Friday, November 30, 2018

Appreciating again Lake Michigan, George Vukelich & "Gales of November"

I found not one but two books yesterday I'd been searching for on and off for weeks- - and then, suddenly, there they were, right where I'd never put them. 

Anyway, what I'd finally laid my hands on were Volumes I and II of North Country Notebook, the essay collections published decades ago by the late Madison-based naturalist, scribe, legendary angler, eclectic radio host, and progressive union activist George "Papa Hambone" Vukelich.

OK: stop reading right now and go order them, here.

And read more at the online archive and website his adult children have posted, hereabout their unusual dad and son of Milwaukee's south side who was lost to us impossibly early in 1995.

I was looking hard for my copies of George's books because, if you recall, there were gale force winds predicted for last weekend, and I was positive I'd remembered that George had written one of his wonderful pieces about what happens when those Lake Michigan winds start blowing.

Over the years I'd been clumsily quoting and telling people about that essay without even being sure of the title, aggravated that I could not put my mitts on his written pages, and I really, really wanted to re-read that essay before the winds would drive Lake Michigan and what might have been in it onto the shore about a mile from where I live.

Sure enough, strong winds really blew in the darkness Monday morning, rattling our windows. The TV weather people after the sun came up said there had been a peak gust of 54 miles an hour. That's a big wind and it had roared for hours.

By the time I got down there Monday afternoon, the wind was still gusting 
and the overnight surf had obviously been rough
and was still crashing on the rocks
And while the detritus the gale probably threw onto the land was interesting, I doubt George would have out it into print.

In fact, the most noticeable evidence of roiling water was the volume of tiny, nasty invasive muscles on the sand
which Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Dan Egan - - another great, Great Lakes observer and author of the highly-readable recent book The Death and Life of the Great Lakes - - has tracked flushed from ocean-going freighters' ballast tanks to the now-thoroughly-contaminated lake basin beds which hold the largest supply of fresh surface water on the planet.

Such is the state of the Great Lakes which had so mesmerized George before people got careless with them.

So while I was disappointed that I didn't have George's essay in hand before the storm had hit, and saw a scene that would have disheartened George, too, I am happy to have George's lens to help me see what there is to see on the walk I try and take along Lake Michigan every day.

And am happiest about being able to dip back into George's words and world, so I commend to you, among stories too numerous to list, "Gales of November," North Country Notebooks, Volume II, pages 116-119, 1992. Here's just a taste:
I walked the beach after our most recent storm. Tangles of seaweed were piled high upon the sands, marking the true boundaries of the lake...
We waded out below a limestone cliff and there in the motionless water lay an endless length of anchor chain, curled, black, monstrous. Each link was wider than a man...
The chain is there yet. Every time I see it I get a funny feeling. What kind of sea was running that day? 

No comments: