Excerpts from Two Stories

Jerry Dennis


[Table of Contents]
[Editor's Note]

The Ice

They were arguing again. I could hear the voices below in the kitchen, but not the words, until I crept to the heat register. Then I listened to them argue about Gene. The boy was still a child. Old enough to dance, old enough to pay the fiddler. He was driving their son away. How dare she say that in his own house?
      And so on.
      I dressed quickly in my warmest clothes, quiet not to wake the others, then sneaked down the stairs and outside and ran through the snow to the river.

Later that day Father blamed Gene for a snowshovel that was left outside and lost. Gene might not have lost it. Maybe I did. Maybe Joey or Charles left it near the road, where the snowplow hooked it and carried it away. But Father said Gene was responsible because he was the oldest, he was nearly a man, and it was time he started pulling his weight.
      "I don't know where the goddamned snowshovel is," Gene said.
      "Don't talk like that in this house."
      "I'll leave then."
      "Maybe you'd better."
      Mother said, "Gene, do what your father asks."
      "He's not my father."
      "Just please do what he asks."
      "Well, he's not my father."
      "I'm not your father, but you're sure as hell sleeping under the roof of my house and eating the food I put on the table."
      "I'm leaving."
      Gene slammed the door behind him, banging the glass in all the windows. Charles and Joey and I were left to face Father ourselves. But he looked at us and said, "Don't you have chores?" and we were out the door, running for the river.
      "Who lost the goddamned shovel?" Charlie asked.
      "Probably Pissant here."
      "Not me," I said. But I wasn't sure.
      It had been a cold winter, the coldest we had ever known, and for the first time in our memories the river had frozen from bank to bank. The river was not fast, but it was large and deep and powerful enough to resist freezing. In summer, when the wind turned the surface to chop, it was difficult to notice current at all until you looked closely and saw the deep reach of it, the way it rose from the depths into silent swirls and upswells that disrupted the patterns of order imposed by the wind. Most winters ice formed only along the edges and in the sloughs and bays the current did not enter. We never imagined it would freeze entirely across.
      That winter, on the hill below the house, we built a long, winding bobsled run. We worked on it for days, packing the snow in shape with the flats of shovels, then sprinkling it with buckets of water we carried up from a hole Gene cut for us at the edge of the river. The finished track began beside the house and ended near the river in the space between the boathouses. We rode down on our bellies on runner sleds, skidding on the turns, going so fast our eyes ran with tears. Just before vaulting over the bank onto the ice, we spilled off into the loose snow and stopped. Charles said, "You ride out on that ice, you'll cut through, sink, be drowned in about a minute."
      Once I fell off my sled and it kept going and skittered onto the ice.
      Joey ran up to the garage for a rope. Charles found a long stick, but it was not long enough to reach the sled. We tried to lasso it with the rope but it fell short, so Charles and Joey tied the rope around my waist and I walked out on the ice. I could feel the water flowing beneath it, like fingers dragging on the underside. It was twenty feet deep there. I imagined I was walking across the roof of a church.
      "Jump up and down."
      The ice did not break. "It's strong," I said.
      Charles and Joey came out a foot at a time and we stood together.
      Frozen, the river had changed entirely. It seemed more like a lake than a river, tapered at each end, wide across the middle to the far shore where the hills and the woods rose away. We imagined what was beneath the ice, the water darker and the current heavier and more dangerous than in summer, imagined the horror of breaking through and being sucked underneath. We retrieved the sled and hurried to shore.


Winter was something to be endured, like school. In winter Father had no work and spent much of each day in the kitchen, in Mother's way. Idleness was difficult for him. The house became very small in winter, and we learned to become very small and quiet ourselves.
      In the summer, though there were many chores, we could swim, fish, and explore the river. Father was busy repairing outboard motors and renting boats to fishermen who followed the signs from the highway and parked in the dirt lot next to the house. Gene had jobs in town, but on his days off he helped Father or was hired by fishermen to guide them on the river. He knew where the biggest bass were, knew the holes where you could find schools of walleye. Charles and Joey kept the boats bailed and clean, and when there were customers, delivered live bait from the old refrigerator in the boathouse. If they were not working they cut and stacked firewood or mowed the lawn or slashed the brush that grew up every year along the riverbank. I helped Mother in the garden or played quietly by myself.

