Reviewed by RK Olson
For Love of Lakes is not only one of the best books in my library but, in my opinion, the best of 2011. And I read a lot. Like Thoreau’s Walden, Carson’s Silent Spring, and Sigurd Olson’s The Singing Wilderness, it has a timeless quality.
I started to read the book fast as I usually do with a new book. But it was not long before I realized that it should be read slowly and thoughtfully. Then I began to savor it chapter by chapter with increasing pleasure and intense interest.
Nelson writes with authority. He is a Minnesota man with lakes in his DNA. He is a writer, a scientist, and a teacher. But what a writer, what a scientist, what a teacher! Like a good teacher he approaches his subject from several angles. He writes that a lake is like a metaphorical theater. But the curtain never truly goes up. “It remains closed but for a snippet of monologue here and a moment of repartee (there) . . . that whispers through the tiny scattered rents of the curtain. I can but wonder about the truths in the watery depths and wonder about life beyond the curtain’s veil.”
In more prosaic terms, Nelson writes that we must see the world below the surface not just as a world of fish and vegetation but as a universe. The picture is of a stirring new world of the seen and the unseen, each an integral part of the life of the lake. Warming to his subject, Nelson writes that water looks to his eyes as it always has, but not to his mind. “My mind frolics,” he writes, “. . . and turns the mundane into magic.”
Thoreau might well have written that. “The vegetative zone of a lake is more than a place to delight the senses. It is a sacred garden, loss of the garden plucks the pulsing green heart from the lake.” AMEN.
The author’s premise or apologia is that the world loves and immortalizes its lakes but only what can be seen on the surface and around the shore. Today, the surface is peppered with boats, the shore with cabins, docks, houses, bars and beaches, that is what we love. So far so good.
Why not? The problem is that the life and beauty above the surface is linked to and depends on what lives below the surface. This is ominous sounding.
For example, we are now writing the epitaph for the Tullibee, a Minnesota sport fish trapped between increasing warm surface water and the cold low-oxygen depths. Global warming is changing life below as well as above the water. We are testing our lakes carefully to monitor the increasing density of wind-blown mercury, lethal to man and beast.
This lack of management and control is puzzling because the scientific exploration of lake ecology has been well established from the instincts of Thoreau to our modern scientific knowledge. But lakes continue to deteriorate. Why? Nelson writes that “I resolved to undertake a journey of exploration to investigate the relation between people and lakes. I also set out to get a glimpse of our lakes’ future.”
This book, For Love of Lakes, is Nelson’s report.
Nothing can ruin interest in a new book more than a lengthy review. So I will end with my personal conclusion. That is that I will never be able to love a lake like Darby Nelson, but I loved the book. And so will you. So there.