What the reader will find is a wonderful collection of personal, and often deeply personal, essays by Michigan authors writing about how their and our lives are entwined with our state's complex natural setting, climate, landscape, and environmental issues. No better example of what I am desperately trying to explain is a woman writing of her first winter in Michigan as if it was a first date. Now that is creative nonfiction.
The book opens with a heartfelt story of growing up a farmer in Michigan's Thumb and how an immigrant family put down roots in the area's rich soil just like the crops they sowed. It speaks beautifully of the intimacy farmers have with the earth and there are passages that describe the land in prose that is often as lyrical as poetry. Another essay details in passionate and personal outrage the poisoning of the state's rivers, streams, inland lakes and the Great Lakes themselves. The author scathingly describes the 50-year-old, dented, rusted, corroding, oil pipeline with its missing supports that carries 20 million-plus gallons of oil a day under the Straits of Mackinac.
I found Jerry Dennis' essay on his work in construction prior to becoming a full-time writer especially compelling. For five years he worked with a talented crew of carpenters who truly enjoyed their job of building condos on some of the most beautiful and scenic landscape in the Leelanau Peninsula. His crew members are sharply drawn characters and Dennis captures the comradery of the crew and the pride they take in their work. And even as they took pride in a job well done, the men regretted that the land on which they built condos would no longer remain undeveloped and open to all. To quote Dennis, "And the hunting in the park was very good, as was the fishing in its lakes and streams. The men wanted the place to stay as it was; and they wanted the freedom to build on it at will." The last sentence could serve as our species' epitaph.
The book is packed with thoughtful, poignant, funny, and provocative personal essays that make the reader look anew at our extraordinary home state.
Elemental: A Collection of Michigan Creative Nonfiction edited by Anne-Marie Oomen. Wayne State University Press, 2018, $19.99. www.wsupress.wayne.edu/books/detail/elemental.
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