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Fresh Water

Fresh Water: Women Writing on the Great Lakes

Alison Swan Editor
Copyright Date: 2006
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  • Book Info
    Fresh Water
    Book Description:

    Fresh Water: Women Writing on the Great Lakesis a collection of nonfiction works by women writers. These works focus on the Midwest: living with the five interconnected freshwater seas that we know as the Great Lakes. Contributing to this collection are renowned poets, essayists, and fiction writers, all of whom write about their own creative streams of consciousness, the fresh waters of the Great Lakes, and the region's many rivers: Loraine Anderson, Judith Arcana, Rachel Azima, Mary Blocksma, Gayle Boss, Sharon Dilworth, Beth Ann Fennelly, Linda Nemec Foster, Gail Griffin, Rasma Haidri, Aleta Karstad, Laura Kasischke, Janet Kauffman, Jacqueline Kolosov, Susan Laidlaw, Lisa Lenzo, Linda Loomis, Anna Mills, Stephanie Mills, Judith Minty, Anne-Marie Oomen, Rachael Perry, Susan Power, Donna Seaman, Heather Sellers, Gail Louise Siegel, Sue William Silverman,Claudia Skutar, Annick Smith, Leslie Stainton, Kathleen Stocking, Judith Strasser, Alison Swan, Elizabeth A.Trembley, Jane Urquhart, Diane Wakoski, and Leigh Allison Wilson.

    eISBN: 978-1-60917-104-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Biological Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. ix-2)

    One quiet fall day, on the strand near Saugatuck on Lake Michigan’s southeastern shore, I find a fist of tiny mollusk invaders, dozens of zebra mussels, so-called for their black-and-white-striped shells. Each is smaller than a plum pit, but there are millions of them scouring the waters of the Great Lakes, crowding out native species and allowing sunlight to penetrate so deeply that water-temperature patterns are being altered more quickly than local fish populations can adapt.

    Zebra mussels were discovered in Lake St. Clair, a (very) wide spot in the river between Lakes Huron and Erie, in the late 1980s,...

  4. Homes

    • HOMES: Living with Lake Michigan
      (pp. 5-10)
      Judith Minty

      Homes: It was our third-grade lesson when we studied Michigan geography, our mnemonic device, a way to remember the names of those five Great Lakes that surround the peninsula where we lived: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior. For me, I thought, they really were home—where I had originated, where I belonged.

      “Look,” I still say, even after having lived in states as remote from the lakes as California and Alaska, my right hand now raised in greeting, palm out, life line, heart line, fate line, the mounts of Venus, Mars, and Jupiter exposed for any stranger to study. “Homes,”...

    • Lake Erie as the Color of Hazel Eyes
      (pp. 11-12)
      Linda Nemec Foster

      That sullen girl in the aqua bathing suit squinting in the sun of a 1964 faded photograph is me. My father, younger than I can ever remember, is on my left. My younger sister, blindly smiling into the camera, is on my right. Notice how my mother is not in this family snapshot. She took the picture, so she’s absent; but hating beaches and swimming like she did, she’d be absent anyway. In the background, flat and looming, is the wide expanse of Lake Erie. From this photo’s vantage point—Sandusky, Ohio—you could never tell that Lake Erie is...

    • Freshwater
      (pp. 13-15)
      Sue William Silverman

      In the fall of 1995, in Grand Haven, I see Lake Michigan for the first time. The water is slate gray, barely breathing in dull afternoon light. A small drizzle dampens sand. The beach is deserted. No shells or seaweed litter the berm. No salt water or saltwater taffy. No Ferris wheel, no coconut suntan lotion, no sweat. No honky-tonk boardwalk. No sailor bars. No penny arcades or games of chance.

      No chance: for salty spindrifts, for the fury of hurricanes, for the scent of the exotic, the faraway. Rather, it isthisMidwestern emptiness that feels foreign to me,...

