Midlothian, Illinois: Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery


This essay is part of the Great Lakes Review’s Narrative Map project.

Bachelors_grove“Located near the southwest suburb of Midlothian is the Rubio Woods Forest Preserve, an island of trees and shadows nestled in the urban sprawl of the Chicago area. The rambling refuge creates an illusion that it is secluded from the crowded city that threatens its borders, and perhaps it is. On the edge of the forest is a small graveyard that many believe may be the most haunted place in the region. The name of this cemetery is Bachelor’s Grove and this ramshackle burial ground may be infested with more ghosts than most can imagine.” — prairieghosts.com

The dashboard clock read 12:34 pm as we sped off on his tour of the weirdest places in Chicago: the Starr Hotel on Madison Avenue; Indian Boundary Park on the northwest side, to see the chickens with Beatle haircuts; and then the leaning tower of Niles, half the size of the real one, and in Niles.  We were speeding around so much it felt like one of those Italian jet-set movies, where the woman is wearing big sunglasses and a scarf and the guy drives a red sports car (except we were in an orange Rabbit).  Our last stop, a cemetery.

“Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery,” he announced, putting the car in park.  ”The most haunted cemetery in the entire Midwest.  Nobody’s been buried in it since the ’40′s, and it’s all overgrown and mysterious.  All the headstones have been moved, but nobody knows how.”

We got out and started up a gravel path that became less gravel and more dirt the farther we walked.  The cut grass became tall, prairie-type grass and shrubs, and little trees became bigger trees that obscured the hot sun.  The alternating patches of sunshine and shade that we were walking through, with him leading the way, made me a little dizzy.  I could hear birds high up in the trees, and bugs buzzing.

“This was the original entrance,” he said, as we passed between two worn-down pillars, “from the 1800′s.  This path we’re on was made by people just walking through.  That’s how many people have walked here.  Both living and dead — ha-ha!”

The overgrown grass made a dry sssh-ing sound as we walked past the half-hidden tombstones.  Some had been pushed over, others looked like a sledgehammer had demolished them.  I could hear the wind in the tops of the trees: like in movies when people walk through wheat fields at the height of summer, and the sun is all around but the wind is far away.  We walked silently for a while, stopping when he would point out bigger stones too heavy to push over.  We’d read the names, pause for a second, move on.  Then the path curved to the left, and when we came around we saw a big fallen tree with leaves still on it, blocking our way.

“Must’ve been struck by lightning,” he said.  “Oh, yeah — look.”  He pointed at the blackened trunk to the right of the path.  As we came up on the tree, I looked to see if there was some way to walk around it, off the path, because I didn’t want to have to climb over it and make a fool of myself (and there wasn’t enough space to crawl underneath).  He just put one hand on the trunk and hopped nimbly right over it.  Then he turned around, waiting for me to follow.

“I’ll never be able to do that,” I said.  He just laughed a little and held out his hand.  I thought:  If I take it, how will I let go? Because there was only one thing that holding hands meant. But I had to take it, or walk around the tree, through the branches and high, tangled bushes, and that wasn’t an option.

“Just step up on the tree,” he said, “and then jump.”

“What if I fall?”

“I’ll catch you.”

“What if I fall backwards?”

“You won’t.  Just keep moving forward.”

He stuck his hand out farther.  This time I took it, and he guided me over.

“Sorry.  I’ve never been camping.”

“No need to apologize.”  He let go of my hand.  “You wanna keep goin’?”

“Of course.  Why wouldn’t I?”

There’s the most mysterious part of the place.”  In front of us was a lagoon, covered in bright green algae.  The path ended there.  Surrounding the lagoon was a chain-link fence, with a section cut and pulled back.  In the half-shade, half-sun, the pulled-back part looked like a sheer green veil.

“It’s the waters of Lethe,” he said. “If you drink from it, you’ll forget everything.  But there’s another river, and if you drink from that one you’ll remember everything.  Which would you choose?”

Our shoulders were almost touching.  I looked back at the pond.  I was nervous, didn’t want to look at him and wanted him to stop looking at me. But he kept looking, calmly, as if he were trying to communicate that he wasn’t going to touch me.  I wanted him to, and I didn’t.

“I think I would want to remember,” I shrugged.  ”What about you?”

“Hmm.  There are definitely some things I wish I could forget.”

There was something serious in his voice that wasn’t there before — something bad must’ve happened.  Well, he was eleven years older than me, and nothing had happened to me. Yet.  The day before, in journalism class, Sister Irene had told us to be aware of what we were doing today at 12:34 pm, because it was May 6, 1978, and the numbers would all add up: 12:34, 5/6. ’78.

“Were you in Vietnam?”

He laughed hard, and I got mad.

“Are you laughing at me?”

“No, I’m laughing next to you!  No, I wasn’t in Vietnam.”

That’s so funny?”

“Yeah, ’cause . . . never mind.  It’s not that interesting.”

“Hey, did you bring any drugs with you?”

He did a double-take, then laughed — again!  He’d laughed at me twice!

“Oh, fuck you,” I yelled, turning away.  I was going back to the car and that would be the end of —

But the stupid tree was in my way.

I stopped short; he crashed into me.  Then he was holding me, keeping me from falling.  Then he backed off.  And then I took a step toward him, and put my arms around his waist.