If Charles and Joey had the morning free, we tied ourselves into bulky life jackets and took one of the boats upriver, running against the current with the old Johnson outboard Father had taken in trade. We motored upstream to the abandoned docks at Pine Island, tied the boat to the pilings, and swam or fished. Sometimes we explored the island, but it was a frightening place, spoiled by blackberry thickets too dense to enter and piles of rotting lumber spiked with nails. Duck hunters had built wooden blinds along the shore. We sat in them, hidden from passing boats, and frightened ourselves with stories of ghosts and murders. Sometimes we talked about Gene's father, a sawmill laborer from Grand Ledge our mother had married long before we were born. They had lived in a small white house near the mill, and Gene had learned to ride a bicycle on the cracked narrow sidewalks of the neighborhood, had made friendships he continued to honor long after Mother remarried and she and Gene moved to Father's house, our house, in the country. Even after hearing the story all my life, I could not imagine Mother married to someone else. With effort I visualized a tall, faceless man, taller and leaner than our own father. He was killed when a ripping blade at the sawmill exploded and fired shanks of steel through the building. A piece struck his skull and shattered it, we imagined, like porcelain.


The day the ice moved I followed Father and Charles down to the shore and watched the ice creeping along the bank. The river was high. A week of thaw at the beginning of March had brought the snowmelt down from the tributaries. Now the wind had turned cold again, but the river continued to rise. It moaned and coughed like a room filled with sick people. Across the ice black lines had appeared, jagged and monumental as the boundaries of nations.
      "She'll be moving good by morning," Father said. "Wind's coming up."

That evening Father's friends came to the house and stayed late talking. My brothers and I sat in the shadows of the living room, forgotten, listening to the men. They smoked cigars and drank whiskey from glasses. Sometimes I heard what was said, sometimes the words blended into pure sound and I began to doze.
      "You sleeping, Buzzard?" Gene asked. I sat up and listened.
      The talk was of hunting, the kind of talk that fills you with the scents and rustlings of the woods. The men were experienced and accomplished hunters, but were modest in their knowledge. They bragged only by suggestion. If Father asked one of them what success he had hunting in the Upper Peninsula that fall, the friend would say, "Fair luck," which meant he had killed a large buck, possibly two, and perhaps had killed an illegal doe for camp meals. They never admitted their successes, unless prodded, and it was understood that one of the obligations of friendship was to do the prodding.
      Mother came into the room with ice in a bowl and put it on the table by the whiskey bottle. She wore her bathrobe and a pair of Father's socks. I stayed as still as possible, but Gene smoked a cigarette and made remarks while the men talked. Mother turned and looked at Charles and Joey and me, so I knew our time was up, and then she came over and took the cigarette from Gene's mouth and put it out in an ashtray. Gene looked so ashamed and sad that I felt terrible.
      Father turned slowly and focused on us. "I told you boys to get off to bed."
Gene said, "No you didn't."
      "Get your ass upstairs."
      Gene stood and walked to the closet. He put on his coat.
      "Where do you think you're going?" Father demanded. But the door had already closed.
      Mother took my hand, and I let her lead me upstairs to the bedroom. When she wanted to let go I would not release her. I held tightly with both my hands until she looked at me.
      "I'm never going to smoke, Mama," I said.
      She smiled. She removed her hand and folded back the blanket and comforter.
      "I'm not," I said.
      "I know, Honey." She tucked the blankets to my chin and kissed me. "Go to sleep."
      She left and I waited alone in the dark, listening to the voices downstairs and the clinking of ice in the glasses, and looking away into the darkness at the vague moving lights that come and go in your eyes at night. Charles and Joey came in and got in their beds. In a few minutes they were sleeping. Then I was alone again. I waited as long as I could for Gene, but he did not come home.