    • Shiver Me Timbers
      (pp. 16-21)
      Sharon Dilworth

      That was the summer I worked at the Crow’s Nest Bar & Restaurant on the sixth floor of the Old Marquette Inn. The hotel, shaped like a ship, was situated in the lower harbor in downtown Marquette, and the owners, proud of the place they had just purchased, boasted a view of Lake Superior from every window. We, the wait staff, wore nautically decorated aprons, and visors embroidered with anchors and winking pirates. Fresh oysters and lobsters were flown in from Boston once a week, confusing the customers who had grown up on locally caught whitefish and trout. “Where in the...

    • Lake Effect
      (pp. 22-25)
      Linda Loomis

      From my Oswego office window, I look out over a campus daycare playground and the vast waters of Lake Ontario. As I watch children swing, ride tricycles, and toss colorful balls between me and the rocky shoreline, I wonder if they have learned to orient themselves and everything around them to Lake Ontario, as I did growing up mid-century on these same shores.

      “Stand and face the lake,” Miss McLaughlin told us in kindergarten. “Everyone lift your left arm.” Pointing to someone in the front row, she showed us that our left arms were pointing west. She lifted the right...

    • Finding My Way Home
      (pp. 26-33)
      Beth Ann Fennelly

      The rich are different. They’re better looking, for starters. The people in the other cars following the curve of Lake Michigan north out of Chicago to the suburbs do not have buck teeth or pigeon toes or huge noses or moles. Things have been pulled back or turned out or shaved off in their childhoods. These people have good haircuts. They’ve been color-analyzed, and they don’t wear autumn if they’re summer. I’m reminded of how in other parts of the country I’m considered pretty—in fact, when my fiancé brought me to his hometown in Alabama, I was pronounced “gorgeous.”...

    • Dunetop Dying
      (pp. 34-38)
      Gayle Boss

      When I tell my husband I want to call a lawyer, inquire how to get it in writing, legally binding that, should he outlive me, he must take me to the Lake Michigan shore to die, he’s going to think I mean to the Charlevoix Hospital in northern lower Michigan where I was born, with its rooms a hundred yards from the water and big picture windows overlooking it. So I’ll spell it out to the lawyer, to him: I want to dieonthe shore, fingers in the sand. And not the sand a stone’s throw from the hospital...

    • Water Birds
      (pp. 39-39)
      Anne-Marie Oomen

      I once slept alone on the shores of Lake Michigan. I made love on the same shore with a man I met waiting tables in the breakfast bar just that morning. Before we lay down, we swam. He walked into the water with his head high, but the temperature killed his lovely erection just like that. The lake can do that even to the most eager. Put you in your place. Women have it easier with the cold. Still, my nipples were so tight, it hurt when he kissed them.

      Some water plovers nest in a hollow on the cool...

    • Chicago Waters
      (pp. 40-46)
      Susan Power

      My mother used to say that by the time I was an old woman, Lake Michigan would be the size of a silver dollar. She pinched her index finger with her thumb to show me the pitiful dimensions. “People will gather around the tiny lake, what’s left of it, and cluck over a spoonful of water,” she told me.

      I learned to squint at the 1967 shoreline until I had carved away the structures and roads built on landfill, and could imagine the lake and its city as my mother found them in 1942 when she arrived in Chicago. I...

  5. Trouble

    • The Gray Lady of Lake Huron
      (pp. 49-58)
      Laura Kasischke

      It might be the fog. When the wind and the water temperatures go to war, so much of that chalk-thick stuff rolls off Lake Huron that to drive through Alpena is to wander through a town populated by ghouls and the shadowy edifices of the past.

      That man crossing the street in a black suit? He’s stepped out of the past, right into the path of my car. But instead of the weighted bump of a body on the hood, I pass through him, or he passes through me. Out of the fog and back into it in a heartbeat....

    • Against the Law
      (pp. 59-65)
      Elizabeth A. Trembley

      One cold November morning, while illegally walking my German shepherds off leash at a nearby state park, I found a body in the woods.

      No matter what the season, I take the dogs to the Lake Michigan woods and beach—always unleashed and against the law. In winter, we celebrate free access to the lake’s openness, its rule of chaos and mystery, sometimes foaming, sometimes smooth, and we find relief from the constant contention for control that fills the human world. During the summer, when rangers riding screeching four-wheelers control the parks, we have to sneak in. Often, we avoid...

