginaw to Detroit, Toledo, and Cleveland, all places I have been. Last summer we spent time in the Erie Islands, and along the southwestern coast of Lake Erie, where the algae plume was horrific and the mushy shores of once beautiful beaches were strewn with zebra mussel shells. I wonder if Ashworth’s observations are the same as ours.

I also wonder how the town of Embarrass got its name. If you know, please let us all know.

1 comment:

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