Book Review by Zinta Aistars
· Paperback: 200 pages
· Publisher: Crickhollow Books, 2010
· Price: $16.95
· ISBN-10: 1933987154
· ISBN-13: 978-1933987156
Lake Michigan is a short drive from where I live, and I, too, like the author of A 1,000-Mile Walk on the Beach, have grown up on or near the beaches of Lake Michigan. Yet, inexplicably, I have never connected to it nearly the way Loreen Niewenhuis has or many others who live around me. For me, it’s another of Michigan’s Great Lakes—Lake Superior. Now that’s a lake!
Okay, but I do get it. I get the connection between woman and water, and I absolutely understand the drive to have the adventure. Niewenhuis has an itch to take a very long walk around the lake she loves, to get to know it intimately, and also to test herself in the process. She is a woman in midlife, a wife and mother of two teenage sons. Good for her!
Her 2009 journey begins in Chicago, at the bottom curve of Lake Michigan, and heading northeast and around. Niewenhuis accomplishes her walk in segments, so that the entire journey takes from March to September. Indeed, this may be a bit of a disappointment for those who would want to see her stay close to the lake day in and day out, night and day, from beginning to end. Nor is this a solitary venture. While she does most of the walk on her own, much of the story is about walking with others—friends, her sons (albeit these mother-son segments are often touching), her brother.
Admittedly, I was a tad disappointed when I learned that she would regularly sleep in motels and B&Bs, or be picked up in a car and brought home for a break between walks. At the same time, this is what makes the walk a concept that most anyone can embrace. Such a walk will get you in shape—and she does train for it—but you don’t have to be a world-class athlete to do it.
This momentary disappointment aside, Niewenhuis’s trek makes for a very readable and enjoyable adventure story. The author has a terrific sense of humor, and she makes her journey interesting to the reader, interspersing well-researched background about the lake’s history and geology, its flora and fauna. She frequently makes statements about ecology and the toll pollution is taking on her beloved lake, and that is as worthy as any part of her commentary on her walk:
“It made sense for industry to settle here, but the lake has suffered because of it. If after walking one day through this area I was covered in soot and grime, how much has the lake absorbed over the last century?
“The BP refinery processes over 400,000 barrels of crude oil per day. It is currently completely legal for the refinery to dump approximately 1,500 pounds of ammonia and 5,000 pounds of toxic sludge per day into Lake Michigan.” (Page 28-29)
Per day! Those are horrifying numbers. Throughout the book, Niewenhuis nudges us to consider what is happening to this lake, the world’s fifth largest. She describes the changes in plants, in fish and other wildlife. While the author’s fun sense of humor could make me smile, these wake-up calls to the damage caused by humans often made my eyes mist over. There are aspects of this lake that are lost forever.
When Niewenhuis delves into a bit of Native American culture on the shores of the lake, she reminds us of a lesson we have not learned from that culture, to our own loss:
“The culture of the Native Americans who lived in balance with the natural world is one the rest of us would do well to study and adopt … The question is not ‘How much will we make next quarter?’ but ‘How will this benefit my grandchildren?’” (Page 105)
Ah yes, the concept of thinking seven generations ahead …
The book drew me in enough that I went online to explore her blog, LakeTrek.com, for more detail, watched a series of YouTube videos she’d made along the way, and viewed photos from her journey. Adding some of those photos to the book would have greatly enhanced it.
Niewenhuis has made a valuable contribution to Michigan environmental books, to adventure stories by women, and simply to good reading.