    • Getting to Water
      (pp. 66-67)
      Claudia Skutar

      Always there is a desire to wade into the calmness of Huron, even with the moon skulking just over the horizon, a witness so reflective that some nights a woman must pull back from her watch on the shore into the protective arms of the pines. Even so, the water holds a silky future, an answer to the question she asks daily of the horizon.

      I wanted to see, so I chose a small tree limb for a staff, cut away the leaves and twigs with a jackknife to smooth out the bark for my hand. Even though I was...

    • Lake Talk
      (pp. 68-74)
      Heather Sellers

      It’s May, and hot in Michigan. Marianne and I hike the Livingston Trail, branch off to the ridge, and scoot down the dune to the beach, where we walk along the lake in the hard, flat wind. We’ve warmed up with the chitchat through the woods. By the time we hit the beach, the wind is strong, loud, and difficult. We’re at the secrets, the good stuff, the deep talk. My hand is a little visor. She’s yelling.

      “It was after I committed suicide,” Marianne says. “I think that’s when we went out. It was Nancy’s boat. I don’t know....

    • Water Lessons
      (pp. 75-82)
      Jacqueline Kolosov

      At Glencoe Beach, my mother, my sister, and I would follow a steep stone path several stories down, winding our way through exotic perennials, robins and blue jays and black birds chattering from the shrubbery. As soon as I touched sand, my skin began to tingle, my shoulder blades loosened, and my whole being yearned for the water. The sun overhead, the scream of the gulls, the hot white sand, and the glittering awe of Lake Michigan—everything about that wide open space—claimed me.

      The beach was the one place where my sister and I had our mother all...

    • Elemental Fine
      (pp. 83-90)
      Leigh Allison Wilson

      I first saw Lake Ontario on an April day in 1984, from the top of a hill on East Second Street in Oswego, New York. Down this street, crisscrossed with telephone wires upon which pigeons fornicated in large numbers, I could see a rectangle of dark, almost navy blue. I gasped when I saw it, as though the sight of the lake was itself an immersion.

      There are reasons for this. In East Tennessee, where I grew up, there was of course water. Lots of water. When the Tennessee Valley Authority rolled up its sleeves in the thirties and forties,...

  6. Gifts

    • The Importance of Dunes
      (pp. 93-103)
      Annick Smith

      Sumor. The Old English word tastes sweet, like peaches. One dictionary definition says, “Any period regarded as a time of fruition, fulfillment, happiness or beauty.” This pure and easy concept of summer is beguiling, but fraudulent as nostalgia. I remind myself that summer’s peach must have at its heart a pit, a seed, the hint of bitterness.

      All the summers of my childhood, I lived on the beaches of Lake Michigan. My second-story bedroom faced west, toward the lake. I slept with the sounds of waves lapping or waves crashing, waves roaring in the gusts and thunder of an electrical...

    • Aboard
      (pp. 104-109)
      Mary Blocksma

      It’s a lonely drive from Cape Vincent to Tibbetts Point, where Lake Ontario meets the St. Lawrence River. No one is here; the American Youth Hostel, housed in the keeper’s quarters, does not begin its season till June. Like all Fourth Coast lighthouses, the Tibbetts Point Lighthouse has been automated, and the light, once fueled with whale oil, is now electric, this one visible on clearer days fourteen miles over the lake. A radio beacon has replaced the foghorn. Nearby, a little road hugs a shore that soon narrows into a waterflanked ridge. I park there and emerge. On my...

    • Walking the Lake’s Edge in Winter
      (pp. 110-112)
      Judith Arcana

      Everyone who knows Chicago knows winter there is cold, really cold, and pretty often filled with snow. The snow lands thick, in great dunes that blanket the city’s dirt. Or it lies hard and gritty in the street, like the salt crystals scattered to break it down to slush. Or maybe the snow never lands; it just cuts, sharp and hard, slashed by the knife of the wind.

      Not everyone knows what Chicago winters do with the big lake; few walk the ice edge in early February. Lake Michigan is so big it rarely freezes over, and the wind in...

