Tag: Anne-Marie Oomen

Art Meets Water: FLOW’s Campaign to Celebrate Creative Expression and Freshwater Stewardship

Groundwater painting by Glenn Wolff

By Jacob Wheeler

Art meets water.

Creative expression holds hands and swims with freshwater stewardship.

Breathtaking, life-sustaining water inspires art, and that art propels us to protect the Great Lakes.

The stillness, waves, clarity, and reflection of water give rise to poetry, music, paintings, dance, letters, and more. It’s a swirling, symbiotic, cyclical relationship that takes on many forms. 

It’s poet, author, and avid standup paddleboarder Anne-Marie Oomen soliciting “Love Letters to the Lakes” from her community of writers across Michigan, and then presenting them in a live reading to the International Joint Commission, in hopes that heartfelt prose impacts public policy to protect the Great Lakes.

It’s “Mad Angler” poet Michael Delp and renowned cellist Crispin Campbell sitting together in an historic Michigan barn and performing an enchanting call and response about rivers flowing like veins through our bodies.

It’s artist Glenn Wolff painting a watershed, a town, a creek, and a bay, creating a tapestry to explain how groundwater beneath us is interconnected. It’s a dancer in a light blue chiffon dress delicately toeing the sand, always moving one step ahead of the lapping surf.

It’s Flint hip-hop artist and activist Amber Hasan rapping at Earthwork Harvest Gathering last month about the racism belying Flint’s lead water crisis. “Choppers keep flying ’round here / But people keep dyin’ I swear / I can’t drink the water, and I can’t afford the bills / If you’re sick of this s***, better pop another pill.” It’s music festival organizer and virtuoso Seth Bernard crooning a melodic ode to “Agua” in all its shapes, forms, and languages. “Clouds and rain and lakes it’s water / Mist and sleet and snow and vapor / Hail, hail it’s rising, falling / Flowing down down, ever lower / And up, up. Gathering together / Omnipresent life-maker / Two things bound together / Makes one life life force force giver”

It’s Higher Art Gallery in Traverse City inviting local artists to share water-inspired works for an “Artists for FLOW” showing that benefits our fight to protect that water. It’s an arts center in Glen Arbor inviting high school students next year to submit visual art that examines the question “who owns the water?”

“These waters are part of our DNA,” says FLOW executive director Liz Kirkwood. “We in the Great Lakes Basin are water people. The lakes, the rivers, and the groundwater inspire artists of every background. The water is what enlivens us and unites us.”

That is why FLOW is launching our “Art Meets Water” campaign this week highlighting the heart-felt creativity that inspires us to fight for our public waters and harness that for good. Check out our new “Art Meets Water” webpage to see Wolff’s groundwater tapestry, to read Oomen’s “Love Letters to the Lakes”, to watch Delp and Campbell perform “In Praise of Water,” and to learn more about the “Artists for FLOW” fundraiser at Higher Art Gallery, which continues until Nov. 5, with 10 percent of sales from the exhibit benefiting FLOW.

Embrace the water. Let it fill your creative spirit and fuel our shared fight for freshwater protection.

 

Letter to Lake Michigan

By Jacob Wheeler

Published in “Love Letters to the Lakes”

On these long, lazy September weekends when the forest hints of autumn but Lake Michigan clings to August, you’re reminded how water—and the myriad forms she takes—define your life as you float from chapter to chapter. She’s been with you on all the great journeys: from the brackish fjords of the old country, to the West African river that carries yam boats, to a volcanic lake in the Mayan highlands, even to the orifice-burning salt of the Dead Sea. She’s most forgiving here in these glacial freshwaters, the home to which you always return. She’s healing, too. Earlier this summer your friend scattered his mother’s ashes among these blue waves. She brings both joy and melancholy. If it’s true the eskimos have a hundred words for snow, perhaps we in Leelanau ought to have a hundred words for this lake…

Some seasons you frolic with her in new ways. You dance with her alone on night swims. When the lightning flashes, you dive into her waters, and then look up to see the sky alight. On a windless Thursday evening last you paddled across her glassy bay and chased a sailboat full of poets. You caught them and pirated their ship; they welcomed you with open arms, and prose, and beer and finger food. You learned, with some unease, that the hurricane ravaging the Carolinas had pushed this delightfully good weather north, to your benefit. (In another life, the odds will turn and you’ll be the one living on the low coast, battling tides and tropical storms— and they’ll have the inland serenity of the Great Lakes. So just enjoy it NOW, you reassure yourself!)