“Are you sure?” he said.

“Yeah,” I said, and closed my eyes.

He’d picked me up at 12:34.  It was 5/6/’78.  I knew I’d want to remember that. One year later, he was dead.

Sharon Mesmer is the author of two short fiction collections, both from Hanging Loose Press, and a collection of fiction in French translation from Hachette. She is also the author of three poetry collections, with one forthcoming this fall. She teaches creative writing — fiction and poetry — at New York University and the New School. She has been a recipient of a Fulbright Specialist grant and two New York Foundation for the Arts fellowships. Four of her poems appear in the second edition of Postmodern Poetry: A Norton Anthology, published in 2012. 

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Michigan Bestseller list for January 2015

For January 2015, the largest rise on the Michigan Bestseller List was Harrison’s The Big Seven.  Link’s Wicked Takes the Witness Stand has its third consecutive month on the Michigan Bestseller List with its first time in the #1 slot.

Jerry_dennis1) Mardi Link–Wicked Takes the Witness Stand: A Tale of Murder and Twisted Deceit in Northern Michigan (University of Michigan Press) [last month #2]

2) Jim Harrison—The Big Seven (Grove Press)

3) John Green—Looking for Alaska (Speak)

4) Chris Van Allsburg—The Misadventures of Sweetie Pie (HMH Books for Young Readers) [last month #9]

5) Jon Milan—Grand River Avenue: From Detroit to Lake Michigan (Arcadia Publishing)

6) Jerry Dennis—The Living Great Lakes: Searching for the Heart of the Inland Seas (St. Martin’s Griffin) [last month #13]

7) Joshua G. Cohen—A Field Guide to the Natural Communities of Michigan (Michigan State University Press)

8) David D. Finney, Jr. and Judith L. McIntosh—Howell (Arcadia Publishing)

9) John Green—Paper Towns (Speak) [last month #11]

10) Melissa Gilbert—Prairie Tale: A Memoir (Gallery Books/Simon and Schuster)

11) Jim DuFresne—Explorer’s Guides: 50 Hikes in Michigan (Countryman Press/W. W. Norton & Company)

12) Denise Brennan-Nelson—Teach Me to Love (Sleeping Bear Press)

13) Martha Aladjem Bloomfield—Hmong Americans in Michigan (Michigan State University Press)

14) Tobin T. Buhk—Poisoning the Pecks of Grand Rapids: The Scandalous 1916 Murder Plot (The History Press)

15) Denise Brennan-Nelson—Little Michigan (Sleeping Bear Press)

The January 2015 Michigan Bestseller List includes 15 participating bookstores: Bay Leaf Used & Rare Books (79 State Rd, Newaygo; www.bayleafbooks.com), Between the Covers (106 E. Main St., Harbor Springs, www.facebook.com/btcbookstore), Blue Frog Books (3615 E. Grand River, Howell; www.bluefrogbooksandmore.com), Bookbug (3019 Oakland Dr, Kalamazoo; http://www.bookbugkalamazoo.com/), Book World Marquette (136 W Washington St., Marquette; www.bookworldstores.com), Falling Rock Café & Bookstore (104 E Munising Ave, Munising; www.fallingrockcafe.com), Kazoo Books (407 N Clarendon St., Kalamazoo; 2413 Parkview, Kalamazoo; www.kazoobooks.com), Nicola’s Books (2513 Jackson Ave, Ann Arbor; www.nicolasbooks.com), North Wind Books (601 Quincy St, Hancock; https://bookstore.finlandia.edu), Saturn Booksellers (133 W Main St, Gaylord; www.saturnbooksellers.com), Schuler Books & Music (1982 W Grand River Ave, Okemos; 2660 28th Street SE, Grand Rapids; 2820 Towne Center Blvd, Lansing; www.schulerbooks.com), and Up North Books (3362 Interstate 75 Business Spur, Sault Ste. Marie; http://upnorthbooks.com/).


For January 2015, the largest rise on the U.P. Bestseller List was Bassett’s Words and Their Meanings.  Airgood’s South of Superior and Archibald’s Northern Border have their eighth consecutive month on the U.P. Bestseller List.  Charlie LeDuff’s Detroit has its seventh consecutive month as the number one bestselling book for the Upper Peninsula.  (May 2015, Michigan State University Press releases Here: Women Writing on Michigan’s Upper Peninsulahttp://msupress.org/books/book/?id=50-1D0-3479#.VNk33rDF-PU.)

