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  Field Notes From
Down the Drain?



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On Assignment
Arrows
View Field Notes
From Author

John G. Mitchell



On Assignment

View Field Notes
From Photographer

Jay Dickman



In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photographs by Brian Strauss (top), and Jay Dickman
 

On Assignment On Assignment On Assignment
Down the Drain?

Field Notes From Author
John G. Mitchell
Best Worst Quirkiest

One day on assignment, while scouting the shelves in a lakeside bookshop, I discovered my old friend, Paddle-to-the-Sea, dressed up in a new paperback edition. I’m referring to the book by Holling C. Holling, first published by Houghton Mifflin in 1941 and probably the most wonderful children’s story to tickle my fancy in the knee-pants years. With beautiful illustrations and enchanting text, the book tells of an Indian boy in Canada who carves a miniature, foot-long, birchbark canoe, places a painted paddler inside, and sends them on their way to the Atlantic Ocean. A series of maps keeps the reader apprised of Paddle’s progress through the Great Lakes system: Down the Nipigon River to Superior, down the St. Marys River into Lake Michigan, over and out through lakes Huron, St. Clair, Erie, and Ontario, then along the St. Lawrence River to the sea. And what exciting adventures the little canoe and its paddler have along the way! I don’t believe I’d laid eyes on Holling’s book for more than half a century. So what else could I do? The Paddle and I just had to take the great journey once again.



For an outlander who has spent a lot of good times around the upper Great Lakes, and who rates the territory among the very best of North America, “worst” cases can be hard to come by. Those sparkling waters and evergreen shores defy disappointment, even when the lake levels are causing problems. Still, one could always wish for cooler days when it’s too hot, or warmer days when it’s too cool; more sun for the beach, more shade for the woods, more ripe black raspberries in the abandoned farm fields, and fewer condos among the ever shrinking dunes. But, hey! Nobody should expect the upper Great Lakes to be perfect. They’re close enough.



As a freelance writer in the mid-1970s, I posted into a book of essays a short piece about the upper Great Lakes and how they were faring in the cyclical ebb and flow of the “levels” game. What a difference a quarter century can make. Here’s what I had to report in that musty tome of long ago: “All of the upper Great Lakes are said to be higher than at any time since people started measuring such things. Nine or ten lavishly wet years have swollen the streams of the lakes’ watersheds…. We are informed it is a cyclical circumstance and that someday the beaches …will be wide again, as they were in the Thirties and as I remember them even after allowing for the distorted perceptions of youth. In any event, the water is high. It has pinched some beaches back almost to the edge of the dunes…. Nevertheless we can live with this deprivation, as we must, for it is only temporary....” And of course it was only temporary. But that was then. In the mid-1970s, the debate over global warming had barely begun.





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