Published by the University of Michigan Press, in conjunction with the Nature Conservancy, the book is built around a solid collection of essays about Michigans many treasures. Several notable local authors are represented, including Stephanie Mills, Anne-Marie Oomen, Jerry Dennis, and Jack Driscoll.
Editor Knott, whose previous credits include Imagining Wild America, says his goal for the new book is to help the Nature Conservancy publicize its goals and achievements, and also to give people a better sense of Michigan as a place. My sense is that we dont do enough to publicize Michigans rich natural heritage or its amazing biological and scenic diversity.
The essays and photographs encompass Nature Conservancy protected areas from all over the state, ranging from the Erie Marsh in the southeast corner of the Lower Peninsula, to the Two Hearted River in the central Upper Peninsula. The assembled writers and photographers capture both the beauty and the fragility of nearly the entire state in between.
WAKE UP CALL
Knott says the idea for the collection came from Helen Taylor, director of the Nature Conservancy in Michigan. Taylor isnt sure if it was her idea or Knotts, but regardless, she hopes the book will be a call to action or an awakening for readers. She says conservation is no longer as simple as setting places aside. Conservation requires constant attention to the changing needs of the environment.
Augmented with commentary from other notable Michiganians, including former governors William Milliken, James Blanchard, John Engler, and Congressman John Dingell, and photography that is at once quintessentially Michigan and emotive, the book serves to showcase the emotional and historical significance of the states natural features. Focusing on interdependence of the land and the water of the Great Lakes state, the writing informs, inspires, enrages, and hopefully engages, says Taylor. These are landscapes that are challenged, she says.
The book creates an aesthetic overview, a series of literary and pictorial essays celebrating, through individual voices of Michigan writers, Michigans natural beauty and the value of our land and water, says Anne-Marie Oomen, director of creative writing at the Interlochen Center for the Arts.
Oomen writes about the Shiawassee River drainage in her piece Ditches and Rivers. She writes that she wanted to write something pretty about the area, and ends up doing so, though in an unconventional way. She is aided in her explorations by Craig, a Nature Conservancy guide, who shows her how the drainage is, shaped like our hemisphere, and how the two continents of the watershed include hundreds of square miles.
What she comes to understand is that the health and care of ditches impacts the health and well being of rivers. She concludes by explaining: Before we can celebrate the river, we must understand the connection to everything else, including ditches.
This intertwining is a main theme of the books nine essays and interlocking commentary. The land cannot sustain without healthy watershed, and healthy watersheds, in turn, depend upon wise land use practices.
Driscoll, who also teaches at Interlochen and has used Michigan landscapes in his critically acclaimed novels, writes about a trip to the Two Hearted River in the Upper Peninsulas Hemingway country, explaining how the area is by and large absent of topography, and is nonetheless punctuated by the subtle shadings of open bogs and beaver dams and town names such as Laughing Whitefish. These small pleasures are enough to sustain the soul, Driscoll says, and hopefully will be enough incentive to protect the area from further human degradation.
Dennis, author of The Living Great Lakes and many other works of both fiction and non fiction, contributes a piece on Pointe Betsie, explaining how such places restore and recalibrate, because, Even when we are determined to make ourselves heard we have little voice in the matter. The wind outshouts us every time.
The Nature Conservancys Taylor says this idea might be the central theme of the book. We used to think the future of nature was in human hands, but were quickly learning the opposite is true.