Wednesday, March 4, 2015

For Earth Day: The Dynamic Great Lakes

On Planet On Planet Earth, the Great Lakes are absolutely unique.

The decisions we make in our daily lives,  and the choices we make in who represents us in our government may affect generations to come.  The Great Lakes system is a treasure. Understanding their natural processes and understanding the dynamics of what we do is essential to these life giving waters.

The way to solve pollution  problems is to think globally and to act locally.

Picture yourself as an astronaut looking down from a spacecraft at this beautiful planet, the Earth. From space, it is easy to see that everything is connected to everything else.  The great masses of swirling clouds travel over the continents, drop rain, and sometimes along with the rain, pollutants. The lakes, rivers and seas are interconnected. In order to control global pollution problems they must be controlled at their source.

In order to act locally, some communities, both adult groups and school age students have adopted a stream.  They have observed the places where pollution might be occurring then they have spoken out against pollution in their communities, city councils or other government agencies.  Local groups of people are in the best position to observe what is happening to their local stream.

Local citizens can help develop cleanup strategies and local pollution prevention programs. The problem is too important to leave to government officials and industries alone.

Legislation to curb pollution needs to be on a global level as well as on national, state and local levels since everyone is a part of the global whole and flowing air, water and land ecosystems.

The view of planet Earth as seen from a satellite in outer space shows the continents, deep blue oceans and white swirling clouds of vapor. The five Great Lakes show their distinct, interconnected shapes; unique bodies of fresh water.

Of all the planets our satellite cameras and telescopes have probed, only Earth looks inviting or habitable.  A famous photograph taken from the moon shows Earth rising against a barren moonscape where nothing lives.  In the foreground we see jagged rock, but rising in the distance is Earth with its liquid medium: water.  Water and life are inseparable. Where there is life, there is water; where there is water, there is life.

All nations as well as all living things share the water and air supply that is the planet’s life support system; therefore we all share a responsibility for the cleanliness of the air, water, land and its living webs of life. Air and water never stop to show a passport, but circulate freely around the globe.  The great swirling airstreams and water systems we can see from a satellite circulate continually.

If we thought of the Earth as an apple, a layer of life- supporting air, soil and water would only be as thick as the apple’s skin. Life on Earth is only possible as long as our limited life support system works.

excerpted from The Dynamic Great Lakes by Barbara Spring

Monday, March 2, 2015

Barbara Spring Author websites and blogs

Barbara Spring author of
The Dynamic Great Lakes isbn: 1-58851-731-4
This is a green book.  It shows changes in the Great Lakes ecosystems through natural forces and changes by the hand of man, especially in the past 200 years.  I have a website with my books and their reviews: Books by Barbara Spring

I have two blogs with a lot of information and videos about the Great Lakes:

The Dynamic Great Lakes

And websites:

I have published three poetry books: The Wilderness Within; Sophia’s Lost and Found: Poems of Above and Below; Between Sweetwater and Sand.

I do not represent any organization presently.  I worked on grassroots committees to ban DDT in the past.  This resulted in a return of the American bald eagle to the shores of the Great Lakes along with peregrine falcons and ospreys and in other areas, fish eating birds such as the brown pelican and whooping crane.

I was a correspondent for the Grand Rapids Press for many years specializing in out door  and agriculture topics.

I was an adjunct professor at Grand Valley State University and designed writing courses around environmental topics.

I am inspired by the Great Lakes and I see Lake Michigan every day where I live.  Lake Erie Podcast

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Snow: Lake Michigan

                                            photo by Barbara Spring

On the Beach in Grand Haven, MI: February 
Confessions of an Ice Watcher

As I walk out on the icy shoreline on a cold February day, the wind blows through my wool balaclava and my foot slips on glazed patches on the sand.
My leather gloves are not warm enough to keep the wind from freezing my fingers.
My long down coat though is keeping me warm enough to hike along the shoreline.