On the way back toward the harbor, when you’ve had a few drinks and your blood runs hot, her defense becomes your rally cry, your war call. Fight for her. Build a political manifesto around her. Turn candidates for office into foot soldiers who fight for her defense. Swear you’ll die for her. But also, live for her. Make love inside her depths. Write poetry with a stick along her shores. Do handstands and fall with abandon into her surf. Together with your child, document, day-by-day, how she (soon will) metamorphose into ice and back to water again. Gather wood and plan to stoke your hide in a lakeside sauna and take those screeching plunges into her frigid womb. Live to tell about it. Perhaps write a midnight poem about it. Above all, thank her every day.

FLOW’s Groundwater Awareness Week: What It Is and Why It Matters


Michigan is called the Great Lakes state but is a poor steward of the sixth Great Lake, the water lying beneath Michigan’s ground. During National Groundwater Awareness Week March 10-16, FLOW is calling for state-level reforms to strengthen protection of Michigan’s groundwater.


The Invisible Resource

Groundwater is an immense and invisible resource. The volume of groundwater in the Great Lakes watershed is roughly equal to the volume of Lake Huron. Often overlooked because it is out of sight, Michigan’s groundwater is a giant asset and life-giving resource that fills wells, grows crops, fuels industry, and replenishes the Great Lakes.

This week, we feature content directly related to this resource. FLOW has been investigating Michigan groundwater policies and problems for more than a year. In September 2018, we released a report, The Sixth Great Lake:  The Emergency Threatening Michigan’s Overlooked Groundwater Resource. Our concern and communication continues. 

Our content to be released throughout Groundwater Awareness Week includes an inspiring video narrated by poet and author Anne-Marie Oomen; two podcasts developed by writer and broadcast professional Sally Eisele; blog posts by FLOW experts shining a spotlight on PFAS and other groundwater pollution problems and protective solutions; and a fact sheet summing it all up.

In addition, FLOW is developing a groundwater map for release later this spring making it easy for you to learn about the resource across Michigan and in your region of the state.

Why Is Groundwater Important?

Michigan has more private drinking water wells than any other state. About 45% of the state’s population depends on groundwater as its drinking water source. Michigan industries withdraw 64 million gallons of groundwater daily from on-site wells. Over 260 million gallons of groundwater are withdrawn daily in Michigan for irrigation. As much as 42% of the water in the Great Lakes originates from groundwater.

For a resource so vital to human health and the economy, Michigan’s groundwater is shabbily treated in both policy and practice. Of the 50 states, only Michigan lacks a statewide law protecting groundwater from septic systems – and there are an estimated 130,000 leaking septic systems within Michigan’s borders. Other major threats include an estimated 6,000 contamination sites for which no private or public funding is available and widespread nitrate contamination from agricultural practices.

What Is Groundwater?

The hydrologic cycle governs water movement. Surface water is heated by the sun and evaporates into the atmosphere, forming clouds. These clouds condense and precipitation falls back to Earth as rain, snow, sleet, or hail. Water will then either return to a surface body of water or seep into the soil and move through the crust as groundwater.

Some may envision groundwater as an underground river or lake, but groundwater is held in tiny pore spaces in the rock and soil. After water is absorbed into the ground, gravity pulls the water down through the unsaturated zone. This area of the Earth’s crust is where tiny gaps between sediment grains, called pore spaces, are filled with either air or water. Water here can be trapped and used by plant roots or percolate downward into the saturated zone, where water exclusively fills the pore spaces.

The division between the unsaturated and saturated zone is called the water table. This two-dimensional plane often follows the contours of the surface above, moving seasonally based on precipitation events.

Groundwater in the saturated zone moves both vertically and horizontally, flowing towards a lower elevation discharge point like a stream or a lake. These surface bodies of water often rely on groundwater sources, in addition to precipitation, to recharge their water levels. After re-entering a surface body of water, the water continues through the hydrologic cycle.

As groundwater moves through the surface of the Earth, it often travels through an aquifer. Aquifers are underground formations that contain water at high enough concentrations that we can sustainably pump.

