Author Mary McKSchmidt walks along the beach near their home in Holland, Michigan.

Navigating Uncharted Waters

From the Grand Rapids Magazine December 2018 issue. Available on newsstands now.

In Mary McKSchmidt’s latest book, “Uncharted Waters: Romance, Adventure, and Advocacy on the Great Lakes,” she’s sailing with her husband on Lake Michigan, taking a view of its eastern edge, when she’s overcome by a nearly spiritual wonder. She’s scanning the shoreline for the spot she stood as a girl — recalling a vibrant springtime that left her in love with the water she sailed.

“At that moment, I suddenly realized how one-sided my relationship was with nature,” McKSchmidt said. “I was euphoric in her presence yet knew so little. Intimacy … required knowing, understanding and caring. It was, I realized, why I became informed and engaged in addressing the issues plaguing Lake Michigan.”

Capped with soaring images of the trees and the water, it’s perhaps the most poetic moment in “Uncharted Waters” Released in July, the book combines McKSchmidt’s life story with her passion to protect those waters. We meet her as a Michigan State University undergraduate running out of money and scrounging for drinking water during a formative trip to South Africa. We watch her return to the U.S., learn to sail, marry her husband and navigate the business world, where she becomes a health care executive. But she’s drawn continually back to the lakes — where she seems most at home.

The book begins a memoir but finishes as a call to action. There are chapters about Flint’s water crisis, Asian carp and the Straits of Mackinac. In a passage about northwest Indiana, she bemoans lake-encroaching industry.

“My hope is that when people read this book, they will choose to get engaged,” McKSchmidt said. “That they will, maybe for the first time, write an email to their congressman or to the governor or to their representative, and just ask, ‘What have you done for the health of the Great Lakes recently? What are you going to do?’”

But she recalls throughout the book a piece of advice from a friend: “You are responsible for your efforts on this Earth, not necessarily the results.” It’s this remark that seems to echo through the book.

“Uncharted Waters” is available at Amazon and other booksellers online and around the country. A self-published book, it follows McKSchmidt’s self-published debut, “Tiny Treasures: Discoveries Made Along the Lake Michigan Coast.”

*Photo by Johnny Quirin

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