Great Lakes authors bare their motives

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Capital News Service 

LANSING – Books usually speak to readers through words and, sometimes, illustrations.

But we can learn what motivated their authors by speaking directly to them, as Great Lakes Echo correspondents did in interviews this year about new books about environmental issues in the region.

“The pollution problems of the Great Lakes are really people problems,” John Hartig, the former manager of the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge, told Great Lakes Echo correspondent Jada Vasser.

Hartig wrote “Great Lakes Champions: Grassroots Efforts to Clean Up Polluted Watersheds” (Michigan State University Press, $24.95). The book profiles residents of the region who’ve led local fights for environmental protection.

“They’re well-respected in the community and they have trust,” he said of the activists he wrote about.

For Michael Schumacher, whose latest book is about shipwrecks near Isle Royale and along Minnesota’s shoreline of Lake Superior, the goal is telling stories of ill-fated ships and their role in Great Lakes history.

The latest reflection of that interest is “Too Much Sea for Their Decks” (University of Minnesota Press, $24.95).

“Cities were built on the backs of these boats,” Schumacher told correspondent Mya Smith. “Lumber was being transported from northern Michigan down to Chicago, which was very important.” 

For author Ted Rulseh, the growing ecological damage from human activity, including poor septic systems and the failure of some property owners to properly tend to their land is a worrisome threat to the Great Lakes and other waters of the Upper Midwest.

His book “Ripple Effects: How We’re Loving Our Lakes to Death.” (University of Wisconsin Press, $26.95) highlights that concern.

As Rulseh told correspondent Emile Rizk, “People will buy lake property, and the chainsaw comes out before the furniture goes in the house. I want people to appreciate the lakes more and understand the role that each of us plays in taking proper care of the lake.”

Similarly, Lianna Leddy takes on the poisonous legacy of uranium mining in her First Rivers community in Ontario.

Her book is “Serpent River Resurgence: Confronting Uranium Mining at Elliott Lake” (University of Toronto Press, $29.95).

One goal, Leddy told correspondent Daniel Schoenherr, was to shed light on the problem as Canadians debate proposed new mining operations. “One of the reasons why I thought my project deserved to be turned into a book was to talk about these issues.”

For author David Dempsey, “Half Wild: People, Dogs and Environmental Policy” (MSU Press, $27.95) was a departure from his usually somber books about environmental issues and policymaking.

“We have this kind of binary approach to the environment where we say humans are here, nature’s there,” he told correspondent Vladislava Sukhanovskaya while discussing his book that provides an overview of his advocacy career, mixed in with stories about dogs he’s owned.

People are drawn to environmental concerns “because of some personal connection, whether it be the neighborhood they grew up in, the forest they’ve walked in, the lakes where they’ve smoked salmon. So, it’s a natural thing to tie environmental matters to personal experiences,” Dempsey said.

Sukhanovskaya also interviewed Maureen Dunphy about her collection of essays, “Divining: A Memoir in Trees” (Wayne State University Press, $19.99).

Dunphy described the important role that trees have played in her life and emotional well-being. She recalled how being alone in a tree house when she was an elementary schoolgirl eased her anxieties. 

“That experience of me making the effort to climb up into the tree., being in the tree alone, breathing the air, not having anything there but my thoughts, and everything looked different below me,” she said.

In his collection of essays, longtime outdoors guide Douglas Wood also emphasized the connection between healing and nature.

In “A Wild Path” (University of Minnesota Press, $24.95), Wood told correspondent Shealyn Paulis, “Kids go through their childhood without a connection to nature, without green spaces to walk in or to listen to the songs of birds, without hearing sounds of the night and seeing stars.”

“It’s a very unnatural way and unhealthy way to grow up,” Wood said.

Edited by Capital News Service director Eric Freedman

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