Changes to our world – and to our environment – have been a matter of course throughout history. But knowing that offers only limited comfort to Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator Mike VanBuren:
Changes to our world – and to our environment – have been a matter of course throughout history. But that knowledge only offers limited comfort to Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator Mike VanBuren.
Many years ago, when I was a rookie newspaperman working in northern Michigan, I often drove from my home in Mancelona to Whitefish Point on Lake Superior.
Whitefish Point was a glorious place to visit – particularly during the spring and fall, when raptors, waterfowl and songbirds were migrating through the Great Lakes region. Hundreds of thousands of birds funnel through the Point each year, thanks to land and water features that create a natural flight corridor.
I enjoyed going there to walk the beaches, watch the birds and see the giant freighters pass by on their way to and from the busy locks at Sault Ste. Marie.
Whitefish Point was a peaceful place in those days. And I was often alone, as I stood on the shore with my face against the invigorating Superior winds.
But something unsettling has occurred in the two decades since I made those pilgrimages. The Point has been discovered by large flocks of tourists. And the narrow road that reaches north from Paradise is sometimes clogged with cars, SUV’s and tour buses.
I returned to the Point recently, hoping to find the same peace and serenity I’d enjoyed there as a young man. I was pleased to discover that the old lighthouse – first lit in 1849 – had been carefully restored, along with a handful of whitewashed outbuildings.
That would have been enough for me.
But developers apparently thought the Point needed something more to attract visitors. They built a new facility to house the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum, along with a large gift shop – complete with meeting space and flush toilets. Wooden walkways had also been laid across the sandy dunes to allow greater access to the surrounding forest and beach.
I didn’t see many birds that day, although the folks at the tiny Whitefish Point Observatory could probably have told me where they were. I did see a lot of people, though.
“All things must change to something new – to something strange,” said Longfellow.
You’d think I’d be used to it by now – that I’d no longer be surprised by change. But I am. It always leaves me feeling a bit disoriented.
In my more lucid moments, I know the Great Lakes region will continue to evolve. And I know I’m as much a part of this process as real estate developers and gift shop proprietors.
Some change is even good – although the definition of “good” varies from person to person. Life itself is an uncertain migration – with constant shifts in our needs, attitudes and relationships to the outdoors.
I think it has always been that way.
As I retreated that day from the Point and drove south toward the Mackinaw Bridge, I thought about the Native Americans who lived beside Lake Superior long ago. Like me, they probably watched earlier generations of hawks, eagles and owls cross Whitefish Bay – and marveled at their beauty and grace.
I can imagine their ghosts, skirting the shores of the bay in birch bark canoes on cool moonlit nights – searching for some familiar landmark that will lead them home.
Perhaps one day mine will do the same.
***Mike VanBuren is an environmental writer who lives near Richland, Michigan. ***