In the night Father threw open the door. The light switched on so suddenly it was like a loud noise, blaring, causing us to sit upright. "Get up," he said.
      "What time is it?" Charles asked. We assumed it was time for school.
      "Just get up."
      It was cold. We struggled against the pull of sleep and warmth and dressed in our sweaters and jeans and double pairs of socks.
      Then we could hear the wind and could feel the house groaning and creaking against it. The world was black through the windows, and only gradually did we realize it was the middle of the night. Branches beat against the glass.
      Mother waited in the kitchen in her bathrobe, her hair down, gray and long. When she saw us she said, "He's out there already."
      Joey said, "Can't we have breakfast first?"
      "No. Better go help him."
      We put on our coats, hats, and mittens and stepped outside.
      Charles was first. He turned back immediately from the wind. Then he put his head down and pushed into the darkness. Joey and I followed.
      I clung to Charles's coat. Already I was shivering. It was bitter cold, colder than any night that winter. Hard pellets of snow stung my face. The wind was so powerful it pulled my lips away from my teeth. I could see nothing but glimpses of tree trunks and the sudden, furiously whipping branches. Objects flew past.
      Below us patches of snow moved vaguely on the river. We found shelter behind one of the boathouses.
      "Where is he?" Charles called. Joey held my arm. We stepped around the building, into the wind again, and saw Father silhouetted against the river. He raised an ax into the air and drove it down into the ice. He raised it again and drove it down again but it made no sound. The ice was pale. We could see it dimly, through the corners of our eyes, shelving against the shore and rising as ponderously as glaciers.
      We had never seen the ice like that. Our property was on a bend in the river, but the river was so wide and the bend so long that the current was not driven into our shore. Most years, floes of ice were dislodged from the sloughs upstream and drifted harmlessly past. Sometimes boys from town would ride the floes until they were far from shore and had to be rescued by men in boats. Sometimes they were not rescued. Always the water and everything in it proceeded downstream, out of sight.
      But now the wind and high water drove the river straight at us. The ice veered to our shore, and once it struck land the momentum of the wind and the current kept it coming and there seemed no way to stop it.
      We went to Father, and he gave us wrecking bars and the heavy iron spuds we used to cut fishing holes in the small lake across the road. He pulled us apart, to separate positions along the shore, and demonstrated how we must use the tools to stop the ice. He did it in pantomime. In the wind we could not understand his words even when he shouted at us.
      The ice came slowly, pushed by a hundred miles of moving water. It butted against the raw bank, plowed slowly through it, cleaving the topsoil, then rose beyond the ground until it seemed to come straight at us.
      If it burrowed too deeply into the ground it stopped, but after a moment it would fold slowly, hinging on itself, until it cracked open and the new leading edge rode over the back of the old. Sometimes the shifting ice opened the river, exposing for a few minutes water black as oil, then closing it again as more ice was pushed down by the current. I raised my spud and beat at the ice, but I could not break it. When I pried beneath it, the insistent dumb weight tried to pull the tool from my hands.
      I knew the boathouses would not stop the ice. If it reached the buildings they would be crushed. The boats and drums of gasoline and the workbenches and tools and the boxes filled with propellers and recoils and motor housings would be dumped over and taken by the river. The ice and the river would claim everything, would leave the beach scoured clean as bones.
      The wind did not diminish and the ice came on, endlessly. As we worked, the darkness dissolved so gradually we did not notice it. In gray light the river seemed alive, the ice moving, black streaks opening for a moment then closing. Charles beat at the ice, took a step back, beat at it, took another step back. Joey stood against the boathouse, jabbing with an iron bar. He dropped the bar finally and turned away from the wind, holding his hands over his ears.
      I pretended an adult fury of effort and allowed the spud to slip from my hands onto the ice. It slid downward, increasing in speed, and disappeared without noise into the black water. Father did not notice. He swung his ax over and over into the ice, standing on top of it as if to slow its progress with his weight. It carried him slowly forward. The closer it carried him to the boathouse the more frantic he became, until he and his slashing ax threatened to fly apart.
      The board-and-batten siding of the boathouse warped gradually inward. It seemed for a moment to stop the ice. The entire building shuddered, then lifted from the ground the way a man does on the back of a crowd. It tilted away and rolled over, roof down. A wooden rowboat emerged from the door and was carried off over the top of the ice.
      The second building stood in place and would not let itself be carried. Soundlessly, in slow motion, it folded beneath the ice.Father swung his ax. The ice came on. The stacked boats tumbled slowly up the hill. One of them settled in the rut of our bobsled run.
      Down the shore, emerging in the dim light, came Gene. Charles and Joey and I watched, huddled together now, numb with cold. He walked purposefully, like a man on his way to work, wearing his jacket and leather boots but no hat, picking his way around piles of ice. The wind blew his hair back from his face.
      When he reached us he picked up Joey's spud and began chopping at the ice shelved above the ground. He worked forward, breaking ice until he was nearly to the river, then stepped up on the ice to begin chopping it from above.

