Homeward bound

Twenty five years ago

I couldn’t wait to leave

it that

place I’d grown up in

purple with taconite dust clinging to everything

The walls had memory too. The fights, the screaming and cold silences that told me there were far worse things than hatred

like being together the

loneliest

when love has long fled

My bright spots the cerulean blue lake stretching endlessly to the eastern horizon blue line beckoning

Canal Park

Wisconsin Point

Aurora borealis

4th of July nights with fireworks bay reflected

I stand on the other side. I know what lies on the far side of that blue western horizon line and

it has called me for twenty five years a

plaintative song pleading me to come home

Come home.

I fled ever onwards in the opposite direction

Pacific bound then Atlantic

foreign lands all

I saw so much water

so many gulls crying overseas all of it foreign and rough always comparing to my wide expanse of inland sea blue my sea, my cradle, my comfort

the wildness of her spirit alive in me always

Now it is time. I follow the siren song compass point north

due north as the geese fly in spring trailing experience and longing with me

I am weary of strangeness and crave rest for my soul

Seasons will pass now with me watching sailboats in summer then Autumn colors exploding over the hill then winters onslaught

Frozen bay ice breakers pushing relentlessly through steadily

Ship horns bridge horn opening

I know them all. It is there waiting for me. It cannot be the same yet it is familiar

Home did not slip away from me in the night so long

It is mine to make now, home

Home

Home

Advertisements

Wisconsin Point, Superior, Wisconsin

Photo Credit Philip Schwarz Photography

There it is. The turn off Highway 53. The long winding narrow road through the trees that seems to go on and on without a hint that a beach and the wide expanse of the lake lay just beyond. There is a Native burial ground almost at the break in the trees to the right where people have left mementoes.

From CatholicDos.org:

“Wisconsin Point (three miles in length) and Minnesota Point (seven miles) located in Superior, Wisconsin make up the largest freshwater sandbar in the world. They were formed by two rivers. The French traders who approached the west end of Lake Superior would eventually start calling the larger river on the right the St. Louis River (after the King of France) although the Ojibwe’s name for it was “Gichigami-ziibi” meaning “Great Lake River.” The stream on the left was called the Nemadji River (after the Ojibwe word “ne-madji-tic-guay-och” for “Left Hand River”). The Nemadji River marks the boundary between the parishes of St. Francis Xavier and St. Anthony.

Fr. Claude Jean Allouez, S.J. (1622-1689) camped on the shore of Wisconsin Point in 1666 while ministering to the Ojibwe. The following year, he would establish a mission along Bluff Creek near the shore of the bay. Frustrated though with few Ojibwe willing to join the Catholic faith, he abandoned his evangelization efforts in about 1669.

Today, near the Superior entry lighthouse at Wisconsin Point, a stone marker states:

Here was the burial ground of the Fond du Lac Band of Chippewa people dating from the 17th century. It was removed in 1919 to St. Francis cemetery, Superior.”

Actually, only about 180 remains from the most identifiable graves were moved (including at least one chief– Chief Joseph Osaugie (1802-1876). Sadly though, once placed in a mass grave at St. Francis Xavier cemetery, they were improperly cared for over the years. For example, when the slope of land on which they were reburied had been undercut by construction of a road, bones and decayed clothing could be seen spilling toward the river. As far as what happened to the 100 unidentified graves that were left on Wisconsin point? Some say Chief Osaugie’s descendants know their location, but they are not about to give up their dead.”

I spent many a somber moment pausing there, listening to the whispers of the trees and the quiet breeze until I could almost see the days when no white person had set foot on that land. From here you can smell the water. A quick walk up brings you to the golden beach which stretches for a fair ways until it curves round out of sight.

I lay here nights on the soft sand watching the aurora borealis while the waves washed up on the sand. I walked barefoot in the wash, my footsteps disappearing in the waves as if I had never trod there. I loved the feeling of the cold water on my feet and I would gaze over the water to the blue line on the horizon wondering what lay on the other side of the blue line. Now I am on the other side of the blue line looking homewards, missing the sight of great red ore oats with their distinctive long shape and white trim cruising out to the wide lake beyond.