    • Getting to the Point
      (pp. 113-118)
      Leslie Stainton

      I’ve never been good at math. Algebra intrigued but ultimately baffled me; I never risked calculus or trigonometry. Simple arithmetic was OK, but even today, when my twelve-year-old stepson asks me whether denominators need to agree in order to multiply fractions, I can only shrug. I hated my tenth-grade math teacher so much that I rejoiced when he kicked me out of class for an entire week after I’d insulted him.

      Geometry was different. Not that I got it, but at some antediluvian level I appreciated the possibilities. The shapes were beautiful, the words evocative. Polygon, hexagon, parallelogram, trapezoid. These...

    • Leap
      (pp. 119-121)
      Anna Mills

      “This water is clearer than Jamaica.” Eve stands knee-deep on the shore of Madeline Island. A wave swells against her legs and subsides, a greeting from the gray-blue horizon. I think how odd the world is, to have deposited her on an island in Lake Superior where people look a second longer at her dark skin and her red-black dreadlocks. She grew up with a warm ocean, a kaleidoscope of fish. We arrived this morning in Bayfield, a flowery town on the south shore. I bought gumballs at an old-fashioned candy shop while Eve got coffee. We drove onto the...

    • Bodies of Water
      (pp. 122-125)
      Lisa Lenzo

      My love for Lake Michigan began with another large body of water. I was eight years old and had flown with my family from Detroit to Sanibel Island, and one afternoon during our vacation, I decided that I would walk around the entire island by myself. I started down the beach, chanting while I walked—I’m walking out of civilization, I’m walking out of civilization—until my mother and the other beachcombers turned into dots and disappeared. Trudging through water and sand, climbing over whole sideways forests of driftwood trees, I gazed at the sky and the gulf, listened to...

    • The Salmon
      (pp. 126-127)
      Loraine Anderson

      There is a stretch of beach along Lake Michigan where I like to walk in times of great moment. That is how I came to be there one December day, wearing two layers of everything.

      It was the day winter finally hit northern Michigan. American and British missiles were slamming Iraq. The U.S. House of Representatives was crashing against President Clinton, and the Ship of State was sinking fast.

      Mostly, though, it was the morning of my fiftieth birthday, and I needed to catch my breath. It had been one of those years.

      The walk down the beach was not...

    • Surfin’ USA
      (pp. 128-132)
      Diane Wakoski

      On a recent summer day, my husband Robert and I were sitting on the beach at Lake Michigan with Judith Minty and her husband Ed. I was the only person on the beach wearing long trousers. Despite a massive layer of heavy sunblock on my skin, I wished that I had worn long sleeves too. So I was wrapping a towel around my arms, as well as covering my bare feet with sand.

      At sixty-three, and pale as a moonlight mushroom, I am paying the price for those years of trying to be a “California girl,” golden, tanned, and ripe...

    • Hunting the Moon
      (pp. 133-134)
      Gail Louise Siegel

      The moon finds hiding places in the city behind gas-station marquees, fat cottonwood branches, and courtyard apartment buildings. It even tucks away behind billboards.

      Moonrise is at 10:01 p.m. tonight and I am determined to find it, having missed it yesterday from sheer lack of gumption, and the nights before due to murky skies. So I drive to a close, convenient spot—the big park two blocks from my house, with its soccer pitch and baseball fields, sledding hill, and schoolyard. It’s a promising, wide-open space. I pull into the lot. A boy is sliding into second base under the...

  7. Ghosts

    • Manitou Passage
      (pp. 137-143)
      Gail Griffin

      We boarded the idling bus in the dark, dragging the duffle bags we’d packed the night before. We had brushed our teeth and thrown cold water on our faces, but we were still buried in sleep, silent. Frank, the camp’s ancient, irascible bus driver, cranked the bus doors shut and wrenched the gearshift into first. As we rolled down the lane toward the camp entrance, most of us sank back into sleep, heads against our duffle bags. It seemed to take hours to get to Leland, but even as we pulled up to the dock, the air was just beginning...

