By ERIC FREEDMAN
Capital News Service
LANSING—In many ways, Michigan is a state of connections, from the vibrant urban life of Detroit and its suburbs to the water passage between the Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean and on to the historic links between the Ojibwe and Isle Royale.
And those connections can be explored in words and pictures that illustrate the linkages that bind land and water, peoples and places, present and past.
Detroit photographer John Sobczak draws such connections in “A Motor City Year” (Wayne State University Press, $39.95), a collection of 365 pictures depicting residents of Southeast Michigan and the things that do and use daily.
“The idea for this book was simple,” Sobczak writes, “a different image every day for one year to capture the flavor of Metro Detroit. Whether it’s fishing in the mist on Lake St. Clair or sledding down the hills in Franklin, working on the line at the Rouge Plant or watching the Tigers play at Comerica Park, the photos show Metro Detroit’s unique communities and personalities.”
Some are familiar – longtime WXYZ newscaster Bill Bonds celebrating the station’s 60th anniversary, clowns parading on Thanksgiving, the huge guitar in front of the Hard Rock Café.
Others are ordinary in content but dramatic in presentation: Detroit police officers and firefighters at a Sept. 11 memorial service, assembly line robots at the Warren Truck Assembly Plant, a freighter on the Detroit River nearing the Ambassador Bridge.
Still others remind us of past glories and uncertain tomorrows: the interior of the abandoned Michigan Central Depot in Corktown, overnight quarters for the homeless at Royal Oak’s Emmanuel Bethel Church, demolition of Tiger Stadium.
In a different type of book, Muskegon journalist Jeff Alexander tells a grim story of environmental shortsightedness in “Pandora’s Locks: The Opening of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway” (Michigan State University Press, $29.95).
His account of the St. Lawrence Seaway, which opened with international fanfare in 1959, lays out the complex balance between economic growth – global trade – and unintended adverse consequences, especially alien species such as the zebra and quagga mussels brought into the Great Lakes by ocean-going freighters.
Through his account, we also meet the people who study and work on the lake, including a fisheries scientist from South Haven, the captain of a fishing vessel from Naubinway, a biologist from Alpena and an ecologist from Muskegon.
These “destructive changes,” Alexander warns, may be irreversible.
In the Seaway’s half-century of operation the lakes’ top fish predator, lake trout, was displaced, alewives invaded and the salmon fishery became “wildly popular” but artificial.
Now, he continues, the ecosystems of the Great Lakes bear “only a slight resemblance to those pristine, healthy waters – teeming with giant sturgeon and lake trout – that Native Americans discovered when they settled the region more than 2,000 years ago.”
That observation connects, in turn with “Minong – The Good Place,” (Michigan State University Press, $24.49), an account of the intimate relationship between the North Shore Ojibwe people and Isle Royale, which is now a national park in Lake Superior off the west coast of the Upper Peninsula.
Former national park historian Timothy Cochrane explains how the Grand Portage Band of Ojibwe had used the island and its resources, including the prized siscowet trout, the caribou that became especially prized when mainland moose numbers dropped in the 1800s, the beaver whose skins were traded and the maple syrup produced in the spring.
Ironically, the well-meaning move intended to preserve the island for the greater public by creating a national park was the low point of the Ojibwes’ relationship with Isle Royale, according to Cochrane. They were not consulted in advance, and the park brought them few economic opportunities.
Only later was the relationship between the tribal council and the national park reworked, with the two sides now communicating about such matters as treaty rights, jobs, the fishery, cultural-resource research and invasive species, he said.
There is now better recognition of cultural connections with Isle Royale and the fact that it was “an Ojibwe homeland – a place of bungled treaties and an island where hunters, fishers and plant gatherers made use and intimately knew Minong resources,” not a wilderness with little human history, according to Cochrane.