The lighthouse lies on the end of s great long break wall that is really a long pile of rocks; precarious to walk on when the weather is wet and with a little effort it is well worth it to achieve the lighthouse at last on its concrete block. My soul wanders when I lean up against the short wall on the other side of the lighthouse; across that endless expanse of blue something in me rears up, this sense of wandering and possibility, wildness and passion. I love this great inland sea that is beautiful in its calm and unpredictability; where I went agate hunting on its beach as a young woman and sat on the great driftwood logs with a little fire going at night listening to the fire pop and hiss, smoke floating upwards, while the water and the waves sliding forever in and out spoke to me in their languages speaking of time and eternity and ages long past when no human being was there, and when the first humans to live there fished and lived and loved.

I stand on Erie’s shore sometimes, in Hamburg, New York. I fulfilled the wanderlust of my younger years; I know what is on the other side of that far blue horizon line and 30 years on the other side I hear the great water that lives further northwest calling to me. It is the song of home.

The lake

(Image by TripAdvisor.ie)

In my mind I can see her; endless and blue, blue expanse to the horizon where the pale blue of the water meets the sky in a darker navy blue line. She is placid when I think of her, still and clear like a mirror. On the day I think of her I am hundreds of miles away to the east of her looking over what to me is a smaller, tamer inland sea, that called Erie. The Iroquois called Erie erielhonan, meaning “long tail.” The French fur traders who traded with the Iroquois shortened the name to Lac Erie, and Erie is how we know the name today. It is smaller and shallower than Superior, called by the Ojibwe Gitchee gumee, or “shining big sea water.” As I stand here on Erie’s shore, in Buffalo,NY, I feel as if Buffalo is the garrulous old ex-steelworker biker sitting at the bar while Superior is the wild woman ever tumultuous. This sense of wildness is something that never leaves me no matter where in the world I have travelled. I have seen the great Pacific, and the older seeming mighty Atlantic. We have met in passing, and while both oceans are to be respected and are majestic in their own right, it is Superior who sings to me when I feel far away from home. It is Superior who is mysterious to me, so many legends permeate her name. She has claimed many, many ships and has thousands of untold stories. No matter how long I have been gone, it is Lake Superior who calls me home. In the subsequent essays to come, as I write I can feel the wind coming off of her in a long ago summer night when the world was sleeping and I was alone on Park Point beach. The wind was whipping up the waves into five foot swells and I, I felt wild with her. I fearlessly stripped down and entered the water, and felt so alive in the cold, mercilessly cold water that rarely reaches any kind of a warm temperature even in the summer, so alive that I remember that moonless night 26 years later. I was a young fool. I should have known better than to get in the water with waves coming up that high. That night, I felt a kinship with the lake; never did it enter my mind that my lake would ever hurt me–would want to hurt me–and so I let it baptize me and cradle me in its watery arms. It was like being in the womb of Mother Earth; it was primeval and it was safe and I safe in it. As I swam the waters calmed and gently one last gentle wave deposited me back on shore. I lay there in the warm night watching the sudden appearance of the Northern Lights–its scientific name the aurora borealis–known as wanagi wacipi (ghost dance) by the Lakota, and also by the Salteaux of eastern Canada and Tlingit and Kwakiutl in the north in their respective languages. The lights danced overhead in shades of green and blue and yellow and I reached up with my hand and tried to touch them. Here I belonged; not a traveler of the world but a citizen. Here my heart is complete. Here is home.

I belonged here.

I belong here.

There is much more to tell. My heart is full of her this night. I have long felt I had a story but it took 26 years, six countries, and the failure of the most important love relationship of my life to identify and perhaps uncover, what that story was; the one that was too close, but yearned to be told. This and the essays to come see that story. Superieur–Superior.

I saw that I had forgotten how beautiful the drive to Thunder Bay was; the towering sighing groves of fragrant Norway pines, the broad expanses of clean white sand, the sea gulls, always the endlessly wheeling sea gulls; an occasional bald eagle seeming bent on soaring straight up to heaven; the intermittent craggy and pine-clad granite or sandstone hills, sometimes rising gauntly to the dignity of small mountains, then again, sudden stretches of sand or more majestic Norway pines — and always, of course, the vast glittering heaving lake, the world’s largest inland sea, as treacherous and deceitful as a spurned woman, either caressing or raging at the shore, more often turbulent than not, but today on its best company manners, presenting the falsely placid aspect of a mill pond.

Robert Traver, Anatomy of a Murder

(Photo by C Scherer)