1) Charlie LeDuff—Detroit: An American Autopsy (Penguin Books) [last month #1; 7th month at the #1 slot]

2) Joseph Heywood—Killing a Cold One (Lyons Press) [last month #3]

3) Robert F. Jones—Run to Gitche Gumee (Skyhorse Publishing) [last month #4]

4) Ellen Airgood—South of Superior (Riverhead Trade) [last month #6]

5) Kate Bassett–Words & their Meanings (Flux)

6) Bonnie Jo Campbell–Once Upon A River: a Novel (W. W. Norton & Company)

7) Jerome Pohlen—Oddball Michigan: A Guide to 450 Really Strange Places (Chicago Review Press)

8) Robert Archibald—Northern Border: History and Lore of the Upper Peninsula and Beyond (NMU Press) [last month #9]

9) Steve Hamilton—A Cold Day in Paradise (Macmillan/St. Martin’s Press)

10) Robert Traver—Anatomy of a Murder (Macmillan/St. Martin’s Griffin)

The Upper Peninsula Bestseller List for January 2015  includes 5 participating bookstores: Book World Marquette (136 W Washington St., Marquette;www.bookworldstores.com), Falling Rock Café & Bookstore (104 E Munising Ave, Munising; www.fallingrockcafe.com), North Wind Books (601 Quincy St, Hancock;https://bookstore.finlandia.edu), Snowbound Books (118 N 3rd St, Marquette; www.snowboundbooks.com), and Up North Books (3362 Interstate 75 Business Spur, Sault Ste. Marie;http://upnorthbooks.com/).


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Bestseller spotlight: Tobin Buhk

Tobin Buhk is at #14 on the Michigan bestseller list for his true crime book Poisoning the Pecks of Grand Rapids. 

BuhkAuthorPhoto Tell us a little about your book and how it came to be?

Poisoning the Pecks of Grand Rapids details Arthur Warren Waite’s convoluted get-rich-quick scheme to do away with his in-laws and thus gain control of his wife’s inheritance. Waite first tried an ingenious stratagem to infect John and Hannah Peck with virulent diseases, but when this failed, he turned to the more reliable poison, arsenic. His plan began to fall apart when a telegram under the mysterious pseudonym “K. Adams” arrived in Grand Rapids and warned of possible foul play.

Although the case took place nearly a century ago, it remains one of the most fascinating and twisted cases in West Michigan history. Waite’s duplicity was incredibly complex. He told his wife that he spent his days conducting tricky oral surgery, but in fact, he ran around Manhattan procuring dangerous germs and spending afternoons at the Plaza with a married cabaret dancer.

What is your background? Specifically, what are your ties to the Great Lakes region?

I was born and raised in West Michigan, and I’ve spent the last twenty years as a teacher in the Grand Rapids area. My first two books—Cause of Death (Prometheus Books, 2007) and Skeletons in the Closet (Prometheus, 2008) were collaborations with the Kent County Medical Examiner, Dr. Stephen D. Cohle.

Describe your writing process?

When writing about a historic true crime, I try to recreate the events, so readers may eyewitness the crime, follow the police as they follow the clues, and listen in on the trial. Therefore, my writing process typically involves constructing a chronology of events. Once I’ve pinned down a timeline, I will begin to visualize the best way to tell the story. Sometimes this will lead to an outline, but most often, once I’ve decided on an approach and direction, I will begin drafting. My writing process then becomes like a pencil sketch. As I draft, I’m constantly adding some things while erasing others and re-rendering them.

Who is your favorite writer from the Great Lakes region? Why?

I’m particularly fond of Elmore Leonard and the way that he is able to capture the essence of his characters.


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Traverse City, Michigan: Original Winter


This essay is part of the Great Lakes Review’s Narrative Map project.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“There are three things you need to survive winter here,” Lynda said, yanking the zipper of her puffy down coat up to her chin. We were walking along Front Street in Traverse City, making our way back to the office after our lunch break. A snowy north wind was blasting off the bay, and we both winced as the little granules stung our faces.

She continued: “One: A good pair of cross-country skis. Two: A membership to the Park Place Hotel pool; they’ve got a hot tub. And three,” — we scooted into the office foyer, cheeks flaming, and stomped the snow from our boots — “a plane ticket somewhere warm for a week in February. Trust me, you’ll want to get outta here by then.”

It was December 2007, my first year with a career job, my first year Up North. I’d arrived in time to see the trilliums in May and had spent the summer well, if the sand still in my car’s floor mats was any indication. Autumn had been beautiful but brief, and the locals I’d met by then were full of wisdom and warnings about the long, cold, dark days ahead: Invest in snow tires. Get a warmer coat. Show up early to the annual ski swap for the best deals.

A co-worker even explained the trick to peeing outside while wearing ski gear if nature called while I was on the cross-country trails. She looked ridiculous pantomiming it to me in her business-casual attire, substituting her office’s door frame for a tree, but even though we were giggling, inside my head I was solemnly filing the image away with all the other tips.

In the flat and clay-soiled southeastern corner of the state, where I’m originally from, people love to hate winter. They don’t know how to drive in snow, much less skillfully pee in it. They throw up their hands at the weatherman’s predictions and complain about the cold, the roads, the endless cloud cover. Back in April, when I announced I’d landed a new job and was moving to Traverse City, my friends had laughed at my snowy fate. “Good luck with that whole winter thing!”

I didn’t need luck. Maybe I needed a better coat or to regularly peel off all the layers and soak in a hot tub, but “that whole winter thing” was part of the reason I wanted to live Up North in the first place. As a kid growing up in the suburbs, I’d had a hunch that our Detroit winters were more like a facsimile of what winter was supposed to be. The light snow dustings that would snarl traffic then melt a day later: these were Xeroxed copies, faint and gray, of the real thing. I wanted the original, with its message clearly legible in the deep drifts, deep cold, deep quiet: You are alive. I was moving Up North for a job, sure, but also in search of a life that reflected, not rejected, the natural world. I wanted to live where all the seasons had an equal place at the table, where the seam between civilization and the elements was blurred, like the bay’s horizon when lake effect snow rolls in.

