Tag: Jerry Beasley

A Matter of Reverence

By Jerry Beasley

I’m sitting on the deck at our lakeside cottage, peering through the trees, hoping that when I do so in the future I will see healthy waters, and the same beauty that I have loved for such a long time. There are so many threats. I must confess that the great COVID-19 pandemic that has so overwhelmed us all for these past many months has made me draw inward, wanting to protect the waters and all things of natural beauty just for myself. I don’t think I am alone. That’s how the solitary ongoing vigilance to keep ourselves safe can undermine our commitment to the safety of the world around us. I have become more and more conscious of submitting to anxiety about the pandemic’s threat to me and those I love. I believe this has happened to us all in one degree or another, however committed to the health of our world we may have always been.

But now I am looking at our bird feeder and marveling at the beauty and the energy of the small creatures that come to it again and again with such an abundance of zest for life. I see chickadees, nuthatches, titmice, goldfinches, downy woodpeckers, and, occasionally, rose-breasted grosbeaks. And we have hummingbirds. Black squirrels and tiny pine squirrels scurry around on the ground, long since having given up trying to raid our fancy feeder, hoping to find a sunflower seed dropped from above by a careless or hasty bird. Just watching these creatures, in all their innocence and exuberance, is a transformative act. And as my mind is drawn out of itself, my eye drifts beyond them once again to the light shadowing through the hemlocks and beeches, finally to the lake that has brought us here—my wife and me—to this century-old cottage and its long history in her family, now through five generations.

The cottage is located on Intermediate Lake near the Antrim County village of Central Lake in northwest Lower Michigan. The locals are very protective of their village’s name, and the iconic Bachmann’s General Store actually sells a sweatshirt displaying the words “Central Lake is a Village, Not a Lake.” But at one time in the past the lake was, indeed, called “Central Lake.” Both of these names were bestowed because the lake lies in the very middle of the Antrim Chain, whose 14 separate lakes extend for 55 miles southward from a point near the village of Ellsworth, eventually emptying into Grand Traverse Bay at Elk Rapids. The Chain contains more than 200 miles of shoreline and 60 square miles of water surface, and serves as a major watershed area, critical to the health of Lake Michigan.

Intermediate Lake was once just the Intermediate River, until, in 1900, a dam was constructed near the village of Bellaire for the purpose of providing hydroelectric power. The dam no longer generates electricity, but the lake that its construction made possible remains, a beautiful relic of a modern intrusion upon its original pristine form. Sometimes we humans get something right, even when we act selfishly in our relations with the natural world.

I have wondered lately about the deeper history of Intermediate Lake. Before transplanted Europeans arrived, the region around the Chain of Lakes was inhabited solely by the Ojibwa, who lived in the natural world with an intimacy now too often lost. For example: What makes people think it is all right to denude the shoreline of vegetation and then scatter fertilizer over expanses of lawn mowed to look like a suburban landscape? And why are so many septic systems leaching nutrients into so many of the lakes in our region? I don’t mean to suggest that all amenities of lakeside living or vacationing need to be sacrificed. But isn’t it of greater importance to value and preserve the natural wonders that surround us?

I am full of admiration for all of those—individuals and organizations, like FLOW—trying so hard to save our Great Lakes and the many inland lakes that bless all of us who live here. Invasive plants, pollutants like PFAS, microplastics, beach trash—the efforts in response to these and other assaults upon our precious waters go on and on, powered so often by volunteer groups and individuals dedicated to mitigation, cleanup, prevention, and habitat protection. 

I recently learned of a project undertaken by the Lake Leelanau Lake Association to rid the lake’s waters of the invasive Eurasian Watermilfoil by anchoring biodegradable sheets of burlap (40 feet x 400 feet!) underwater to smother the intruder and kill it without the use of herbicides or any chemicals. Biologist Brian Price developed this ingenious approach as a result of his dedication to the health of the lake and its fish population. (A fascinating documentary on this project can be found on NatureChange.org.) Meanwhile, members of the Intermediate Lake Association monitor the area around the Loon nests near the southern end of the lake and do all they can to ensure the safety and wellbeing of those beautiful and mysterious birds, with the kind of dedication that keeps them returning year after year.