The two types of aquifers are called confined and unconfined aquifers, differing in whether or not there is an impermeable layer between the surface and the aquifer or not. Both types of aquifer can be used as a freshwater source, but unconfined aquifers are much more easily affected by surface actions and contamination and are more susceptible to pollution and degradation.

Almost all groundwater will discharge into surface water, unless it is extracted first. As a result, contaminated groundwater can degrade lakes, streams, and the Great Lakes.


The Lake Michigan Mermaid:  Co-Authors Discuss Their New Work

Poets Anne-Marie Oomen and Linda Nemec Foster will read from their new book, The Lake Michigan Mermaid, at a fundraiser for FLOW on Thursday, April 19.  The reading and reception take place from 5:30-7:00 p.m. at the Centerpointe conference center, top floor, on the west arm of Traverse Bay.

Published by Wayne State University Press for the Made in Michigan series, The Lake Michigan Mermaid tells in poetry the story of a troubled young girl who seeks a mythical creature, the true spirit of the lake, a beautiful mermaid that she believes lives in Lake Michigan waters.  The Lake Michigan Mermaid is a tale of friendship, redemption, and the life-giving power of water.

At the event, the poets will read poems interspersed with the story-of-the story: how the book came to be.

For more information about the book, click here.

How did this project begin? How long have you been talking about it?  

Linda Nemec Foster (LNF): This project began as a result of both of us being published in an anthology of women writing on the Great Lakes titled, Fresh Water (edited by Alison Swan and published by Michigan State University Press). In 2008, we were invited to give a reading at the Saugatuck Center for the Arts for the anthology (along with some of the other contributors) and the idea for the poetry sequence was planted that night. Actually, we weren’t talking about it for long before we started writing the poems.

Anne-Marie Oomen (AMO): As Linda said, the idea hatched the night of that reading over ten years ago–you’ll hear about that story when you come to our presentation–springing from a single mysterious remark by a key person among the writers. Writers never know exactly where or when ideas will rise up and make demands, but I think our participation in that rich lake of words–all those stories inspired by the Great Lakes–created the conditions for the idea to flourish.    

What inspired the mermaid motif? And the connection to a girl?

LNF: At the reading (that I described above), someone said it was too bad there were no Lake Michigan mermaids. Both Anne-Marie and I were intrigued by the question. Later that night we had the first of many discussions about creating a poetry sequence that would weave a contemporary fairy tale involving a mermaid, a young girl, and their connections to Lake Michigan.

AMO: I had a new cell phone, and I was driving home late at night, sleepy and a little dreamy with ideas. I called first. Linda answered immediately. Call and response.  The pattern was set. You’ll see when you read the book because the two voices go back and forth. (Side note: During later research, we found that among the native peoples of the Great Lakes, there are also representations of mermaids and mermen.  Our mermaid is not necessarily inspired by those, but we found it reassuring to learn that fresh water mermaid tales do exist.)

Your promotional materials say the book was written in secret over a decade. Could you explain that (unless that would give away too much of what you’re saying at the event)?

LNF: Yes, the ten-year-old secret is true and there were two reasons for keeping the project “under wraps” for so long. But, as you stated, I’d rather have us explain the details at our presentation–more interesting that way—so the intrigue continues!

AMO: What we can say is that ten years built a bond of trust in each other.  We kept coming back to the pleasure of the partnership and the richness of writing about this subject. Trust is not something that just happens; it grows as you come to a deeper knowledge of another person. That came with each poem, each time we returned to the project.

There must be extra challenges to co-authoring a book of this kind. How difficult was it?

LNF: Yes, there can be challenges, but this project was a thoroughly enjoyable experience because of the deep respect, admiration, and (above all) trust that Anne-Marie and I have for each other. I feel so fortunate to be on this journey with her.

AMO: Ditto on all counts. The biggest challenge, which is the challenge all artistically inclined people face, is the way life simply interrupts the flow of artistic work.  Part of being a literary artist is exercising tenacity, staying with it–even through ten years of life stuff. Not to be too self-aggrandizing, because there were moments when I thought  the project might have slipped away–as others have–but one of us always brought it back.

Illustrations are critical to a work like this. How did you go about finding an illustrator and what were you looking for?

