"...When children memorize a song or a poem, they say they have memorized it by heart. I am trying to learn this land, my home, by heart, but I don't know if my heart is big enough. And I don't know if I am writing a love song or a lament. Both probably..." — Jerry Dennis, author, "The Living Great Lakes"
I think I fell in love with Lake Michigan before I was born. My family used to spend summers at my grandparents' cottage on the western shore, so my first trimester—when I probably looked liked a fish or maybe a tadpole—was spent at the beach, listening with proto-ears to the waves and the laughter.
Even in winter, when the water can be frozen to the horizon and beyond, I try to see the Lake every day. In the summer, I get up when it's still dark, put some coffee in a thermos and head out to a beach or sometimes a bench on the southeastern-most point of a lakefront park at Northwestern to sit and watch the sun rise. It never ever gets old. Its not just the sun, but the birds—geese, gulls, cormorants, swallows—on their first flights of the day. Also carp that always seem to come up for...what exactly?...then disappear in in a splash at the far edges of peripheral vision. The line between Big City and Big Nature is a measured in sand.
The Lakes, have been on an even-ish keel for the last few decades, recovering and getting cleaner in general, but also under chronic threat from invasive species and, of course, plastic. Now they are facing a siege. In Michigan, it's the Nestle company that wants to deepen its watershed straw so it can syphon off aquifer water to package and ship in plastic bottles, privatizing a public resource in the process. I first wrote about this for BusinessWeek a fifteen years ago and everything people were worried about came true—and worse. In Wisconsin‚ which lost its political soul along with a lot frac sand to the Koch Brothers—manufacturing multinational Foxconn has secured a permit to to use 7 million gallons of water a day and also to pollute the air pretty much as they please. What may be good for one politically-connected, swamp-dwelling corporation will be a disaster for everybody else, including Wisconsin taxpayers. Meanwhile dodgy oil pipelines threaten the water security of millions.
The Great Lakes will survive us. Nature always bats last, even if in the meantime there are wildlife die-offs, perhaps some extinctions and also threats to human health. If we want to Make the Lakes Great Again and Keep the Lakes Great for us, we're going to have to fight for them.
• Alliance for the Great Lakes
• Great Lakes Coastal Resilience Planning Guide
• Environmental Law and Policy Center
• Trump Budget vs. the Great Lakes / NRDC post
• Tapping the Great Lakes / Detroit Public Television documentary
• Shedd Scientists, Volunteers Track Migrations of Great Lakes Fish | WTTW