I pull my Canon (camera that is) out of my pocket. I didn’t want my camera to freeze.   Ice fascinates me.  My distant relative, Roald Amundsen was a polar explorer from the north of Norway who studied ice and figured out how to reach the South Pole with dog sleds.  Maybe that explains my fascination.  Maybe.  Or it may be that the way the wind and waves change the ice patterns every day is the fascination.  From my perch on the dunes, I watch.

In mid-February of 1979, four of the five Great Lakes froze all the way across. This was the first year this had happened in the recorded history of the National Weather Service.  For years the harbor has not had fast ice where the Coast Guard Ice breaker had to try and break through.  Link to my author page on Amazon
I watch. I walk and I watch some more.

Saturday, February 7, 2015


Biophilia: the love of nature and living things.

I have had a great love for the Great Lakes since the moment I saw them as a child. Magnificent Lake Superior was the first Great Lake I saw, the greatest of them all.  I was on a road trip with my family and my uncle was telling a story in the car about “old foamy”, the fish he was going to try and catch. It was quite a fish story.

Then we reached Duluth and I was in awe at its size and beauty. The roar of the waves, the deep blue color and the rocky shores.  Up until then I had lived inland and had only experienced small lakes and streams.  When I grew older I visited all of the Great Lakes and Niagara Falls.  Each of the Great Lakes has its unique features: Lake Michigan, Lake Huron and Georgian Bay, Lake Erie, Niagara Falls and Lake Ontario.  I set out to learn important facts about the five lakes and what I might do to preserve their beauty. The Earth, the air, the waters and their living things are all connected and I am connected to them.

When you love something, you are compelled to care for it.  How can I care for the Great Lakes?  First I can learn all I can about them and let others know.  In a small way I am hoping I can help to keep the Great Lakes great.

I must have a serious case of biophilia: the love of nature and living things.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Ecology of Kitchel-Lindquist Sand Dunes

The high wooded dunes rise above the Grand River, as they have for several thousand years, a part of the landscape both residents and tourists in the Tri-Cities area enjoy.   For a closer look, people can follow a self-guided nature trail through the dunes.  On Earth Day, the community  pitches in and picks up debris blown into the dunes by the winter winds.  It's a favorite place for people whether they simply look at it as a familiar part of the landscape, or use it for walking or cross country skiing in the winter for it abounds in wildlife, grasses, flowers, and trees. It's a good place to study the lessons of ecology. 

     Kitchel-Lindquist Dunes, near the shore of Lake Michigan and on the north bank of the Grand River is a gift from the river and the west wind; water and wind currents carried sand deposited by Ice Age Glaciers 4,000 years ago.  It is a perfect place to study how a duneland changes over decades, centuries, millenia.  It is a good place to observe dynamic changes from season to season, and even from hour to hour.

     Ecologists say dunes are dynamic because they change rapidly. First to develop the discipline of ecology, Henry Chandler Cowles published his work in l899.  His scientific studies of the sand dunes along Lake Michigan in Indiana and Michigan pointed out the relationships between the shifting sands of the dunes and the changing plant communities that survive under harsh conditions. The scientific observations Cowles made in the Indiana and  Michigan sand dunes made him the father of ecology.  He saw that plants and animals change more rapidly in the dunes than in other places, therefore the dunes  made a perfect outdoor laboratory.

    Cowles' observations on one group of plants replacing another is called succession.  Each stage in dune succession depends upon an earlier stage.  The first plants to grow were perhaps nourished by a dead fish that washed ashore. Insects such as the springtail and bacteria and molds broke the fish down into nutrients the plants could use. After their root systems stabilized the sand, and helped build the dune, other plants were able to establish themselves nourished by nutrients in a layer of topsoil formed by decaying matter. Here is how the dune ecosystem changes with time: 0-20 years Beach grasses 20-50 years Cottonwood, beach grasses, cherry, willow, herbs 50-l00 years increasing variety of shrubs, trees, and herbs.  Jack pine may dominate l00 years Black oak may be among the first forest dominants.   Oak and hickory l00-l,000 years  Beech and maple climax forest (extension bulletin E-l529 Sea Grant).

