I was sitting with my cousin today in northern Wisconsin where we live and we hadn’t seen one another in twenty five years. She asked me why I came back home because she was curious. What brought me back? I knew right away what had brought me back. An ancient lake singing an ancient song to my soul, a lake old as the history of the earth itself. As the earth shifted over thousands of years and magma flowed, the treasures of the lake, its amethyst, iron and copper, as well as living treasures in the form of 80 species of fish, and forest and fauna slowly developed. Lake Superior is an ancient prehistoric valley filled with water. It is so deep–1,332 feet at its deepest point and an average depth of 500 feet. Human history is young in comparison to the ancient lake. Whispers of the past come to me:
Ochiptwe Gitchi Gamee (Ojibwa big sea water)
Lac Superieur (Upper Lake, French, 17th century)
Lake Superior (British Anglicized name, 1760’s–because they thought it larger and thus “Superior” to the rest of the Great Lakes).
It is the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area. Nipigon country and the river of the same name in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada, is a primary and largest inflow; there are over 200 rivers that feed it. It has the highest elevation of the five Great Lakes, and drains into Lake Huron via the St Mary’s River. These are the facts. But there is something more; something alive and vibrant and ancient and pure that sings on despite clashes with people and their desire to take from the land without giving back.
The lake has an aura of mystery about it, that morning mists illuminated by slow sunrises seem to magnify; home to wolves at Isle Royale, whose mournful cries are the song of this Great Lake’s spirit. For it does have a spirit; a strong one. Humanity has never conquered it. It has seen ice ages come and go and been the home to many peoples over many thousands of years; the Plano, who created dugout canoes and hunted caribou after the retreat of the glaciers in the last Ice Age, the Shield Archaic people, hunters and miners who developed trade networks, believed to be ancestors of the Ojibwa and the Cree; the Laurel people who developed seine net fishing, Algonquian people who hunted and fished, developed snow shoes and birch bark canoes, and tribes who have lived around the lake for 500 years before white Europeans came–Dakota, Fox, Menominee, Nipigon, Noquet, Gros Ventres, and Anishinaabe. Their pictographs can still be seen; humans the second hand of time; the lake, timeless.
The lake calls you home. No matter where you go or what you do. It calls to you.
I left home tethered to it; wandered around the world half-listening to the song of that great inland sea not realizing how fully it was a part of me.
Most of the towns that grew up on its shores describe bays and what treasures were found in them: Beaver Bay (prized for hats), Silver Bay, Taconite Harbor, Agate Bay; or portages when the French explorers came–Grand Portage, Little Marais, Grand Marais, or names of the many falls around the lake–Chippewa Falls, Eagle River Falls, Sturgeon Falls, Gooseberry Falls. The list goes on and on. There are many more falls than those pictured below:
There is much to write about as I listen to Superior’s song, a song that is the song of my life wrapped up in this place I carried with me to the other side of the world. It is a lake of stories and I will add mine to the ancient ones it holds.
We must begin with the Ancient Stories. They may be true for the truth is so often stranger than fiction. So the journey begins. In tandem this lake and I. Its voice tells me this story and I understand it. We must honor the spirit that lives within us even if it seems frightening for in that chaos of darkness and upheaval that lives inside of us is a path that if we are brave enough to walk it leads us into sacredness. My journey as well as the journey around the Lake is circular.
The Anishinabe tell of the great underwater lynx like creature who lives in the depths of Gitchigumi – the creature called Mishi Peshu or Mishipashoo. He is the ulitmate metaphor representing the power, mystery and innate danger that comes from these sacred waters. With razor like spikes on his back, the face of a lynx or panther, and the body of a sea serpent, this creature demanded respect. The Anishinabe offered tobacco and prayer to the creature spirit before they embarked out onto the waters in their canoes. The calm waters of Lake Superior can be quickly transformed into raging squalls and huge waves from the northern, north-eastern, and north-western gales that often suddenly crop up. These gales sweep over the open water, quickly picking up momentum and causing huge waves, some up to 40 feet high.
(Credit: Chi Manidoo)
There are many more stories and I will tell them to you. Look for more. Listen to the song as it unfolds.
Walk with me.