I’ve been reading a lot of Erie Canal history recently, which means I have also been reading a lot about the Great Lakes. The period from the mid 1700s to the mid 1900s was marked by a wholesale reconfiguring of that entire watershed, from the elimination of the Great Black Swamp at the western end of Lake Erie to the building of the Saint Lawrence Seaway that opened the ecosystem to ocean shipping.
What is astonishing to me is how much people were able to accomplish with so little in terms of technology. Things like hand-digging the canals. Miles and miles of canals. Also the sheer lack of regard for the existing environment. Want more farmland? Let’s just drain thousands of acres without thought for how that will affect the drainage mechanisms for an inland sea. Sheesh.
As you can tell, Dan Egan has me riled up on behalf of the Great Lakes. His book has been a real eye-opener both in terms of the history and geology of the lakes, but also with regard to what is happening today. There’s plenty here for science geeks, environmentalists, and historians to sink their teeth into, and Egan is a good writer. His main message is that understanding what is causing the changes we observe allows us to meet those changes and improve conditions in the lakes. Well, except for zebra and quagga mussels. They’re here to stay.