Monday, October 24, 2011

The Windward Shore: A Winter on the Great Lakes by Jerry Dennis

Midway through this spectacular rendering, Jerry Dennis states, “If I could I would seed these pages with beach stones, maple leaves, blue jay feathers, Petoskey stones, cherry pits, and arrowheads.  Open the cover, and out would rush starlings and wood smoke and a cold wind off the lake.”  Dennis does seed the book’s pages with all he mentions and so much more.  Every time I opened the book, sights, smells, memories and new experiences rushed out to astonish me with their exacting suitability to the situations and places described.   I have long been a fan of Dennis’s books and am something of an evangelist for his The Living Great Lakes so I expected to love this book but nothing prepared me for the deep connection it forged with me – a connection so strong that I spent two weeks avoiding reading the last chapter so the book would never end. But end it did and with a commandment to “Go forth.”  I cannot imagine a more apt challenge and one that if they were among us that Thoreau and Aldo Leopold might have tossed.  Yes, this book does compare to Walden and to The Sand Country Almanac. Yet, it’s entirely accessible and would make a suitable holiday gift for a fisherman, a motorcyclist or a hunter as well as those who love natural history.

Just one more example: “Many go to nature looking for a cure, but they rarely find it. . . Water and woods, the night sky, the dawn chorus of songbirds, a loping coyote – such things are not a cure, but a salve. . . They replenish us after the gorings of daily life. They provide relief from rude clerks and petty coworkers, from the relentless goosestep of fashion, from the piling-on of responsibilities, from the burden of having constantly to maintain oneself, stay in shape, make progress, be good, be mature, be an example to one’s children, and never just coast because if you’re not moving forward, your moving backward.  In nature, temporarily, we can coast.  It’s the appeal of canoes and sailboats, of lawn chairs and tree houses and walks on the beach.  In nature we can catch our breath.”  I’m tempted to pepper this review entirely with quotes as I have sticky-note flags on almost every page.  I want to share them but even more I want you to open this book and feel the joy of holding the great lakes in your hand.

Jerry Dennis set out to present a true picture of the northern shores of Lake Michigan near where he lives and in the Upper Peninsula where he visited.  He focused on the area in winter when it’s most exposed.  He succeeded by painting a portrait of the land the coasts ignore, a place both remote and desolate yet within a few hours’ drive for millions of Midwesterners.

Read this book because it will make you slow down to appreciate the wonder of our lakes. Relish this book because the Glenn Wolff illustrations will transport you to the north woods.  Buy this book because in addition to the descriptive passages, Dennis explains everything from avian botulism to snow, bird song, geology and more so simply that the most scientifically ignorant will understand. Savor this book because, quite simply, it depicts “Creation, right before our eyes.”

Summing it Up:  Read this book for the meditations it offers, then allow it to penetrate so you appreciate the incredible gift the Great Lakes are to those of us lucky enough to be able to enjoy them.

Contact these stores for autographed copies: 
Nicola’s Books, Ann Arbor, MI,

Rating: 5 stars    Category: Non-fiction, Gourmet, Super Nutrition, Book Club
Publication date: September 24, 2011, The University of Michigan Press

What Others are Saying:
"Our country is lucky to have Jerry Dennis. A conservationist with the soul of a poet whose beat is Wild Michigan, Dennis is a kindred spirit of Aldo Leopold and Sigurd Olson. The Windward Shore---his newest effort---is a beautifully written and elegiac memoir of outdoor discovery. Highly recommended!"
---Douglas Brinkley, author of The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America