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.
(Photo by C Scherer)