I didn’t get the snow tires that year but I did invest in cross-country skis. Honestly, my first time out on the trail was more misery than magic: I fell every few feet, until finally I clicked out of the skis in frustration and hoofed it back to the trailhead, blistered heels burning in my spiffy new boots. But by the time I got to my car, a light snow was falling and evening had settled in. All was hushed and lovely. It was pretty hard to stay upset.

Despite the fact that I never really got the hang of skiing, always windmilling into at least one big face-plant per outing, I was still grateful for the places my skis took me that first winter: out into cathedrals of red pine, across whipped-cream meadows that turned lavender when dusk fell, through hills where bare trees looked like brushstrokes against the oyster-shell sky. The sounds of snow sifting through branches or waves of crushed ice rolling in the bay — they were exciting and new. But even the familiar murmur of the heat kicking on in my crummy apartment, when I was home and thawing out after each adventure, took on a different significance. It was the sound of contentment.

I didn’t buy that ticket to somewhere warm in February or even March, by which time the city’s plows were running out of places to push the mountains of snow. Sure, there would be Florida-bound mid-winter getaways in subsequent years, because my friend was right: When you live in a place where there’s snow on the ground for up to six month, you need skis, hot tub access, and every once in awhile, a damn break. But that first winter? I marinated in the solitude and kept hitting the trails and reveled in what I felt was the making of a badge of honor. Here was winter, the original. And I was right there with it, earning my stripes as a Northerner, shedding my downstate skin and buttoning up into a puffy down coat of my own.

It’s been seven years since my first winter Up North. I hear the Park Place isn’t offering pool memberships anymore, which is just as well for me; I live downstate again now, having moved for another adventure, and I’ve long since passed my skis to another Northern newbie. People down here ask me if I miss the Traverse City summers. Sure, I say, thinking of my once-sandy floor mats. But the truth is, I miss the winters just as much. I try to explain it to my friends here, describing the particular beauty of a winter beach, the way the wind whips the sand and snow together until the shoreline is as crackly and caramel-colored as crème brûlée. An Up North winter is not the glinting-white, unyielding edge of a knife, as people down here seem to believe; it is the cold, soft, silver bowl of a spoon. It feeds us, if we want to be fed.

Emily Bingham is a writer and editor living in Ann Arbor. She’s also co-creator of Found Michigan a small-batch screenprinting studio that celebrates Michigan life and lore.

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Great Lakes Poetry Prize deadline extended until March 31

Stolen_imageThe deadline for the Great Lakes Poetry Prize has been extended until March 31.

Here are the details:

1)  Three Great Lakes Poetry Prizes will be awarded each to a single poem written about the Great Lakes region or written by a poet from the Great Lakes region: First Place will receive $500; Second Place $250; and Third Place $100. All three poems will be published in the spring 2015 issue of the Great Lakes Review.

2)  Deadline for submissions here at Submittable is March 31, 2015.

3)  We tend to consider the “Great Lakes region” to mean the Canadian-American vicinity including Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Ontario, but we’re prepared to be convinced otherwise.

4)  Send up to three poems per entry, each poem beginning on a new page. All lengths, styles, and forms are welcome. Multiple entries by a single poet are accepted, but each group of three poems must be treated as a separate entry with its own $10.00 entry fee.

5)  All entries to the Great Lakes Poetry Prize will be considered for publication at Great Lakes Review.

6)  All poems submitted for consideration must be previously unpublished. Simultaneous submissions are allowed, but please notify Great Lakes Review immediately should any poems be accepted elsewhere.

7)  Please include all pertinent contact information in the cover letter you submit here at Submittable and remove any identifying information from the poems that you submit.

8)  Final judge is poet and literary critic Robert Archambeau, whose works include Citation SuiteHome and VariationsLaureates and Heretics, and The Poet Resigns: Poetry in a Difficult World, in addition to a number of edited collections




The Lake in Winter 010 (1)


This essay is part of the Great Lakes Review’s Narrative Map project.

A brisk wind stings my face as I get out of the car. Blowing snow shears across the dunes and swirls around the parking lot. I tuck my chin inside my scarf and start walking. When I reach the top of the ridge, I stop to look, expecting to see the lake. But there is no lake, only a frozen landscape of jagged ridges and snow-covered valleys do I see. Waves caught in the freeze-frame of February resemble the arctic tundra, not my lake.

I wrap my scarf tightly over my mouth and head for the breakwater. Nobody walks on the breakwater in February, but I want to get closer. I have to get closer. To better see what I can’t believe I’m seeing.

At first glance the entire expanse appeared frozen solid, but with a closer look the undulating movement of the surface in sync with the swells of the inland sea becomes apparent. It is not solid but shiftless, like the sands of Dune. The whole thing is heaving with the power of what lies beneath.

I walk out on the wooden planks and watch the wave action, for that is what it is, though there is no water, no crashing surf. The lake breathes like a ventilator but silently. So silent. There are no shore birds, no tourists, no power boats or lake freighters. I hunch my shoulders against the wind and look to the horizon, a distance of twenty-six miles. There is open water out there and jagged ice floes peak the sky like sailboats. This monster of a lake with the reach of an ocean has a changeable face. And I see I am not alone.

