• Lake Superior ... the statistic that floors me, is that the surface area of this lake is roughly the same size as the state of Maine!
• the lake holds 10% of the world's fresh surface water that is not frozen in a glacier or ice cap.
• is the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area and the third largest by volume (Lake Baikal in Siberia and Lake Tanganyika in East Africa contain more water).
I love being here.
We all know the tale of The Edmund Fitzgerald, from the Gordon Lightfoot song. And some of us know the tale of Hiawatha and “Gitche Gumee,” from Longfellow, (or Bugs Bunny). I was intrigued by the novels I’ve read about it, and always wanted to visit, and experience the power of Lake Superior.
The first morning I camped here, it was raining and blowing, but I have good rain gear. I’m camped across the road from the campground proper, in an overflow spot. I’ve had only one other person staying up here with me, and three of the five nights I’ve been here, I’ve had the place to myself. Pretty perfect!
Every morning, and most evenings I have walked the couple miles through the campground and down to the lakeshore. It’s a cobble beach, with an overlay of smaller stones and a couple small patches of dark sand. The wave action was amazing—I had to keep reminding myself that this was a lake, and not the ocean.
The waves keep tumbling the rocks, rolling them up and over each other, so they become circular or ovoid. Each wave makes a great crunchy-smooshing sound, in addition to the sound of the water. Beach-goers here make stacks of rocks, same as I found in Nova Scotia, balancing one on the other until there’s a little Buddhist shrine, or more often a number of them along the beach. Not much sand, so we build “castles” of rocks.
Up in Cape Breton, the rocks really were cobbles, (the size of cobble-stones in a street).They were quite large, so building stacks of them was an energetic exercise.
This lake is so vast, obviously, you cannot see the opposite shore. In a storm, the waves have been recorded as higher than thirty feet! Thirty foot waves—on a lake! The water is so beautiful, but she can also be a beast. I’ve had five days here, and while the waves haven’t been as majestic as the California coast, this is the month of July, not November.
One day, I drove south/east down the shore to the Split Rock Lighthouse, paid $8.00 to take the guided tour. The Minnesota Historical Society has restored the lighthouse and grounds, the Lighthouse Keeper’s House, and some other buildings. Of all the historical societies I’ve encountered on this trip, these folks had a totally first class operation. I believe they are funded by the state, so that would certainly set them apart. But aside from the funding, they had dozens of Historical Socitiey members and volunteers working the Sunday I was there. I learned quite a bit of historical, nautical, and geological information from my visit. They even had a few folks dressed up in the uniforms the original Lighthouse Keepers had to wear, and a couple women, dressed in the period garments the keeper’s wife might be clothed in. They were answering our questions and explaining the way things in the lighthouse worked, and how items in the home were used.
According to the historical society information, the giant ore-boats, carrying the ore across the lake to be processed in the steel mills, usually had safe trips during the usual shipping season, but when the owners wanted to add a few more trips in November, the weather could turn into hurricane force winds and waves in a heartbeat. That’s what happened to the Edmund Fitzgerald. I heard the song on the radio as I was leaving The Upper Peninsula, and I heard so much more detail in the lyrics now.
“…Lake Huron rolls, Superior sings
In the rooms of her ice-water mansion
Old Michigan steams like a young man's dreams
The islands and bays are for sportsmen
And farther below Lake Ontario
Takes in what Lake Erie can send her
And the iron boats go as the mariners all know
With the gales of November remembered…”
Here's a couple early morning Lake Michigan Steams photos.
Spending time at each of the Great Lakes was an important part of this trip for me. They used to transport people and goods before the railroads or highways, and played a huge part in helping the eastern economic engines become as powerful as they are. But that’s merely an intellectual connection. The narratives I’ve read about the wild rice harvests, and the First People’s stories that reference their lives on these lakes, and the many other novels that are set on them—these things are what called out to my heart, and drew me to pay homage to these shores.