And he has succeeded rather wonderfully. The Windward Shore might be described as our first philosophy of the Great Lakes. As Dennis takes in the view from a log cabin on Lake Superior or a $20 million mansion on Grand Traverse Bay, he can reflect back on a lifetime of learning about these places, pull images from that experience, follow his reading wherever it might lead, and sharpen the understanding of his love for this place. Over the years Dennis has been compared to many different writers--both those who write well about hunting and fishing, and those who work in the great tradition of American nature writing--but in this book I think his only model might have been Ralph Waldo Emerson. Dennis is very willing to write the quick glimpses of the important ideas that swirl at the edge of his reverie:
The magic of the ordinary--of leaf and stone, of breakers on the shore. It's not the magic we usually mean by the word. There's nothing supernatural about it. Just ordinary existence--one place in the universe, one moment in time, so ordinary that we're shocked every time it visits us. So that's what a wave looks like. This is how breeze feels on skin. This is how it feels to be alive.At another point he writes about his own effort to capture something of the thought and feel of the lakes--"If I could I would seed these pages with beach stones, maple leaves, blue jay feathers, Petoskey stones, cherry pits, and arrowheads. Open the cover, and out would rush starlings and wood smoke and a cold wind off the lake." It almost happens.
Jerry Dennis reads from The Windward Shore at Nicola's on Wednesday, October 5.