Efforts like these, and many similar undertakings on other waters, grow from a love of the natural world that is rarer and rarer in our increasingly urbanized world. I wrote in another posting for FLOW last year that protecting, and indeed saving, our waters is “A Matter of the Heart,” making the case that, “If the heart is not engaged, the waters will not be saved.” I’m inclined to put this a bit differently now. I believe that what we need to recover and rediscover, to the extent that we can, is the same reverence for our waters, and indeed for all of our natural environment, felt by Indigenous peoples. To Native Americans, the land and the waters are sacred, not to be defiled. Their connection to the earth remains deep, elemental, communal, personal, spiritual. May we all strive now to make our own connection, in this modern world, more like theirs.

Jerry Beasley was born in Nashville, Tennessee in 1940. He attended Vanderbilt University, majoring in English Literature, and went on to receive his M.A. from the University of Kansas and his Ph.D from Northwestern University. He was a member of the English faculty at the University of Delaware for almost forty years, specializing in 18th-century British fiction and early women’s fiction. He is the author or editor of seven books and more than seventy articles and reviews in scholarly journals and collections. He and his wife, Fleda Brown, moved from Delaware to Traverse City in 2007. Jerry was a member of the Traverse Area District Library Board of Trustees for eight years, serving as Board President for two of those years. He currently serves on the Traverse City Human Rights Commission and is a volunteer with Munson Hospice.

FLOW’s Work is a Matter of the Heart

By Mike Vickery, FLOW Board Chair, and Liz Kirkwood, FLOW Executive Director 

As we reflect on FLOW’s work, it seems appropriate to quote FLOW supporter, and author, Jerry Beasley. “What is fundamental about our relationship with water is a matter of the heart, ” writes Beasley. “If the heart is not engaged, the waters will not be saved.”

FLOW’s 2019 annual report, which you can view here, highlights what we have accomplished during the past fiscal year.

All of FLOW’s programs are designed to protect our Great Lakes, surface water, and groundwater for all of us to enjoy and sustain ourselves. Together we are helping to restore the rule of law on Line 5 and in legal cases involving Nestlé’s insatiable thirst for Michigan’s groundwater. We are developing protective policies and environmental education campaigns and collaborating on water infrastructure solutions that are fair to all. In this age of climate change and high water in the Great Lakes Basin, we need to make sure that no one treats our water as a high-risk shortcut or a commodity.

Thanks to your generous support, FLOW in 2019 made significant strides in our policy work while celebrating our shared love of water. Our report details these key accomplishments.

We remain inspired by the legacy of environmental stewardship of a beloved and influential Great Lakes luminary, former Michigan Governor William G. Milliken, who passed away in October 2019. We include a memorial tribute to the Governor in this report.

“In Michigan,” Gov. Milliken said, “our soul is not to be found in steel and concrete, or sprawling new housing developments or strip malls. Rather it is found in the soft petals of a trillium, the gentle whisper of a headwater stream, the vista of a Great Lakes shoreline, and the wonder in children’s eyes upon seeing their first bald eagle. It is that soul that we must preserve.”

Developing a deep sense of stewardship for our Great Lakes also means celebrating the creativity sparked by these magnificent freshwater resources. In the annual report you’ll learn about several special moments in FLOW’s ongoing initiative to honor the space where Art Meets Water.

As we pause to reflect on our 2019 accomplishments, we are deeply grateful to the community of supporters who fuel our work. Thank you for your generosity, your passion for our waters, and your dedicated stewardship.

We look forward to increasing the momentum in 2020 and the new decade. Together, we’re moving forward with solutions to Great Lakes water issues based on science and law—solutions that inspire real hope for our water in all who love it.