An ice fisherman walks the shore with his backpack and his pail and walking stick. He tramps carefully in cleated boots. He is prepared, bundled up like a Sherpa guide.  I am not. I don’t have gloves, I don’t have my long underwear, and I don’t have my boots. What I have is a new haircut with caramel highlights still damp from the salon, hidden by the scarf now wound tight around my head for this impromptu walk on the breakwater.

When I realized I was only three miles from the lake, I knew I would keep going. From earliest memory, my siblings and I strained for that first glimpse of blue through the trees on Sunday outings in our father’s station wagon.

I walk along the railing of the breakwater until the drifted sand turns to ice and the railing ends. With no railing, I stop. I’m afraid to go further, afraid I’ll slip, or my scarf will blow away and I’ll be tempted to chase it, afraid I’ll fall off the edge onto the shifting ice. All my life I’ve been drawn to this water, yet I fear it.

His name is Fred Bear. It said so on the back window of the pickup truck I parked alongside. Ours are the only two vehicles in the parking lot. Just drill that hole his bumper sticker said. Ice fishing is popular. It doesn’t cost anything to bring dinner home. He has this stretch of shore to himself. I’m not in his way. He doesn’t even see me.

I like a man bullish on winter, one who can bring dinner home. There are only the two of us out here. If I get in trouble, will he save me? If I get frostbit, will he unthaw me?

I start back to the car. I can’t keep up with him. He’s going where I’m not prepared to go. I walk past park benches and frozen fountains. I walk past the restaurant that used to be the summer hot spot. The view was destroyed when they built the marina and extended the breakwater and now it’s shuttered, like the dancehall and the roller rink. Only the lake is still here.

I walk past his truck with the bumper sticker and climb in my car and turn on the heat. I take off the scarf and shake out my hair. The damp tendrils at my neck are frozen stiff, proof of my walk on the breakwater. But I feel like a mere spectator, having done nothing to effect change, a fisherman with no bait. I couldn’t bring dinner home.

Yvonne Osborne lives and writes in the Thumb of Michigan. She has an organic vegetable business in the summer and writes in the winter. She has been published in numerous literary reviews, most recently in Steam Ticket, Third Coast Review and Pure Francis and her short stories have appeared in several anthologies. The Great Lakes region plays a prominent role in her writing, whether it be fiction (embedded in the psyche of her characters), creative nonfiction, or poetry. She is currently working on a memoir.

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Michigan Bestseller list for December 2014

HoweFor December 2014, the largest rise on the Michigan Bestseller List was Impemba’s If These Walls Could Talk.  Susan Thoms’ Twelve Days of Christmas in Michigan, Gordie Howe’s Mr. Hockey, Stephen Terry’s Michigan Agricultural College Campus Life 1900-1925, Mardi Link’s Wicked Takes the Witness Stand, Mitch Albom’s The First Phone Call from Heaven, and Michael Emmerich’s 100 Things Michigan State Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die all have their second consecutive month on the Michigan Bestseller List top 10.  The list is compiled by Ron Riekki, editor of Here: Women Writing on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (upcoming May 2015 on Michigan State University Press).

1) Mario Impemba—If These Walls Could Talk: Detroit Tigers (Triumph Books)

2) Mardi Link—Wicked Takes the Witness Stand: A Tale of Murder and Twisted Deceit in Northern Michigan (University of Michigan Press) [last month #8]

3) Gordie Howe—Mr. Hockey: My Story (Putnam Adult) [last month #4]

4) Chris Van Allsburg—The Polar Express (Houghton Mifflin)

5) Kevin Allen—100 Things Red Wings Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die (Triumph Books)

6) Mitch Albom—The First Phone Call from Heaven (Harper) [last month #9]

7) Michael Emmerich—100 Things Michigan State Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die (Triumph Books) [last month #10]

8) Stephen Terry—Michigan Agricultural College Campus Life 1900-1925: A Postcard Tour (Thunder Bay Press) [last month #7]

9) Chris Van Allsburg—The Misadventures of Sweetie Pie (HMH Books for Young Readers)

10) Susan Collins Thoms—Twelve Days of Christmas in Michigan (Sterling) [last month #2]

11) John Green—Paper Towns (Speak) [last month #5]

12) Kate Bassett—Words & their Meanings (Flux) [last month #14]

13) Jerry Dennis—The Living Great Lakes: Searching for the Heart of the Inland Seas (St. Martin’s Griffin)

14) W. Bruce Cameron—The Midnight Plan of the Repo Man (Macmillan/Tor/Forge Books) [last month #3]

15) Derek Jeter—The Contract (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books)

