by Gary Wilson
Be happy Jerry Dennis devotees, the Traverse City author of the iconic The Living Great Lakes is finally back with a new work. A reflection, provocation, analysis and tribute to “this land, this water,” this place we call the Great Lakes.
The Windward Shore: A Winter on the Great Lakes ( to various remote lake homes in the dead of northern Michigan winter. That contemplative process continues his desire to “learn one place on Earth reasonably well.”
A quick heads up, Windward Shore is not The Living Great Lakes. There is no cranky sailboat captain to ponder or deadly serious open sea storm to survive.
Windward Shore is deep thought about Great Lakes place and our role in it as seen through the eyes of Dennis — the observer, thinker and participant.
Check your pulse
The prologue is one of the most powerful three pages of Great Lakes writing I’ve encountered.
Dennis describes with rapid-fire phrases all that is good and bad about our water-surrounded home.
Consider, “Here is a place so large it is overlooked, so familiar that it’s invisible, so beloved that it’s despised, so precious that we’re intent on ransacking it.”
He continues, “It is home to tens of millions of people divided …. between those who care and those who don’t give a rat’s ass….”
If you read the prologue and don’t read the book, check your Great Lakes pulse — you may not have one.
Walks and waves, storms and stones
Dennis devotes pages to the virtues of walking a place – a beach or trail – repeatedly and contemplating what he sees. “Walk a trail a dozen times and you remain a stranger to it” he writes. “A hundred times and you might earn a nodding acquaintance.”
You get the picture. If you’re going to walk a path Dennis style, leave your iPod at home and over time you may learn something.
He treats waves, storms and stones with similar reverence, often describing their characteristics in rich prose that could only be written by the most astute observer.
But pay attention. It’s easy to become distracted as you try to put your mind around the detail of a Petoskey stone as Dennis describes it. Why is he doing that?
Then it dawned on me, I’m an urban dweller locked in my Chicago where everything should happen in a nanosecond mindset. “Slow down and think, Gary. You’re on the cusp of learning something valuable if you pause and absorb.”
A fugue, huh?
Not every concept Dennis contemplated in his meditative winter fascinated or made sense.
He overreaches in a chapter titled “Fugue and Storm.” It left me shaking my head. What’s he saying and why? How does it relate? I tried to read it again but to no avail. As I re-visited it for this writing, I quickly became disinterested. Perhaps you’ll understand better than I.
And Dennis occasionally dwells more than necessary on the work of Rousseau, Thoreau and other great thinkers and poets. Heady stuff and interesting in another venue, however a distraction here.
But these objections are akin to finding fault with the spare tire in a Ferrari. They are dwarfed by all that is brilliant.
And don’t be taken aback by the seriousness of the writing.
Despite his desire for winter seclusion Dennis still found time to enjoy wine with friends at a head-turning dinner at a restaurant. And even he couldn’t escape the traps of our wired life. He was forced to deal with finding spots in the wilderness where his cell phone would work.
He kept his sense of humor, too.
There are funny anecdotes involving an outdoor hot tub on a frigid day and a math problem with an error from long ago.
The Windward Shore is for all of us who live near and care about the Great Lakes-
be you an autoworker, farmer, business executive, politician or stay at home Mom or Dad.
Because “this land, this water” this place is our place. Know it and you will be enriched.
That’s what Jerry Dennis would say.