Beside the Inland Sea by Gretchen N. Paprocki:
A review by David Deedon
It has been more than half a century since I last wrote a book review. Not only that, but Beside the Inland Sea is a book I would never have picked up to read, let alone purchase. So why did I buy and read this book? And why did I choose to attempt to tell you about it when my writing is generally fiction or humorous (or both)?
Gretchen Paprocki and I never met. She passed away from brain cancer about a year before I joined a writing group. Her husband, Doug Paprocki, was in the group for, I believe, the express purpose of “labor(ing) to suitably convey in finished form Gretchen’s impassioned endeavor and to provide an epilogue to our having sold the cottage.” Those are Doug’s words in the Afterword of Beside the Inland Sea. So, for roughly three years, twice a month, I heard part of the manuscript read by Doug to the group.
Even though I fully expected to enjoy the book, based on what Doug had read to the group, my first thought of purchasing it was to support Doug just as I would hope to be supported by those who know me, if I ever publish any of my writings. Actually reading the book was a bonus. It was truly enjoyable and informative. Having read this fine narrative, I felt an obligation to pass on my impressions to all who would listen or would read this.
The ‘Inland Sea’ of the title is, indeed, a freshwater sea. We know it as Lake Michigan. From the Introduction to the Afterword, and in each of the twenty chapters in between, each of which have one word titles, you will learn how nature changes the landscape at the shoreline as well as back from the shore in the woods. You will also see the results of man’s activities and how it may override, or at least redirect nature’s efforts.
The book starts with the history of the reshaping and resizing the Lake Michigan Dunes at Muskegon County, Michigan. Wind, waves and water levels cause constant change in the dunes and the amount of actual beach below the cottage where the Paprockis spent much time over a quarter century period.
Not only does Gretchen Paprocki give the natural history of the area for that quarter of a century, but she gives some general history for a much longer period. This includes the ownership history of the cottage, nearby cottages and the woods behind Paprocki’s living quarters.
Throughout the book, Paprocki explores a variety of natural happenings at the dunes and in the woods back of the cottage they inhabited. Included is the migration of birds from the area, to the area, and those just passing through the area.
She also covers other wild life forms such as Deer Mouse, Grey Squirrels and White-tailed Deer. And, of course, there is an abundance of variety of rooted life — plants. She writes of events such as which plants come up first each spring and the effect of the lumber harvesting from decades ago. Even the lowly lichen, moss and fungi, along with their place in the ecology, are covered. Some are pictured and you might be surprised to see how colorful some of the fungi are.
My review may not do justice to the Paprockis’ talents so I must put in some straight forward statements that will help you understand what the rest of the review is trying to present.
First, I said “the Paprockis”, rather than just Mrs. Paprocki, because Doug was the photographer for the book, he finished preparing the book for publication and he wrote the Afterword. All together, his contributions were substantial.
The writing is descriptive beyond, well, beyond description. It is easy to visualize the beach, the woods, the cottage, the plants, the birds and the animals. One can almost hear the birds as one reads her descriptions of the songs being sung by them.
The book would have stood tall without any pictures, but the 256 pages contain over 100 excellent photographs of the subjects. These beautiful photographs greatly enhanced an already great book.
This is a must read for anyone who would like to live in, or even visit, a Lake Michigan Dunes or a location such as the Paprockis cottage in western Michigan.
Beside the Inland Sea is published by Arbutus Press of Traverse City, Michigan and should be available at any good book store. It is available at amazon.com.