    • In the Apostle Islands
      (pp. 144-145)
      Judith Strasser

      Two years ago, her second husband died. Lung cancer. “Love is so blind,” she says. “Until we were married, I never saw that he smoked.” She was a nurse in Chicagoland. She cared for him, changed his dressings, gave him back rubs until he died. “I loved that man dearly,” she tells me. “But Harold, forgive me, I’m glad you’re gone.” She lives in a lighthouse. No plumbing, no electric. Propane on the blink. Tourists arriving all hours. “He’d never put up with this.” She wouldn’t have it otherwise. The virgin pines. The solitude. The sunrise and sunset views.


    • Ripples of Azure and Grey, An Excerpt
      (pp. 146-149)
      Rachel Azima

      The first time my mom and I visited Alpena, on the shore of Lake Huron, we came on a geology trip. Following a stop at a gypsum mine, we had come to Alpena to hunt for fossils. After this first taste, my mom and I grew obsessed with finding fossils, returning again and again to look for more. During our drives up north, we’d talk about the searches to come. “I hope we find some trilobites!” I’d say, and my mom would agree. The Holy Grail of fossils, trilobites were rare in the Devonian rock we searched in. We knew...

    • The Souls of Trees
      (pp. 150-155)
      Susan Laidlaw

      It is a soft night. Calm, secret, and still. My feet dangle over a ravine which a fallen oak has spanned and made into a perfect suspended chair. I am ten feet up in darkness. The tall, gray shapes of pines and oaks surround me. Ahead, where the ravine spills into a swamp thick with tamaracks and ferns, the darkness blackens into a shade impenetrable by my cone-laden eyes. There is no moon, and very little sky light makes it through the heavy canopy above. I am a human unhoused in the night without so much as a flashlight.


    • Storm Light on Bois Blanc Island
      (pp. 156-173)
      Kathleen Stocking

      This is an island that could wash away in a stormis my one thought about Boblo, as a fierce wind tries to blow us from our narrow path and into the raging waters of Lake Huron a few feet away.

      Boblo, or Bois Blanc, is a small sandspit of an island off Cheboygan, and “us” is me and two people I’d met briefly on the ferry a few hours earlier. And I have just run into them again, walking along the shore with their little dog, Spike.

      Spike is making progress. The other three of us are barely holding...

    • A Mother Reaches Satori on the Tenth Anniversary of Her Son’s Drowning in Lake Michigan
      (pp. 174-175)
      Rasma Haidri

      Today the water is still. This is what they call mirror water, glass water, quiet-face-of-the-sky water. If you could have waited ten years, my son, my daring boy, the water off the break wall would have been this water: calm, cradle-safe for even a baby, my baby, you, my rumble-tumble boy.

      But no, today you would have been twenty-eight, too old, too safe, too cautious to be my boy: my lost-youth boy; my just-man, just-barely-grown boy; my climbing see-me-jump-Ma! see-how-high-I-am boy.

      It was a colder October, a dark-sky October, a wind-lifting October when the lake rose, the great lake heaved...

    • Lake Huron’s Tide
      (pp. 176-180)
      Rachael Perry

      I already know what I’m going to do when I get there.

      I will drive, windows rolled down, along a two-lane road that ribbons through fields of beans and corn. I will bring my grandmother and grandfather with me, two close family friends, my uncle if he wants to come, because we are all in this together and they can help me remember the way. We will choose the back roads out of Imlay City, a series of norths and easts that zigzag us past Decker and Argyle and Ubly, lonely roadside cemeteries and whitewashed Amish homes and cows. The...

  8. Uplake and Down

    • The Kettle
      (pp. 183-195)
      Alison Swan

      The brew pub was dark and cheerful, the air redolent of fresh beer. Next to my husband and me, a huge aquarium full of freshwater fish glowed brown-green. I was appreciating the nod to locality when a young woman poured a plastic bag of water and minnows into the tank. I watched the tiny silver fish dart or hang among the stones and weeds. Most were eaten immediately. One managed to evade capture for several long moments. I silently rooted for it. I am not a lighthearted person; when a bass gobbled it up, my stomach lurched.

      “So I’m really...

