Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Journey's End

I had no doubt that my new friend Loreen would successfully complete her 1,000 mile beach walk. She is now posting about Segment 10, the walk from Milwaukee to Navy Pier in Chicago. I was delighted to see it this morning, and to see that Burlee and I were included in her journal. Calling the report of her trek a blog doesn't seem to be adequate. She took the journey of a lifetime. Her writing, her journal, is the record of her experiences and observations, and that, according to Webster, is the definition of a journal.

Check out Burlee and me as well as the rest of Loreen's trip at

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

940 Miles Down - 60 To Go

This afternoon I met Loreen Niewenhuis who has spent the last six months walking 1,000 miles around Lake Michigan. She didn’t do it all at once, but rather in ten smaller segments. She started in March at Navy Pier in Chicago and plans to end at the same spot this coming Saturday afternoon. Today she walked from Racine through Kenosha on her way to Zion. I had the pleasure of spending some time – and a very small portion of the walk – with her. You can see the route she followed and the segments on her blog Lake Trek.

I met Loreen about a mile north of where I live. She was easy to spot – a lone figure sporting a walking stick that she told me has been with her from the beginning. I asked her why she was doing this hike. She said she has always loved Lake Michigan and that was part of the draw. The other part is that she wanted to do something “big” and something for herself. Loreen is the mother of two almost grown boys; the mother within me understood what she was saying.

As we walked back toward my house, I filled her in on Kenosha. When she learned that I had lived here in the 80's, then left and came back in 2004, she asked if things were different now. I told her a little about the economy here, the loss of auto industry jobs, a story that as a Michigander she was all too familiar with, and how Kenosha has been dealing with that loss. I also told her about the influx of “Illinois folk” and its impact on the city, and that Kenosha’s major employer now is the Illinois-based Abbott Labs.

“But your interest is in Lake Michigan, I said, “So I will tell you one thing that is different. Thirty years ago, no one seemed to even notice that Lake Michigan was here. I would walk our kids or our dog in the parks along the lake and often would be the only one around. It was a greatly undervalued resource. Perhaps that was an indication of the times everywhere – we took our natural resources for granted.”

‘What I see now is an ever-increasing appreciation of the wonderful resource we have. The lake shore has been developed for recreation and people are down here all the time.”

“So now that I have told you about Kenosha,” I said after I felt I was monopolizing the conversation, “tell me more about your trip.”

Loreen has gone though three pair of boots on the trip, often walks alone, although at various points family or friends have joined her, and she travels light. Today she was carrying a backpack which she said weighs about 25 pounds.

Her overnight accommodations have been varied. She has camped (and on those treks carried a heavier backpack), stayed in motels, and with people she knows along the way. The cool summer was to her advantage, but there were times when she walked into strong gale force winds and in the rain. She notifies communities that she will be passing through – some respond, others don’t. The Sheboyan Press wrote a nice article about her – check it out.

We got to my house and Loreen sat for about an hour. When she got up to leave all she wanted was to refill her water bottle – although the bottle she carried has a fancy filtration systems so she can drink right from the lake. I walked her as far Eichelmann Beach, where she continued south and I turned back toward home.

I enjoyed the brief time we had together and hope our paths meet again. As we parted, I started to give her some advice about what she would encounter between here and Zion, her next stop. Then I stopped myself.

“You’ve made it 940 miles without me. I guess you can make the next 60 miles without me, too.” She laughed – and pulled out her GPS – then went on her way.

Loreen isn’t posting on her blog while she is walking, but will when she gets back home. Next week I will check out her blog. She plans to write a book about her trek. Next year, I will watch for it. I will also think about what I might do for myself that’s “big”.

How about a 10,000 mile trek around all the Great Lakes?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Fabulous Photos and Art Inspired by the Great Lakes

I bought a new camera but have yet to take any pictures with it, other than a few tests inside my house. After viewing the photos of the winners of The Great Lakes Forever 2009 Photo Contest, I may never take any. Take a look at these fabulous photos. Magnificent. Awe-inspiring. What talent. (Click on the highlighted text to see them.)

Other art worth looking at is the work of Mary Gillis and in particular her Great Lakes Series. The series is currently on display in Grand Rapids, MI and is contending for the coveted ArtPrize. I would vote for Mary to win the prize but you actually have to be in Grand Rapids to vote. So if you are anywhere near there, please check out the exhibit. Maybe you can help Mary – and the Great Lakes – win this award. Even if you don’t get to vote, when you look at her website be sure to read the explanation of the Great Lakes series, especially about how the colors come from various automotive colors- how Michigan!

