Friday, May 15, 2009

Shipwrecks in Book, Song, and Legend

I am still thinking about The Highwaymen concert a few nights ago. Shipwrecks seem to be a popular topic for folk songs. In the hour and half concert The Highwaymen sang about two, the Reuben James, the first ship to be sunk in World War II, and the Stan Roger’s song, The Mary Ellen Carter. I have not been able to determine if Mary Ellen Carter was a real ship but the song certainly is real.

There were many shipwrecks on the Great Lakes, the most well known being the one in the song sung by Gordon Lightfoot, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. Who, upon hearing either the name of the ship or the singer, does not start to sing the haunting opening lines to that song?

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
of the big lake they called "Gitche Gumee".
The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead
when the skies of November turn gloomy.

A few years ago, I took a writing class from Michael Schumacher. No, not the racecar driver- the Kenosha author of the book “The Mighty Fitz: The Sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald”. It is a detailed description of the November 1975 shipwreck on Lake Superior. Mike has another book now, also about a Great Lakes shipwreck, called “The Wreck of the Carter D: The True Story of Loss, Survival and Rescue at Sea” I have not read this yet, but it tells the story of the 1958 wreckage of the Carl D. Bradley that sank in 1958 in northern Lake Michigan.

As for me, I am in another writing class – this one on what is called The Art of Creative Non-fiction. The instructor spent the first two hours trying to get across the concept of what that means. Basically, it means writing non-fiction using techniques more common in fiction such as description, detail, drama, and dialogue. Some of the folks in the class had a problem understanding what that meant. Perhaps I should have referred them to Mike’s book. It has all the elements needed to create a great read.

There are several books about Great Lakes shipwrecks as well as maps for divers who want to explore them. There are several websites, too – all you have to do is google Great Lakes shipwrecks, and you’ll find them. I know my son-in-law Dan would enjoy diving around some of those sites, but that may have to wait until he finishes the MBA program he just began. Still, if he wants he can check out the sites and E-dive. I know it’s not the same, but it may have to do for now. Or maybe we can make the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum in Whitefish Point in the UP a destination for a family trip. My son and his S.O. could come, too. She is a Yupper and still has close family there.

The more I think of it, a road trip sounds like a good idea. Sounds like a song, too. Maybe Gypsy Rover?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Under the Influence of a Song

As a kid, I didn’t know who wrote " This land is your land, this land is my land." I only knew it as a summer camp song, one of my favorites. I recently learned that Woody Guthrie wrote it, and he wrote this strong but gentle song as a response to Kate Smith’s version of God Bless America. My source for this information called her singing bombastic, and to avoid plagiarism, I tried to find another word for her militaristic style, but none of the choices the thesaurus gave me was quite right, so I will stick with bombastic. Kate’s patriotic rendition of that song was part of my childhood, too.

I was reminded of Guthrie’s famous song last night at a concert where the folk group from the 1960’s, The Highwaymen, performed here in Kenosha. They sang the song, along with some of their other hits (Michael, Row the Boat Ashore, Cottonfields and the one I was courted to – Gypsy Rover).

Although folk music was popular in the 60’s, my husband introduced me to much more of it than just what hit the airwaves. It was because of him – and Pete Seeger, and many others – that I learned about the influence of music on politics and culture and about the strong stories told through folk music.

Perhaps because of last night’s concert, or perhaps because I just wrote about invasive species and VHS, I paid special attention to a small blurb in this morning’s newspaper about “musical messages” that have been written about invasive species. Weird connection, right, but why not? If we can sing about war, labor unions, and bad government, why can’t we sing about zebra mussels and their war on our waters?

So check this out. You can listen to songs called “One Bait, One Lake” and “The Ballad of Invasive Species” and others, as well as get more information, at this University of Wisconsin Extension website. It’s a great resource and will link you to others as well.

If music can make a difference, and I think it can, invasive species beware. You are about to be attacked by a strumming guitar and well-chosen words.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

STANT Kenosha of the USCG

One of our neighbors had an open house yesterday so we went. They live across the harbor in a white building with a red roof, which I think of as the original Red Roof Inn. These neighbors have three boats, which I often see them maneuvering out in the harbor or on the lake. Their home accommodates 22 active people. During the summer, at sunset I can hear them play taps and in the distance see them lowering the flag. I am never up to see them raise it in the morning.

Our neighbors are STANT Kenosha of the Ninth District of the United States Coast Guard. The Ninth District, headquartered in Cleveland, is responsible for all operations on the Great Lakes. STANT stands for Station Aid to Navigation Team. This unit is responsible for numerous duties but their primary mission is Search and Rescue. If you saw the 2006 movie The Guardian, with Kevin Costner and Ashton Kutcher, you learned a lot about the training and mission of the USCG and got to watch an exciting movie as well.

The Coast Guard, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, may be the least known of the Armed Forces. Among its many duties are the enforcement of maritime law, the protection of coastal waters and shores, protection of maritime environment and search and rescue. I didn’t know until yesterday that the USCG serves overseas, too. Currently, we were told by one of our hosts, USCG are involved in operations in the Middle East protecting naval vessels and also participating in training of Iraqi military.

