Invaders

It’s spring, and nearly time to go to the cottage. My thoughts have been turning there; we’ll be going soon. I am eager. And also apprehensive.

Last night I dreamed that I walked along the beach to find not only a long row of houses but shops, right at the water’s edge. Someone was selling pizza from an open doorway while the waves washed up just inches away.

I love pizza, I told someone, but

Later in the dream I rose in the middle of the night to look out the front window and saw coming up the Bay a line of boats, in the moonlight. They had sails up, but I could hear the throttle of their engines and see their wakes, churning furiously as they sped north. There was one person, a single figure, on each of them. Some kind of midnight race…

The dream ended with being lost in a maze of tunnels under the nearby town. Eventually I and my companions found our way out, but when we surfaced we were behind a fence. I saw in the distance an artificial waterfall, a dam, not unlike the one that actually exists at the old hydroelectric plant in town. Beyond it, an array of smokestacks (something which doesn’t exist in the real town), belched smoke into the sky. We were in a strange twilight, a dimness, but it was too early for real night. I thought we could get out if we just hopped the fence—but it looked like we would be plowing through someone’s garden. That was not going to dissuade me. I was desperate.

Soon after, I woke up. And thought: We are the most invasive species.

We hear a lot about invasive species in the Great Lakes region. First zebra then quagga mussels (imports from the Dnieper River and the Black and Caspian Seas) became legendary, for the speed and numbers at which they multiplied and for the critical changes they’ve wrought in the Great Lakes ecosystem. The emerald ash borer has been killing trees in Michigan and spreading out from here for a decade; there are a few dead ash trees on my property up north and we pass whole groves of them on the highway nearby. Asian carp swim in the canals at Chicago and their DNA has been found a mere city block from Lake Michigan. Most Great Lakes residents shudder to think about them. What if they get in? So far, no one’s had the stomach to appropriate the money it will take to effectively keep them out.

We do spend money, every year in Michigan, to neutralize sea lamprey, which overwhelmed the upper Great Lakes back in the 50s, coming in through the Welland Canal. As a result, we and the fish they prey on are relatively untroubled by these parasitic, eel-like creatures. But those measures only came to pass after the lamprey decimated native trout populations, and we replaced them with non-native salmon (a population that is currently plummeting, making some biologists hopeful for the resurgence of native lake trout.)

Everywhere you look, it seems, there is some creature that has come in and upset the ecological balance. And no one more than us.

We brought every one of those invaders into our environment. But even without importing bugs and eels and carp so aggressive they jump out of the water, we do plenty of damage of our own.

My dream last night was about the suburbanization of my neighborhood up north. There’s no pizza hut near me—yet—but I’m confounded by the ever-growing number of gas ‘n go plazas in the little town down the highway. And every year on our road more houses, and bigger, go up. Last year we watched as a massive log house that looked almost big enough to be a hotel was built—on the woods side of the road, without water frontage. My parents used to think no one would build on that side. Too much swamp, and no beach. And then the first house went up…

I haven’t seen any midnight boat races, either; but there’s a daylight event that started a few years ago, a charity race called “Thunder on the Bay.” It involves high-powered motorboats racing at top speed to various points around Grand Traverse Bay. The first time I experienced it, I was on a stepstool, cleaning out the kitchen cupboards. My back to the window, I heard a roar and all the glasses rattled on the shelf. What the hell is that? I wondered. It went on for a good forty-five minutes or so, as I recall.

All of it makes me a little crazy. When I get down to the root of it, I’m afraid. Sometimes I think maybe I just need to chill—calm down some. Yes, the world has changed since I was a kid—especially in my small corner of northern Michigan.

But then again, this is not really the time to chill.

We have a president who wants to eliminate, completely, funding to protect the Great Lakes. We have an administration that appears to be gutting the EPA, the agency charged with protecting everyone’s water, and air, and soil. We have people in power now more than ever who put profits first, and who will not acknowledge that we are changing the very climate of planet Earth by human activity.

I love the northern Great Lakes, and Michigan, my home. I know that there are people all across the country, and all around the world, that have a similar deep affinity for the places they have come up in. And as I dream troubled dreams, of strip malls and smokestacks on the Bay so dear to me, I can only cling to this: Love is an anxious business. But there is no greater force in the universe. Love can do a lot.

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