These are just two examples of art that draws inspiration from the Great Lakes. I know there are many more. And even if my amateur pictures are not art, I am inspired by nature and the Great Lakes and when I take a picture, it is to tell a story that my words cannot. Maybe that does make me an artist. Who knows?

All art is but imitation of nature.
Lucius Annaeus Seneca

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Cleanup Day for Shores and Sins

Saturday is International Coastal Cleanup Day sponsored by the Ocean Conservancy. The day is set aside to remove trash and debris from all beaches and waterways, not just those at the ocean. In the past, my husband and I have participated in this annual event at one of our local beaches, but we will not be collecting trash this year because the day coincides with the observance of Rosh Hashanah, The Jewish New Year. I guess I am used to events coinciding with Jewish holidays but I was pleased to see a note on the website of the California Coastal Commission explaining that unlike Jewish holidays, which roam around the calendar, the cleanup day is always the third Saturday in September. Regrettably, many people who would otherwise participate will not be able to do so this year.

However, that doesn’t mean they can’t pick up trash on the beach at another time. There is always trash on the beach – what it means is that it just won’t be counted. On Cleanup Day, trash collectors keep track of what they collect so that officials can see what kinds of garbage gets into the water. I have counted endless numbers of cigarette butts, plastic bottles, soda cans, candy wrappers, and even old socks. Every year I hope I will find something “interesting” – it’s not that I want to see the trash on the beach, but I want to be able to check off the box that says “Other” and insert the description of a noteworthy piece of garbage in it.

The coincidence of Rosh Hashanah and Cleanup Day make me think of one aspect of our holiday observance, the traditional ritual of Tashlich. For Jews, Rosh Hashanah is the beginning of the New Year but it is also the start of a ten-day period of reflection and repentance. Tashlich is a powerful ceremony where we symbolically cast our sins unto the water. Our congregation gathers at Eichelmann Beach, which is one of the beaches I have cleaned in the past, to toss pieces of bread into Lake Michigan to represent our sins. Every year, the seagulls hover around us, too, waiting to take those “sins” away from us.

This year we will be cleaning our souls while my fellow beach lovers are cleaning the beach. Both are noble efforts, and both need to be thought about not just on the third Saturday in September but all year long. The consequences of both sins and trash stick around longer than we care to admit.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Pictures Without A Camera

Because my camera is broken (and too expensive to repair), I did not have a way to capture the scenes I saw on my morning walk. However, I thought I would test my writing skills and try to describe what I saw.

When I walked out of the house, the sun was shining but the air was hazy. It felt more like August than September and I wondered if the winter months would be a little off schedule too. I don’t mind January’s zero temperatures being delayed, but I would hate to think in April it will feel like mid-February.

Anyway, the air this morning was damp and my skin felt clammy. The flags at the waterfront moved listlessly in the slight breeze off the lake. They seemed tired already, even though it was only 9AM. Perhaps they were conserving their energy for later in the day.

The harbor wall was lined with fisher people – I have to say that because there seemed to be almost as many women as there were men. In fact, as I approached the end of the harbor, I recognized a friend of mine.

“I thought that was you”, I greeted her.

“Yup, it’s me.”

“I didn’t know you fished,” I commented.

“Well, I don’t. At least not often. We did the first year we lived here,” she told me. “We bought all the gear and came down here regularly. But after that, well, we just never did it.” That was five years ago.

I could relate. That’s exactly what happened to us when we moved here, also five years ago. My husband bought the gear and the license, and now the reels and net make nice wall decorations in our garage.

“Not working today?” I asked my friend.

“No. My sister is here from West Virginia, and I took the day off.” She pointed to a woman sprawled out on the harbor wall, soaking up the sun. The woman opened one eye and said, “Hi”.

We chatted for a few more minutes and then I continued. I walked past the small boat harbor, over the bridge, past the Coast Guard station and History Center to the end of the road, then down the pier to the lighthouse.

There were no cars parked at the beach. That’s the spot the teenagers congregate at in the summer, and they are all back at school now. But I did notice, as I have on other occasions, cars driving slowly down the beach road, across Simmons Island, and along the lakefront drive. As before, I noticed that the drivers were almost exclusively men in their sixties and seventies. They drive late model American made cars (remember this town has been an auto manufacturer for years). Chryslers. Buicks. Cadillacs. I wondered how many of them were retired American Motors workers. I also wondered how many of them were told this morning by their wives to stop sitting around the house, and get out while they cleaned or shopped or just talked to a friend on the phone. I wonder what these old guys do in the winter. Drive around Fort Meyers Florida?