    Marram grass and sand reed grass are not discouraged by the harsh environment of a sand dune: hot, desert like conditions in the summer, strong winds, and cold arctic conditions in the winter.  Dune plants are adapted to extreme heat, cold, and a lack of moisture. The marram grass and the sand reed grass hold the fort on the foredune by binding the sand with their huge, hair like root systems that may extend down to the water table for a hundred feet. Their stems grow upward even when covered by sand repeatedly.

   On Kitchel-Lindquist Dune"s 52 acres, there is a surprising diversity of life which makes its dunescape an ever changing panorama: plants especially adapted to the dune bloom, each in their season: A self-guided nature trail with l5 numbered stations shows the succession of plants in Kitchel Dunes: along the footpath are: horsetails, interdunal ponds or pannes with rushes, sedges and various insects and amphibians. A delicate looking yet hardy plant bearberry or kinnikinick was used by the Native Americans as tobacco, and there are junipers of two types, an endangered species: Pitcher's thistle, pines, dune grasses, poison ivy, sand cherry, and various types of hardwoods such as red oak.  On top of the highest dune are beech and maple. There are also witchhazel trees that bloom in October and sassafras that turns brilliant colors of red and orange in autumn. Some trees are entwined with bittersweet with orange fruit that birds feed_ upon.   

    Dune forests can grow up on dunes that have been pioneered by grasses and shrubs which stabilize the sand and over the years  help to build a layer of topsoil that can support tall trees.  In the spring, wildflowers such as trillium grow in profusion on south slopes of forested dunes where they can absorb more sunlight. In the open sunny areas of the dune, the yellow hairy puccoon flourishes: its gray green color and fuzzy leaves help it to reflect light and retain water.  Migrating birds rest in the high tree branches while permanent residents such as the pileated woodpecker and the horned owl go about earning their livings in their particular niches.  Whitetail deer browse on vegetation and red fox feeds upon everything from berries and insects to frogs and small mammals such as the white-footed mouse.

    With the climax forest, the dunes have produced a diverse community of plants and animals that are an important part of the Great Lakes' ecosystem. It may have taken a thousand years between the time the first grasses colonized the sand and the tall trees found enough nutrients for their seeds to grow.  These dunes are not replaceable. They are of more value to the whole ecosystem as dunes rather than as industrial sand or real estate. They protect inland areas from wind damage since wind blowing off the lake will glance off of a tall dune and rise up into the air.  They also protect inland areas from flooding, but perhaps their most appreciated value is their beauty.  Dune plants may be able to live through harsh summer and winter weather but, they cannot stand up to off the road vehicles or heavy foot traffic.  Building houses on dunes may also cause wind erosion when the plants stabilizing the dunes are removed. This is called a blowout and it forms a saddle shaped or U shaped depression in a stable sand dune.  In the past, many Lake Michigan dunes were trucked away load by load since their fine sand has industrial uses.   In order to protect Michigan's coastal sand dunes, the state government passed a law in l989 that will prevent harmful development and protect the dunes we still have left. Governor Blanchard signed the bill into law at Kitchel Dunes. Henry Chandler Cowles would have been proud.                         

  Nature Preserve photos and map  click the link.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Ship Stuck in the Harbor: Grand Haven, MI

Today the St. Marys Challenger got stuck in the Grand River and a tug and an ice breaker are trying to get it through.  It may take all day because the ship has not gotten very far after several hours.  The photo shows ice ridges that have formed along the Lake Michigan beach in Grand Haven, MI due to the strong winds and cold weather.  Ice in  the Grand River is blocking the passage of the ship.
video from a drone  click here for a youtube picture of the freighter and ice breaker.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Ice Forms in Lake Michigan

My Amazon Page with books and more    Click the link for more information

Ice ridges are forming on the Great Lakes.  Read how this happens in my non-fiction book, The Dynamic Great Lakes.

 I took this photo on the sandy beach in Grand Haven, Michigan.