The Kenosha unit has been here since 1879. On our visit we went inside the red roofed main building, saw a movie, learned a little of the history of this base, and perused a big scrapbook filled with clippings about the people that have been rescued in recent years by this unit. If you read the 9th District’s blog you can a read a letter from someone who was recently rescued by them. Heroic stuff – although these young men all seemed to take rescuing people all in a day’s work.

Michael and I were impressed with the people we talked to and were glad we walked over there to meet them. They are more than our neighbors. They protect our waters, shorelines, and beaches. Today when I was out walking the dog, there were strong winds off the lake and temperatures only about 50 degrees. I don’t know for sure but I would guess there were small craft warnings out, yet I saw a sailboat bobbing out on the lake. I hope whoever was in that boat doesn’t meet my neighbors until the next time they have an open house. If they don’t visit, at least they should acknowledge that the USCG is a good neighbor, helping protect our waters and sometimes boaters from themselves.

By the way, the little boat Michael is standing by is NOT one of the three boats the unit maintains, but it's cute isn't it? ( As is Michael!).

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Icky and Pretty

I can’t tell you how many times I have passed the sign that says VHS Alert. Boats and Anglers. Do not move water or live fish (including baitfish) from these waters. It then says that VHS is viral hemorrhagic septicemia, a virus that infects fish not people. The sign shows some gross pictures of fish with swollen eyes, red, bloody organs, and splotchy skin. It goes on to tell anglers how to prevent the spread of this disease by making sure all fish and bait are dead before leaving the fishing area, cleaning out ballast water, and taking other precautions.

Why all of a sudden did I pay attention to this sign? Could the reason have something to do with the current scare about swine flu? Maybe, maybe not, but it is true that we have all been a lot more aware of viruses in the past few weeks.

VHS is not related to swine flu – or H1N1 Type A Influenza as we are now supposed to call it. Although they are both RNA viruses (which refers to the icky reproducing parts inside the virus), flu viruses have additional proteins on their surface. Those are the H’s and N’s from which the flu virus gets its more politically correct name.

Should I believe the literature about VHS that says it does not infect humans? Sure – for now. I am not suggesting that the next pandemic will be fish flu. However, VHS is an invader, which was first seen in 2003 in Lakes Erie and Huron. It is much smaller than the smallest zebra or quagga mussel and therefore may be much harder to control, and it can cause massive fish kills.

I read the sign carefully, and when I got home I checked a few facts about VHS on the web, which as we all know is the ultimate source of all good information. (I am not sure how to portray skepticism in writing – maybe it’s a smiley face winking). If you want to learn more, the Wisconsin DNR has a lot of information, as do the websites of affected states, US Department of Agriculture, the National Park Service, and of course Wikipedia. No lack of information – let’s hope that the anglers read at least some of it. And if they don’t, that they, unlike me, at least read the signs posted near the water and cleaning stations. But then, I am not an angler, only an angler-watcher.

A better part of my walk was passing the flower gardens. One of my neighbors was weeding a small patch of it and she seemed very happy to be sitting on the stone path, pulling weeds form the section of garden she maintains. Even though this is public property, volunteers keep it looking good. Here’s proof. Aren’t these daffodils beautiful? Further inland away from the cooling air of the lake, the spring flowers are already starting to fade, but not these. They are out in all their glory and it is much more pleasant to think about them than the organs of fish invaded by icky little clumps of RNA.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Marathon Morning

Most Saturday mornings are somewhat sleepy around here. Sure, there are people walking along the harbor, and runners, too, but not like this morning. Today was the first ever-Wisconsin Marathon in Kenosha. Two thousand runners crowded into the neighborhood before 7 AM (no, I was not there to greet them) and began either a full marathon or a half marathon run. By 9 AM when we went out, some of the half marathon runners had already passed the finish line.

I don’t have the exact time of the winner of the marathon or his name (I am sure it will be in tomorrow morning’s newspaper) but he finished far ahead of his competitors. A lithe young man, he easily went through the yellow tape, seemingly not even breathing hard. Kudos to him, whoever he is. But kudos to everyone who ran- including those who now, almost five hours later are still coming up the final mile. I give them as much credit as the winner for finishing - and for trying.

It was a perfect day for showing off the lakefront with blue skies dotted by a few fluffy clouds, light breeze off the lake and morning temperatures in the fifties. The race started at Celebration Plaza the other side of the Kenosha Museums, ran north to Carthage College along the lake, then back south to the state line, then back to the plaza area. Almost the entire way, there were views of Lake Michigan. And some of the better neighborhoods of Kenosha, too.

But for some, this was just another Saturday morning in May. The owner of this well equipped fishing boat might have been doing what he does every Saturday morning. I hope the owner of the large sailboat that was tacking back and forth across the narrow harbor inlet wasn’t doing what he does every Saturday morning. I watched as he tacked in front of small fishing boats, showing off his sleek boat. He was probably in perfect control but it still looked kind of reckless.

Once again kudos to those who ran this first time ever Kenosha Marathon and to the organizers of it as well. I hope we see many more such events in the future. They were smart to limit the number of entrants this first time. Judging from the fact that the event was sold out, and that everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves, I think it was a success. If they want to up the number to 3,000 entrants next year, I think Kenosha can handle it. I won’t run, but I sure will be there to cheer them all on.