When I reached the base of the lighthouse, I saw that some young lovers had left their mark on the base of the lighthouse. Nickie and Debbie 9/09/09. I hate graffiti and I hate what it does to my lighthouse, but somehow that Nickie and Debbie acknowledged a significant date (we won’t see one like it again until 10/10/10) was less troublesome to me than usual.

Looking back at the beach, I realized it was empty, except for a gaggle of seagulls (Do seagulls gather in a gaggle like geese?) who were probably happy to finally have the beach all to themselves.

By this time, I was hot, but my sweat had nowhere to go. I was glad that the water fountain (okay, here in Wisconsin it’s a bubbler) in front of the water treatment plant was still running and I took a long drink. I then went back down the road, along the beach, and across the park toward home.

Across the street from the foot of the harbor is Memorial Fountain. This morning the small maple tree in front of the fountain (no, this is a real fountain, a two story high globe surrounded by spouting water) was wearing a gold and red cap of turning leaves, the first sign I have seen of approaching autumn.

When I realized that it would only be a few more weeks until all the trees would be decked out in their fall finery, and that would be followed by winter, I decided to enjoy my sweaty skin and the warm sun beating on my legs. It won’t be long before I will trade my baseball cap for a woolen hat and my sneakers for boots. By then, I hope to have purchased another camera.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Things I Learned Today

A few days ago, I mentioned that the portion of the Niagara Escarpment running through Hamilton Ontario has always been called “The Mountain”. It’s not really a mountain – it only rises about 300 feet above the city. But you can definitely see the sudden elevation in the landscape and know it is different from the rest of the city. In the past, the culture of the people, that is, the ethnic and economic mix of the population, was also different although that is not true anymore and I am told the area is as diverse as the rest of the city.

Today I learned there is a similar demarcation in Fond du Lac Wisconsin – and for the same reason. Fond du Lac is at the very edge of the Niagara Escarpment (look at on a map if you don’t believe me). In Fond du Lac there is a neighborhood referred to by the locals as the “The Ledge. It’s even less of a mountain than the Hamilton elevation, but the person who told me about it also said that the people who live there are of a different social-economic status than the rest of the city. More elevated, perhaps?

That is one thing I learned today. Another is that the five mile long Mackinac Bridge, across the Straits of Mackinac, is only open to pedestrians one day a year and that day is Labor Day. I read this on a blog I have been following. In addition to this piece of trivia (especially trivial for those of you who live in Texas, California and other places my readers reside) if you check out this blog you will read some interesting stuff about a woman who has made a 1,000 mile trek around Lake Michigan. She didn’t do it all at once but in bits and pieces and she has been writing about her adventures since she started in March 2009. Loreen Niewenhaus is about to complete her walk soon and I am hoping to meet her when she comes through Kenosha on September 23. Check out her blog – she has some great photographs on it.

And the third thing I learned today is that it will cost me $162 to fix my camera, plus the $20 I already paid to get the estimate.(Notice there are no pictures here – that’s because my camera got dropped and the auto focus no longer works.) Over the weekend, I learned what it would cost me to replace it and so I am not paying to have the old one fixed.

I was happy to learn the first two facts – not so much the last one, but such is life. If my budget allows it, I will replace my camera this week and post some pictures soon. After I look at my checkbook, I will know the answer to that, too.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Great Lakes Rescue?

The headline of the editorial in the New York Times today read Great Lakes Rescue. Of course, I read it. It briefly describes recovery programs like the Clean Water Act of 1972 and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative for which President Obama asked and received from the House $475 to be EPA efforts to help the lakes.

It also acknowledges that invasive species, like zebra and quagga mussels and other invasives like Asian Carp pose an enormous threat to the ecosystem and that there has not yet been a good answer to how to keep these out of the lakes. The article goes on to suggest that overseas freighters, which bring these invasives into the lakes in their ballast water, be required to sterilize that water before enter the Great Lakes. An even more radical proposal would ban the lakes to foreign shipping altogether. The article concludes by saying, “it seems increasingly clear that the economic damage from exotic species outweighs the benefits of allowing polluting ocean ships in the Great Lakes.’’

That’s the line that got me thinking and wondering about its validity. So commercial and sport fishing are more vital to the Great Lakes Basin economy that whatever else it is that shipping brings to the economy? Could be. But I also wonder how effective banning foreign ships could be on invasive species that are already here. Seems like closing the barn door after the cows have gotten out, doesn’t it?