Father saw him. He started to swing his ax, then stopped and looked again. He dropped the ax and strode to Gene and struck him in the face with his fist. Gene fell to one knee, then stood up. He was as tall as Father. They braced their legs on the ice and faced each other. Behind them a black streak of water opened, swelling with the deep currents. The wind threw itself across the water, and the surface exploded into patterns.
      Father leaned down and swung his fist in a wide arc, striking Gene on the side of his head. Gene did not fall. He raised the iron bar high in the air, holding it with both hands together, like an ax at the top of its swing. Father looked surprised. He stumbled backward, his feet slipping on the ice.
      He was an old man in dungarees and work cap, losing his balance, and I thought he would fall on his back, slide down the inclined ice, and drop into the water. He would be swept beneath the ice by the current. There would be nothing left, no waves, no hat floating on the surface, nothing but the water swelling with current and wind. The ice would close over the water. We would climb the hill to the house and tell Mother what happened. We would be expected to grieve.
      But he did not fall into the river. He stumbled back a step and slipped to his knees with his arms covering his head. Gene heaved the spud away and walked off toward the house. Father stayed there, on his knees, trying to get his breath.
      Charles and Joey and I waited. Nothing had changed. Soon Father would stand, and everything would be as it was. Mother would have breakfast ready in the kitchen. The stove would be warm, the windows streaming with condensation. In time, new sheds would be built. The boats would be repaired and rented to fishermen. Charles, Joey, and I would take expeditions on the river, farther and farther away until we had explored all the islands and all the communities up and down the valley, then we would move on to other rivers and other valleys, searching for places that were new and strange and safe.
      Father remained on his knees. It was terrible not to love him. We turned toward the house, to the windows yellow with light and warmth. Charles went first, then Joey, then me, climbing the frozen snow to the top of the hill, not looking back.


