This graphic history book shares stories of the distinct bioregion, backwater Lake Senachwine. If the richness of its past is again brought to light, the lake might heal and return to being the cultural and biological hub it once was.
In 2019, after the loss of two people from my hometown, my organic-farming father to suicide and my best friend of twenty-seven years to cancer, I began researching a topic that had long interested me, Lake Senachwine. This backwater lake along the Illinois River has seen communities who lovingly cared and lived from it for centuries and mine who made quick work of laying it bare to an unchecked appetite. The colonized landscape of the lake that I knew to be so beautiful and varied is in reality a shadow of its former self. From the engineered flow of the flood pulses to the many missing species to the ever-present chemicals flowing throughout the river and our bodies, the lake is no longer the center of our lives that it once was. The cultural and biological decay that contributed to the deaths of my loved ones is systemic and reversible.
During mornings in the little bedroom under the eaves of my mother’s house on the lake, light from the rising sun and its reflection, wake me. The sun, the big river flowing by, all the bird song and feeding, the plants and the occasional mammal or amphibian include me in feeling truly alive in a way that waking elsewhere does not. All I want to do is run down to the water and get in, to fish and eat from the lake, to work the garden on our hill and not fear that the soil may be poisoned from years of fallout from the nearby factories situated to eliminate into the river. I want to invite family, neighbors and friends out to enjoy gathering there knowing that we won’t unexpectedly be forced indoors by the burning smell from the chemical plants. I would like to see all my neighbors grow old without another family being broken by cancer and our shared mental health blighted further and further. I want to be a part of the Prairie Band Potawatomi re-establishing their relationship to the lake. I would love Illinois to have pride in its sense of place, to love its own subtle landscapes of tallgrass prairie and floodplain rivers as much as any place we travel to.