    • Reflections from a Concrete Shore
      (pp. 196-205)
      Donna Seaman

      I sat and cried in the glare of the black-and-white television, frightened and confused by hectic images of helmeted Chicago police viciously beating and dragging away antiwar demonstrators. As a girl growing up in Poughkeepsie, New York, that violence, abuse of power, and display of hatred were all that I knew of Chicago, and it was enough to convince me that it was a place to avoid. Yet a decade later, after attending art school elsewhere in the Midwest, I loaded up a rental truck with my modest belongings and, accompanied by a big black and white cat, drove into...

    • The Least Thing
      (pp. 206-212)
      Stephanie Mills

      One summer day, as I mounted my bicycle after a swim at the nearby lake, I asked a little boy who was seining for minnows if he would put them back, thinking that he might just be catching them to get a closer look. “No,” he replied brightly, “we use them for fishing bait.” I said nothing but pedaled off, fantasizing some uninvited taboo-tossing pedagogy, starting with “Only take as many as you need. If there aren’t enough little fish left in the lake to grow up, then in a year or so there won’t be any big fish to...

    • Amphibians, Reptiles, and Boats: Excerpts from a Naturalist’s Lake Huron Journals
      (pp. 213-218)
      Aleta Karstad

      My husband Fred, our daughter Elsa, and I had lunch on Doctor Island off the northern tip of the Bruce Peninsula after he gathered a little more negative information about there being any reptiles or amphibians at all on the island. It may perhaps have been logged for steamship fuel in the 1930s, which would have dried up the earthworm population. No worms for salamanders to eat, and no worms or salamanders for snakes to eat. Fred did hear oneHyla cruciferpeeping.

      I heard a Pileated Woodpecker, a Red-breasted Nuthatch, and a Peeper while I was drawing the pitted...

    • Hunting and Fishing
      (pp. 219-224)
      Mary Blocksma

      Extensive wetlands at the west side of Lake Erie block me from the shore. At last I have discovered some Lake Erie wilds—thousands of acres of wetlands smack on the track of migratory flyways, alive with wings, singing, snakes, flowers, and water-loving plants.

      Along the road to Crane Creek State Park, an area flanked on one side by Magee Marsh Wildlife Area (hunting in season) and on the other by the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge (no hunting), I observe egrets, herons, and flocks of ducks, and brake for families of Canadian geese crossing the puddle road. Inside a lovely...

    • Down the Drain
      (pp. 225-231)
      Janet Kauffman

      The stream on my farm, St. Joseph Creek, meanders through rich floodplains with cardinal flower, joe-pye weed, stands of old beeches, and understory colonies of pawpaws, leafed for the tropics. Pawpaws bear a custardy fruit, the Michigan banana, in early October. The fruits hang singly or in pairs high up in the trees. They’re not easy to see, with skin that’s leafgreen and smooth as your own skin. But when you spot a few up there, picking’s a party. In that tangle of prickly ash and wild grapevines, you designate somebody as spotter, then shake the slender pawpaw trunks. If...

    • Littoral Drift
      (pp. 232-234)
      Mary Blocksma

      Last night I pulled into a private campground after dark, slept to the banjo banter of bullfrogs, and pulled out early in pouring rain. A long drive down gravel roads through dripping tunnels of green ends in Conneaut, just over the Ohio line, where I find myself in a magically lovely town park. A creek meanders through undulating lawns canopied by spreading trees and scattered with picnic tables, a pavilion, a playground, mossy nooks. It’s large, too, for such a small town, but no one else is here; the sudden appearance of a gnome or a flying cat wouldn’t really...

    • The Forest Pasture
      (pp. 235-236)
      Jane Urquhart

      Since the year I was born, I have spent at least some of each summer at a beach on the shores of Lake Ontario between the villages of Brighton and Colborne. In the 1940s, early in their respective marriages, my parents and my aunt and uncle had teamed up to purchase an old two-story cottage at this spot, wanting as young professionals to spend at least part of the year close to parents and siblings who had remained on various farms in Northumberland County. This was not the traditional Ontario cottage with docks, jack pines, and rocks; it had been...

  9. Notes on the Contributors
    (pp. 237-246)
  10. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 247-250)