A Good Winter Storm

Once we would have been alerted by the throbbing of an arthritic knee or by the restless lowing of cows in the barn, but now the first warning of the storm comes from a fast-talking television meteorologist who can't hide his enthusiasm. Wisconsin is getting hit hard, he says, and we're next in line. He rubs his hands together in actual glee and rattles off a litany of meteorological catchphrases, explaining that winds with names like the Alberta Clipper, Saskatchewan Screamer, and Manitoba Mama are bearing down on us because a shift in the jet stream has forced frigid arctic air to curve south from Canada like a streamer of smoke behind a train.
      If we poke our heads outdoors we notice signs: the way the day is held in pincers by a calm that is not quite the calm before the storm, the sky low and shifting in general sluggishness like a bad mood, the air heavy, the mercury in the thermometer hovering a little below freezing and about to plunge. There's a sure sign as well down at Mapleton Market, where people are stocking up on bread, milk, microwave popcorn, and videocassettes, and are so talkative and friendly they're on the brink of giddiness.
      Something in us loves a good storm. It forces our attention outside, away from the pull of televisions and computer terminals, and makes us aware of the natural world again. We seem to be a little hungry for it. Sometimes, of course, we get more than we want, but a storm in moderation is a good thing. It allows us to arm wrestle briefly with nature, and reminds us that we're Milquetoasts compared to that muscular lady.
On the meteorologist's radar the storm looks like the shadow of a giant bird flapping across the screen. We're told it will gain velocity as it crosses Lake Michigan and will pick up additional moisture from the relatively warm water. By the time the storm reaches the western shore of Michigan, the clouds will be black with freight and driven by winds of forty miles per hour.
      Late in the afternoon pellets of snow begin to fall. They are flung by gusts and strike our front windows with a sound like thrown rice. All the birds have disappeared from the feeders and are hunkering for cover inside junipers and arborvitae, their stomachs filled with all the sunflower and thistle seeds they can hold. If the storm is prolonged, some of the birds will never leave the shrubs. We will find their desiccated carcasses in the spring. They will weigh almost nothing.
      We're as ready as we can be, snug inside our bunkered house. The cupboards and refrigerator are full, wood is piled beside the fireplace, candles and flashlights stand ready on the kitchen table. Gail has a fat novel to read, and I have trout flies to tie. The children wear sweaters over their pajamas and ask for the tenth time if we think school will be canceled tomorrow. Yes, we think so, but we say nothing because we want no arguments at bedtime. We want the kids asleep at the usual time so we can sit together next to the fireplace with the lights off. We want to listen to the wind shout and watch snowflakes the size of bottle caps streak across the windows.
      We wake in the morning to an unrecognizable world. Our yard is filled with sculpted drifts, and the north side of every tree is plastered with white. We turn on the radio and learn that schools are closed (and the kids bound cheering through the house) but that the storm has fallen short of the intensity and fury that makes a storm a blizzard—that apt word borrowed from early German settlers on the Great Plains, who after their first winters came away hollow-eyed and muttering about the blitzartig (lightninglike) way the wind and snow struck their homesteads. Our storm brings more holiday than hardship. When the sun appears I dress in heavy clothes, clear our driveway with the snowblower, and join the kids in digging tunnels through the drifts. By noon plows have cleared the road.
      Storms of this magnitude occur half a dozen times each winter here in northern Michigan. A few a year might be considered blizzards (meteorologists define them as storms that have low temperatures, driving snow, and gale-force winds, thirty-nine to forty-six miles per hour), and one or two are real beasts. Once every decade or so comes a blizzard so notable it serves, like a death in the family or a move to a new house, as a milestone in our lives.
      None of the storms of my experience can match the one my wife and I witnessed in 1977 when we were students at Northern Michigan University in Marquette, in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Marquette is a compact city, built on hills that drop abruptly to the shore of Lake Superior, and is famous for the eighteen or twenty feet of snow it receives each winter. When the wind is up and from the north it charges from Ontario across 150 miles of open lake, throwing enormous plumes of spray hundreds of feet inland and laminating every surface with ice. It is a place shaped and colored by weather.
      Gail and I drove into Marquette for the first time on a bright January day when fog had slipped in from Lake Superior and left everything it touched covered with a furry coat of rime. Snow stood so deep that telephone lines were within reach of pedestrians on paths above the streets.
      We rented an apartment a few blocks from downtown in an aging house we shared with three housemates—all young men, a student and two lapsed students —who quickly became friends and shared meals, music, books, and our enthusiasm for the outdoors. The Boys, as Gail called them, were veterans of several Marquette winters. "Wait until it storms," they said. "You've never seen a blizzard until you've seen a Lake Superior blizzard."
      One morning we woke to find the temperature outside had reached minus thirty-five degrees Fahrenheit. A few miles inland it was fifty below. When I stepped outside, I saw people up and down the street trying without success to start their cars, their hoods in the air like arms thrown up in surrender. My ten- year- old van started without difficulty, and I passed a neighborly hour giving jump starts. In the few minutes it took to step outside and attach the jumper cables to a battery, my ears, fingers, and toes would go numb and my nostrils would swell with what felt like walnut-size cotton bolls. Most of the neighbors were students from southern Michigan, who had never experienced such cold. We exchanged wondering comments, watching as the breath that hung around our heads crystallized and fell to the ground as fine snow.
      The storm came a few weeks later. Clouds moved in that morning and the temperature climbed to the upper twenties, warmer than it had been in a month. The streets were coated with ice formed by snow that had been packed by traffic and frozen hard as concrete. All day the light was soft and strange, like the gloaming of twilight. On television the weatherman grinned and said, "Get ready, folks. It looks like we're in for a blinger."