The Michigan Bestseller List includes 14 participating bookstores: Bay Leaf Used & Rare Books (79 State Rd, Newaygo; www.bayleafbooks.com), Between the Covers (106 E. Main St., Harbor Springs, www.facebook.com/btcbookstore), Bookbug (3019 Oakland Dr, Kalamazoo; http://www.bookbugkalamazoo.com/), Book World Marquette (136 W Washington St., Marquette; www.bookworldstores.com), Falling Rock Café & Bookstore (104 E Munising Ave, Munising;www.fallingrockcafe.com), Kazoo Books (407 N Clarendon St., Kalamazoo; 2413 Parkview, Kalamazoo; www.kazoobooks.com), Nicola’s Books (2513 Jackson Ave, Ann Arbor; www.nicolasbooks.com), North Wind Books (601 Quincy St, Hancock; https://bookstore.finlandia.edu), Saturn Booksellers (133 W Main St, Gaylord;www.saturnbooksellers.com), Schuler Books & Music (1982 W Grand River Ave, Okemos; 2660 28th Street SE, Grand Rapids; 2820 Towne Center Blvd, Lansing;www.schulerbooks.com), and Up North Books (3362 Interstate 75 Business Spur, Sault Ste. Marie; http://upnorthbooks.com/).


1) Charlie LeDuff—Detroit: An American Autopsy (Penguin Books) [sixth month at the #1 spot]

2) Sonny Longtine–Murder in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (The History Press) [last month #4]

3) Joseph Heywood–Killing a Cold One (Lyons Press) [last month #5]

4) Robert F. Jones–Run to Gitche Gumee (Skyhorse Publishing) [last month #7]

5) Steve Hamilton–Misery Bay: An Alex McKnight Novel (Minotaur Books)

6) Ellen Airgood–South of Superior (Riverhead Trade) [last month #2]

6) Jennifer Billock – Keweenaw County (Arcadia Publishing)

6) John Haeussler – Hancock (Arcadia Publishing) [last month #6]

9) Robert Archibald–Northern Border: History and Lore of the Upper Peninsula and Beyond (NMU Press) [last month #2]

9) Auvo Kostiainen (EDT) – Finns in the United States: A History of Settlement, Dissent, and Integration (Michigan State University Press)

The Upper Peninsula Bestseller List for December 2014 includes 4 participating bookstores: Book World Marquette (136 W Washington St., Marquette;www.bookworldstores.com), Falling Rock Café & Bookstore (104 E Munising Ave, Munising; www.fallingrockcafe.com), North Wind Books (601 Quincy St, Hancock; https://bookstore.finlandia.edu), and Up North Books (3362 Interstate 75 Business Spur, Sault Ste. Marie; http://upnorthbooks.com/).

Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio: On a bend in the Cuyahoga River near Red Lock


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis essay is part of the Great Lakes Review’s Narrative Map project.

On the last warm day of October, I sit on a muddy cutbank, feet hanging over a horseshoe bend in the Cuyahoga.

There is an island in the river, smothered in a thicket of Japanese Knotweed. The woody stems stick up like wiry red hair. Nothing eats it. It spreads like cancer.  Cut it down, and two bushes grow back. Dig it up, and the slivers will root downstream.

The limbs of dying ash trees reach up out of the floodplain, raking the blue sky. Girdled by Emerald Ash Borer, crown cut off from the roots, the ash trees will all be gone soon.

The plump creamy grubs of these Asian wood-boring beetles have fueled a population explosion of woodpeckers across the Upper Midwest. A brief flourish of birdsong in the woods marks the loss of forest diversity.

I have complex feelings about this place. Part of me wants to try to fix these things, to tear up invasive plants by the roots, to inject each ash tree with insecticides. I think I can stop the world from slipping through my fingers.

Some other influence urges me to accept things as they are.

All around me, tall weeds with dried husks rustle in the breeze.  Gone to seed — the phrase connotes shabbiness, an unkempt quality –but in these plants, withered but still supporting their progeny, it is completion, success.

“Every generation has to die in order that the next generation can come,” said Joseph Campbell in The Power of Myth. “As soon as you beget or give birth to a child, you are the dead one.”

My middle son sleeps in a stroller I’ve pushed to the edge of the river, wind playing on his closely cropped hair. Shadows flicker across his innocent face in the breeze. The price for his life is paid in sleep, cognition, concentration, the ability to do a single thing for more than ten minutes uninterrupted.

I stop here often to look at this moving water. It reminds me of Oregon, the place my wife and I lived before having children.

Every October, I would wade in a river where the tides licked the roots of an ancient rainforest, wait for salmon to swim up from the beach, to climb into the hills to the clear water where they were born. Females swept shallow gravel beds to lay their eggs. The males turned dark, grew fangs and fought like dogs. As soon as the salmon entered their natal rivers, they started dying.

Now I’ve returned as well, born in Akron where the Cuyahoga makes its U-turn and runs toward Lake Erie. I have come home to raise my sons downstream from the old Jaite Paper Mill, where the pickle liquor flowed, and the river ran foul.

Forty years ago, the National Park Service adopted this valley. The water looks clean and the landscape has grown over most of the scars from the river’s industrial past, 33,000 acres carved out of the mass of unbroken suburbs from Cleveland to Akron. There could be more forest, more fish, and more deer thriving in the Cuyahoga Watershed today than in any other time in the last half-century.

And yet, Aldo Leopold writes in The Sand County Almanac, “The autumn landscape in the north woods is the land, plus a red maple, plus a ruffed grouse. In terms of conventional physics, the grouse represents only a millionth of either the mass or the energy of an acre. Yet subtract the grouse and the whole thing is dead.”

