Question for those of you who live in northern Michigan: how many times have you been asked, “What’s it like here in the winter?” Soon we’ll be able to answer, “Read Jerry Dennis’s new book!”
The perspective of The Living Great Lakes was water. Now in The Windward Shore nature writer Dennis stays on land but always close to Great Lakes water, with resulting observations and meditations that are thought-provoking and rich in detail. No, I do not have an advance reading copy, but all of us have a chance to preview a little of the new book in the latest issue of Michigan Quarterly Review, a special issue on the Great Lakes. (There is a lot of other great stuff in this issue, too. I read every page of my copy, start to finish.) Here’s a bit I love from Dennis’s essay entitled “Winter Comes to the Keweenaw” about the Finnish concept of sisu.
It is the Yoopers’ humble anthem, adopted by those who have survived a single winter as readily as those whose ancestors immigrated to work in the copper and iron mines. It is stoicism stripped of its philosopher’s robe and dressed in a Woolrich coat and Packers’ cap, with a chainsaw in the back of the pickup and a snowmobile rusting all summer in the yard. It means sticking to a job until it is finished, no matter how difficult it is or how long it takes, and one of those jobs, the one that requires the greatest endurance and the most courage, is life itself. In a harsh climate and inhospitable land, sisu helps a person get by with dignity.
Here in the northern Lower Peninsula sisu can come in handy, too. It can be helpful long before winter arrives. For instance, a small-town bookseller (not to mention any names) must call on sisu when her first rainy Saturday-of-Labor-Day-weekend morning customer wants to buy a $12 for $10. The bookseller wants to scream and tear her hair out! She wants to ask if the customer thinks she, the bookseller, can get the grocer to lower his prices to suit her desire for a bargain! She wants to suggest, sarcastically, that if the customer wants a $10 book, the store has plenty of $10 books (and cheaper) in stock! But no, she pushes down the irritation and smiles, telling him simply that the price is $12. He buys the book and goes on his way, while the bookseller writes out a check for a donation to Miles for Mammograms, the annual Alice Busby Walk going forward today in much less-than-ideal walking weather, Because Walk organizers and participants have dredged up their sisu today, and can the bookseller do less?
And so the day goes on with dignity and fortitude, and an hour later the bookstore is filled with happy, laughing browsers and customers. . . here on the shore of Grand Traverse Bay on Lake Michigan as summer segues into fall. Happy Labor Day, whether you're working or have the holiday off!