I sit here in my office at the tribal college on the sweeping and seemingly endless South Dakota prairies. The grasses have changed to bright red as they do in the fall, with splashes of gold. No more do they ripple in the unceasing winds, giving the impression of a vast sea of grass. The grasses have become stiff, taking on a sense of lifelessness as they do before going dormant in the winter.
I have not been able to become acclimated to living in the midst of the Great Plains. As impressive as the rough and craggy beauty of South Dakota is–when it is green it looks exactly like the Highlands of Scotland–the thing that is missing that the Platte River and Missouri Rivers do not adequately fulfill is my need for water–and lots of it. I was raised on the shores of Lake Superior, and I found the water of this vast lake fed my soul with its wild and tempestuous spirit. I spent many a day on the shore at Wisconsin Point, climbing the rock pier out to the lighthouse, watching the waves crash around the base of it, while above me seagulls dove and fished and cried in the mournful sounding way they do. I spent many a weekend at Canal Park, again at the end of the break-wall where the lighthouse is, watching ships entering under the Aerial Lift Bridge. I watched the many moods of the lake, whether foggy or stormy, violent or still. I felt at home with that lake no matter what her moods were. It was as if I were a part of her, as if my thirsty soul were quenched each time I headed north and saw the lights of the Duluth hill reflected in her face. Although she has taken many ships, among the most famous the Edmund Fitzgerald, when I swam in her, I never felt she would hurt me; she was like a mother, holding me in cradling arms and I let the waves toss me hither and yon, and rode the currents into shore and back out again as if I were a piece of driftwood that would eventually end up on the sand.
As we slowly sink into winter, there is no snow here; my mind wanders back to winters in Duluth/Superior–the frozen bay, the change of seasons when yacht owners would haul them out of Barker’s Island marina and store them until the spring; when the bay would freeze over and tires would be laid out in a racing course, and when the ice was thick enough, car races would commence right on the ice. I think of the Polar Bear Club swimming in the frozen lake undeterred by age or temperature. I think of the Fourth of July, boats out on the bay in the midst of a shower of colors as fireworks are lit up over the water and reflected on her surface. I think of a life where unconsciously and consciously, every activity revolves around Lake Superior–fishing, swimming, boating, industry, and life. And I wonder how I came to be so far away from this, my lake, and I wonder what life event will occur to take me back to her, if ever. There is no isolation there in the same way it exists as a phantom everywhere in South Dakota–the Great North of Lake Superior is filled with trees, and life and the lake and the isolation one experiences up there is akin to the sacred isolation one feels in a church—where it is necessary to be alone in order to be close to God, and the sacred.
vast inland sea you give the illusion you cover the world entire
while rocks remain timeless scattered on your shores,
mighty thousand foot ships merely your playthings
many a night and day have i spent in your presence
glorying in your sacred wildness which feeds
my exhausted spirit reviving that thing
that lives inside of me that becomes almost-dead from
too much time away exploring the world
always in my mind you live inside of me
i see your blue expanse lake-mother hear your children
the gulls cry and sob
their own form of poetry as they fly and dip and wheel over
your surface; deeply ensconced are your secrets