The grouse is unmade, wild. The deer feel like cattle, thriving in the environments we have created. We have this godlike ability to shape the landscape, but no way to breathe wildness back into the wilderness we resurrect.

The boy who took apart his father’s watch can’t find all the pieces to put it back together.

When I lived in Oregon, the act of fishing became a ritual, heavy with meaning and spiritual resonance. As if in some cosmic joke, Steelhead that evolved in the Pacific Ocean swim past my backyard in the Cleveland suburbs, up the Cuyahoga River each winter. Throughout the Great Lakes, wildlife agencies stock Pacific Salmonids in tributaries where they do not belong. In some areas of the Upper-Midwest with cleaner, colder water, the fish have naturalized. No feral breeding populations occur in Ohio, and none are planted in the Cuyahoga. But their tendency to wander compels Lake Erie-run rainbow trout to swim to Akron.

I do not find any connection to my version of God chasing lost Steelhead around the Midwest.  Instead, I spend my days looking for glimpses of wilder animals, trying to create a relationship with this place. I’m searching for a story to tell my sons about what lives in these woods.

There will be times in the coming months when the sky will look like wet newspaper, and the deadened landscape like strips of corrugated cardboard, cinders sticking to every frozen thing. I’ll look through the leafless trees and see a line of cars passing on the road and I’ll think that it is too much effort, too much self-delusion to focus on the fragments of living wild beauty here.

Today the warm wind could buoy me up, and I could soar on an updraft and see the whole valley like a Red-tailed Hawk.

But who would watch my son when he woke on the riverbank? Who would keep him from being swept into the current?

My son wakes as I push his stroller back onto the trail.  I point to a Red-bellied Woodpecker scolding us overhead, and start to tell him a story about this red and white bird circling the dead ash trunk.

Matt Stansberry is a Cleveland-based nature writer with three kids and a day job. He used to fly fish. Follow him on Twitter@LakeErieFlyFish.

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Erie, Pennsylvania: Presque Isle – The gem of Lake Erie


This essay is part of the Great Lakes Review’s Narrative Map project.

Erie_Stormy sunset on Lake Erie - Beach 10All I long for I have found by its waters.

The journey of my life maps to every curve of its thirteen miles, created 11,000 years ago by the melting of a continental glacier and curving gently out into the deep blue expanse of Lake Erie. From its multipurpose recreation trail, to each of its eleven sandy brown beaches, to its inlets and ponds, its stately trees and weathered monument I can find pieces of myself.

Visitors know Presque Isle – so named by the French in the 1700s and meaning “almost an island” – as a 3200-acre sandy peninsula that is a National Natural Landmark and much-treasured state park run and cared for by Pennsylvania. But if you grew up in Erie, as I did, you know it as, simply, “the peninsula” or “the beach”. No matter where I travel in the world or where I choose to live, I can close my eyes and in a moment I’m sitting on the warm brown sands of Beach #10 as waves gently roll in and white sails dot the horizon. It’s the place my soul calls home and I carry it with me always.

My father placed me on his hand in these salt-less blue waters at the age of two, teaching me the front crawl until, like a small, round, chubby fish, I swam away from him and on into the waves on my own – frightened, exhilarated, one with the water. As I grew older, my brothers and I came to the beach with our parents, with our cousins, with our friends to swim and warm ourselves after the long, cold winter. We came in cool, dusky mornings before dawn for sunrise breakfasts on the beach, inhaling the smell of frying bacon, eggs and potatoes with the scent of pine and water, as we watched the sun’s orange and yellow tentacles emerge and rise slowly into the sky.  We came on hot August afternoons when the air hung heavy and thick with humidity, our bodies coated in sweat, ready to jump the waves then dive deep below the water’s surface to cool ourselves. What relief there was to be had on those torpid, long days was only available by walking out into the lake itself.

Long before it was cool to be green, we learned to respect the environment at our beach.  We learned to love the preservation the state provided by making it a protected area and to realize that it wasn’t always bad to pay taxes when the money kept our beach intact and our lake pollution free. We scorned the “visitors” who came from out of town and littered their trash on our beaches without feeling or thought. It was our beach, our treasure, and we expected everyone to show as much consideration for it as we felt ourselves. And as we got older, we came out to the peninsula for our high school biology class to wade through the lagoons and low lying marshes, collecting specimens and finding out that our beach was a haven for many plant and animal species, some rare and protected, just as it was for us. We learned to share the land and admire the balance of all things.

The minute I received my first 10-speed bike I was on the hunt for friends with bikes to ride to the beach with me. I wasn’t old enough to drive but, finally, I had a regular means of transportation if I could manage the nearly hour-long trek to get there. I baked in the sun in my first bikini, sat on driftwood and wrote my first poems, and kissed my first boyfriend on those beaches, looking up at softly moving clouds or facing some of the most beautiful sunsets in the world.

Eventually, I left home for college and horizons beyond the small city I’d grown up in. Yet, whenever I found myself landlocked, I longed for my peninsula – for the waters of my soul. I would gravitate to the nearest ocean or lake – even a river might do – to quench the need inside me.