      It was cause, of course, for a party. We telephoned friends and told them to bring food, drinks, and sleeping bags, then laced on our ice skates and sashayed down the middle of the street to the Red Owl supermarket, where we were met at the door by a weary manager who put up his hands and said, "Hey, hey, this ain't Skate World." Inside we slid around the aisles in our stocking feet, loading a grocery cart with beer, chips, and frozen dinners, greeting everyone we met. Young people were animated and talkative, their eyes bright. Older folks acted the way they always acted.
      We had noticed already that the people who boasted loudest about the difficulties of winters in the Upper Peninsula were usually recent immigrants, many of them from Detroit, a 450- mile drive south of Marquette, where winters are cold and damp but often free of measurable snowfall. Natives of the U.P., many of them descended from Finns, Swedes, and Italians who moved to the region in the nineteenth century to work in the iron and copper mines, were apparently too acclimated to the weather to give it much thought. To them winter was not a romantic adventure or a Currier & Ives abstraction, but a fact of life, like unemployment, taxes, and backaches. Their stoicism could be extreme. Our second year in Marquette I worked for six weeks repairing railroad tracks on the Chicago-Northwestern line near Ishpeming, a town fifteen miles inland from Marquette. The crew of three included two native Yoopers (U.P.-ers), career railroaders who dreamed of being promoted to brakemen so they could spend their days riding in a heated caboose. I was taking a semester off from college to raise money and was grateful for the job, but I have never been so uncomfortable. It was a frigid, snowy November and the wind was relentless. In the cold the steel tracks cracked under the pressure of cars loaded with iron-ore pellets. Our job was to cut out the broken sections and replace them with lengths of new rail. We did this by hand, unbolting existing track with four-foot-long wrenches, cutting broken sections away with a gasoline-powered hacksaw, driving new spikes with sledgehammers. One day when the wind was particularly agonizing and a harsh sleet lashed at our faces, I groaned and muttered something like, "Man, this is miserable." I sensed immediate disapproval from the others. Nothing was said but it was clear that I had violated a code.
      That first winter no such codes applied and we allowed ourselves to be awed by the weather. Outside the supermarket it had begun snowing—hard pellets that sheered at angles when the wind gusted, then dropped straight down and bounced along the street like excited molecules. By the time we got home from the supermarket, the wind blew with so much force that our house swayed, causing the water in the toilet bowl to rise and fall. The plastic sheeting our landlord had nailed over the windows bucked and snapped.
      We turned up the music, made dinner, drank beer, laughed, and danced. Our friends arrived, loaded with supplies and talking in disbelief about the rising storm. Everyone took turns going to the door to watch the city get erased by whiteness. Gusts lifted snow into marauding clouds that swirled down the street and eddied into the openings between the houses, building drifts that by morning would reach to the eaves. Then stronger winds funneled in from the lake, carrying snow in streamers so thick we could not see the houses across the street.
      A friend came late, red-faced and huffing, stomping his feet on the floor. He had abandoned his car in a drift blocks away. No way, he said, is anybody going anywhere tonight. Sleeping bags were spread, couches made into beds. We switched off the lights, and the wind came up louder than ever. It seemed to hoot at the pleasure of meeting obstacles.
      In the morning all our windows were covered with elaborate, finely patterned frost that fell in curls to the carpet when we scraped it with our fingernails. We breathed on the glass until face-size holes opened and we could look outside. The wind continued to blow, sweeping loose snow down the street. Trees looked shocked and naked. Even the telephone poles seemed bent in misery. Our neighbors' houses appeared deserted, their driveways filled with drifts that covered cars to their roofs. Someone turned on the radio and an announcer said in a cheerful voice that the state police had blocked all highways out of the city and classes at the university were canceled.
      It was perfect. It was why we had come to Marquette: to be tested by extremes of nature, to watch the world throw tantrums. Staying warm in the midst of all that cold and wind made us feel capable and self-reliant and mildly heroic. We turned up the music and danced around the living room cheering for ourselves.
      We were brewing coffee and scrambling eggs when someone walked onto our porch and knocked. We opened the inner door, then pushed hard on the storm door to break through the drift that had built in front of it. A swirl of snow and cold came inside.
      Standing before us were two middle-aged women in bulky, snow-covered coats, headscarves knotted tightly beneath their chins. They looked like Russian peasants dressed to go to the market. Behind them snow roared down the street like invading panzers. The ladies smiled shyly. "We're collecting for da United Way," one said in the lilting Finnish accent of a native.
      My friends and I were flabbergasted. "Did you walk here?" we asked.
      "Ya. Down da street. It's our day for collecting."
      It was unthinkable to turn them away. We invited them inside and filled their donation envelopes with our pocket change. We offered them breakfast, but they couldn't stay. They had many houses to visit, they said, and because of the condition of the streets they would have to do all their visiting on foot. They wanted to be finished in time to have supper ready when their husbands came home from work.


"The Ice" and "A Good Winter Storm" are excerpted with permission of the author from The River Home: An Angler's Explorations, by Jerry Dennis. Published by Thomas Dunne/St. Martin's Press. Copyright 1998.


Jerry Dennis is a northerner by birth and inclination. Except for a two-year stint at the University of Louisville, he has always lived in northern Michigan, where he earns his keep writing about nature and the outdoors for The New York Times, Wildlife Conservation, Smithsonian, Sports Afield, and many other publications. His books, including It's Raining Frogs and Fishes, A Place on the Water, The River Home, and From A Wooden Canoe, have received wide acclaim and have been translated into five languages. His most recent project, The Living Great Lakes: Searching for the Heart of the Inland Seas, will be published in April 2003 by St. Martin's Press. Dennis lives with his wife and two sons in a farmhouse near Lake Michigan outside of Traverse City, Michigan, and spends as much time as possible studying the habits of other northern residents, especially those that live in cold, free-running rivers.