We enter this consequential new decade heartened by your support and your confidence in FLOW’s ability to meet the significant challenges that lie ahead. Our mantra in 2020, no matter what it brings, is to “just do the next right thing” for the love of water.

Protecting the Great Lakes is “A Matter of the Heart”

On #GivingTuesday, a FLOW supporter shares loving words on water

By Jerry Beasley

I do not come by my love of water as a result of growing up where there was plenty of it. So I might say that I don’t come by it naturally. But it’s real, and here’s the story of why.

I grew up in Nashville, Tennessee. There were no natural lakes to swim in. The Cumberland River was the only nearby body of water, and it was busy with industrial boat traffic—so there were no swimming holes. I do remember playing around in local creeks, scouting for crawdads and little fish. The truth is, I was afraid of the water. When, at the age of nine, I signed up for a class at the YMCA where I would be taught to swim, I panicked and quit.

I did finally learn to swim—badly—as a young teenager, and I remember long, sunburned days at Cascade Plunge, a 45-minute bus ride from my home.

To keep this story short, I’ll leap ahead to the time when I moved to a small farm on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, overlooking the Sassafras River, one of the several Eastern Shore tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay. My daughters were then very young, and because the summers were hot, we spent long afternoons on that river, where the girls learned to swim. Just a few miles upstream, the Sassafras was no more than a trickle, but where we played and swam in it, the river was as wide as the Mississippi, and as majestic. It inspired a kind of awe. I never became a really good swimmer, but being there changed me, for I then first realized that I had a genuine love for the water. My girls loved the water, and I think they taught me to love it too.

Much later, in the early 1990s, my new wife and I began traveling together in the summers from our home in Delaware to Northern Michigan—to her family cottage on Intermediate Lake in Antrim County, part of the Chain of Lakes watershed, not far from Traverse City. The cottage had been in her family since 1918, and she had been spending summers there for much of her life.

A whole new world of joy opened for me. Everyone in her family loved the lake with a great passion. Her father built sailboats and spent hours on the water in them. Everyone swam. Evenings on the dock were a long tradition, and the beauty of the sunsets was wondrous to me. From that point forward, we both felt that we always needed to be near water. We soon bought a small house on the Elk River in Maryland, like the Sassafras, an Eastern Shore tributary of the Chesapeake and, from our beach, equally majestic.

Watch Jerry Beasley read from “A Matter of the Heart”. And please consider supporting FLOW on #GivingTuesday.
But it was during those days in Michigan almost 30 years ago that I fell so deeply in love with water, in a new and completely fulfilling way. I marveled at the fact that Michigan had so many miles of Great Lakes shoreline, that it had more than 11,000 inland lakes. Truly a water wonderland. When my wife and I were ready to retire, we decided to move all the way to Traverse City so that we could be near the family cottage and the water that makes it such a special place for us. And the bonus is that when we’re not at the cottage we have the magnificence of Grand Traverse Bay.

Now, as every reader of this blog post already knows, our water legacy is under grave threat, and there are many people, individually and in organized groups like FLOW, who are working fiercely to save it, producing studies and launching campaigns to inform and engage the public. All of this is essential, and without it, the battle will almost certainly be lost.

But the thing I learned many years ago, as I passed from ignorance and something approaching indifference to passionate love, is this: that what is most fundamental about our relationship with water is a matter of the heart. Love preceded knowledge for me. Without the former, I would never have moved on to the latter.

To put it another way: What I have learned, and what I believe in the most elemental way, is that our first and most basic relationship with water is anchored in love. In the absence of love there is the great risk of indifference and failure to protect this resource that, under the Public Trust Doctrine, belongs to us all and is essential to life. If the heart is not engaged, the waters will not be saved. So, while we marshal facts and organize and encourage activism, let us remember to acknowledge the power of our affections and make them a guiding principle in all that we do.