In the early 1990s, I came home for what I thought would be a year and stayed for twelve. Every winter, after the first snowfall, I’d drive around the peninsula slowly, savoring the hush and the pristine whiteness not yet marred by automobile exhaust and road salt. The stately trees, heavy laden with snow, arched forward overhead to give the sense of driving through an ancient cathedral; it’s only visitors the random deer or rabbit peeking out to watch me pass. Waves halted, frozen in mid-stride along the way while the water lay still beneath a coat of ice.

In the summers, I learned every inch of the multi-purpose trails on my roller blades, my bike, or sometimes just hiking it on foot.  And I learned the beauty of sitting on a boat out on the lake, surveying the beach from afar, watching the Flagship Niagara go by, laughing with friends, marveling at the carpet of stars overhead by night and the stretch of blue above and below by day. With great joy, I took my nephews to the beach to skip stones when they came for a visit.

I spent the winter of 1998-1999 battling cancer, and when I emerged in the spring, cancer free but exhausted, my friends were there to take me out in their boats, to let me sleep to the gently rocking motion of the waves and heal.

Erie is a tough place to live, with brutal winters and, for me, limited career possibilities. Ironically, I find myself living in the desert now, waiting anxiously for the yearly monsoons, grabbing any opportunity to travel to the Pacific coast.

But I carry the waters of Lake Erie in my DNA and the sands of my peninsula in my heart and soul like a prayer wherever I go.

Janet Roberts is security awareness specialist by day and a writer by night.  Although currently living in in the Arizona desert, she was born and raised in Erie, Pennsylvania, and carries her love of the Great Lakes in her heart. Her work has appeared in the Erie Times News, Erie & Chautauqua Magazine, The Huntsville Morning News, Legal Assistant Today, Law Office Computing, and other trade magazines. She’s currently seeking publication for her first novel, revising her second novel, and marketing several short stories to literary magazines.


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Milwaukee, Wisconsin: An Ode to Milwaukee

The author and a friend at a Denny's outside of Milwaukee.

The author and a friend at a Denny’s outside of Milwaukee.


This essay is part of the Great Lakes Review’s Narrative Map project.

O, Milwaukee, we should’ve got out earlier. O, silent L, we tried to make a better poem out of you. O, Lake Michigan, you’re one fat river, and ’Waukee, you’re a godless, Protestant drunk. To us, you were one night and a few blocks’ radius clung to the lip of the lake like a fever blister in summer—the hard slurp of somebody’s tongue that took too long to dry out.

We three came north for a friend we already knew we probably wouldn’t see again. A wedding under a high ceiling. The groom had left our landlocked town—we always knew it was temporary—for law school, Chicago, and a Milwaukee girl. We three, bearing no gifts, we travelers afar. M. and H., complicated Catholics, moved effortlessly through the murmured choreography. I fiddled with the straps of my high heels.

We only knew the groom, and each other. While strangers took pictures, we wandered along the water, which was ninety percent hard wind. We ate cheese because you told us to, Milwaukee. We drank your brand of golden swill; it settled our stomachs.

Maybe we should have left when we started giving our real names. Maybe when we tried to waltz but fell into a windowsill, and H. kissed me on the way down. Or maybe I kissed M. Or M. kissed H. Maybe it was every other way round. Maybe we should have left after H. rhymed labia with Lawrence of Arabia. Maybe, after the second time I failed to flirt a fifth of whiskey to-go! Maybe after the third time M. grumbled fuckin’ sconnie at the flower girl.

Sometime between the father-daughter dance and leap-frogging the parking meter—

Sometime between the red velvet cake and the after-hours polka club—

Sometime between the best man’s toast and the real Germans in the Best Western bar—

Sometime between when the groom asked us to stay and we didn’t—

Sometime between the pretzel salt on my tongue and the white-gravel shoulder where I prayed for puke and deliverance—we should have already been gone.

The next morning, it took us hours to find our way out of Wisconsin. We found Denny’s on the outskirts of the interstate, and a waitress whose nametag read KatieKatieKatie. It was like a tarot card I drew myself in crayon. KatieKatieKatie because I hoped no one north of Madison remembered my name. KatieKatieKatie because last night’s every slur reverbed thrice. And because our waitress kept returning, again and again, to remind me I was both infinite and repeatable as breakwater. M. and H. pledged to start a band called KatieKatieKatie and I wanted it so bad that my head actually felt better, because the greater ache had relocated someplace further south.

There’s nothing new about summer, or the end of it. Nothing new about sing-alongs and highways and knowing something’s over before it is. It remains to be seen whether a poem can be made from this stuff.

Wisconsin, we won’t come back for you. But, O, sweet Denny’s waitress, young woman with hair the color of wheat or chaff or PBR, you who let us nap on the vinyl cushion, who served us scrambled eggs with our chili nachos and didn’t ask questions, you will never see us again. But you were Our Mother of Milwaukee: We burned you down, and we left you your tip in quarters.

Katie Moulton’s prose, poetry, and criticism has appeared in xoJane, the Village Voice, Devil’s Lake, Quarterly West, Ninth Letter, Post Road, among others. Her work has been supported by fellowships from OMI International Arts Center and Indiana University. Born and raised in St. Louis, she lives in Bloomington, Indiana where she works for an historic theater and deejays for indie radio.



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