Linda Nemec Foster, Anne-Marie Oomen, and Meridith Ridl

LNF: The illustrations are absolutely critical. As a matter of fact, the editor (at Wayne State University Press) accepted the manuscript for publication on the condition that we find an illustrator. We “passed over” three different artists before we discovered the haunting and beautiful work of Meridith Ridl. There are more interesting details to this part of the book’s back story, but I’d like to save them for our presentation.

AMO: We knew this mermaid would NOT be a Disney Ariel (from the Little Mermaid) but something darker, more haunting and mysterious, like our lake. It takes a particular artistic vision and skill to create that feeling in an image. That Meredith Ridl brought that vision full circle is such a gift; you’ll hear that story too.

How do you each feel about the condition of our water? Do you think a book like this can inspire action?  

LNF: The Great Lakes play a significant part in my personal history. Although I’ve lived in west Michigan for most of my life, I was born and raised in Cleveland near the shores of Lake Erie. I saw firsthand the devastating effects of rampant pollution: the spontaneous combustion of flames on the Cuyahoga River and the impact on the fragile ecosystem of Lake Erie. Although more work needs to be done, it’s gratifying to see the positive changes that have occurred in those waterways during the last fifty years. We can contribute to the nurturing and healing of our waters and environment: it just takes a dedicated mindfulness. I hope our book reflects that mindfulness. Because even though the main characters of the book are a young girl and her mermaid companion, the true spirit of the tale is the deep heart of Lake Michigan.

AMO: Lake Michigan has, over and over, healed me with beauty, with wildness and calm, with cool water, and strong breathtaking color. It is my life’s blood, and also a life source for me as an artist–even when I am writing about farm life and rural work.  All that is threatened when water becomes a commodity instead of a commons. In a world where science is often disregarded or misused for profit, I wonder if our mythical story might be an entirely different approach to encouraging people to think about water, and the lakes, as living entities. I wonder if a single make-believe (is she really make believe?) creature of the lake might help people embrace the aesthetic and spiritual side of these waters.  It’s not just about the imbalances, the invasives and the pollution, it is also that when we turn away from the spirit of this lake, we turn away from something essential in ourselves. If we could be touched by the “mermaid,” as the girl is, could we be saved (a little bit) from our own acquisitiveness?


Two Poets, a Mermaid, and FLOW

FLOW is pleased to announce poets Anne-Marie Oomen and Linda Nemec Foster will read from their new book, The Lake Michigan Mermaid, at a fundraiser for FLOW on Thursday, April 19.  The reading and reception take place from 5:30-7 p.m. at the Centerpointe conference center, top floor, in Traverse City.

Published by Wayne State University Press for the Made in Michigan series, The Lake Michigan Mermaid tells in poetry the story of a troubled young girl who seeks a mythical creature, the true spirit of the lake, a beautiful mermaid that she believes lives in Lake Michigan waters.  The Lake Michigan Mermaid is a tale of friendship, redemption, and the life-giving power of water. Beautifully illustrated by Meredith Ridl, the book is an unforgettable experience that aims to connect readers of all ages.  

At the event, the poets will read poems interspersed with the story-of-the story: how the book came to be. 

“I’ve long been interested in using place and story to raise consciousness about water, thus my interest in creating a work that incorporates Lake Michigan and offers a new fairy tale,” Anne-Marie says.

Anne-Marie Oomen of Empire is author of Love, Sex and 4-H (Next Generation Indie Award for Memoir), Pulling Down the Barn (Michigan Notable Book); and Uncoded Woman (poetry), among others.  She teaches at Solstice MFA at Pine Manor College (MA), Interlochen’s College of Creative Arts (MI), and at conferences throughout the country.

Poet and writer Linda Nemec Foster is the author of ten poetry collections, including the critically acclaimed books Amber Necklace from Gdansk and Talking Diamonds. She has been published in over 350 magazines and journals. She has received nominations for the Pushcart Prize, and has been honored by the Arts Foundation of Michigan, ArtServe Michigan, the National Writer’s Voice, and the Academy of American Poets. From 2003-2005, Foster was selected to serve as the first Poet Laureate of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Foster is the founder of the Contemporary Writers Series at Aquinas College.

For more details about the book:  https://www.wsupress.wayne.edu/books/detail/lake-michigan-mermaid