Bench overlooking Keweenaw Bay
You can’t be part of a 30-day Gratitude Challenge around here without feeling gratitude for this place where we live. Feeling gratitude for the woods. For the million trees. For the deer and bear and squirrels hunkering down in the forest as the temperature dips near zero.
Feeling gratitude for the Big Lake, for Gitchee-Gumi. For our freezing Lake Superior, donning her winter-cloak of ice.
Lake Superior, as many of you already know, is the world’s largest freshwater lake. It extends 350 miles in length and 160 miles in width and plunges to depths over 1,300 feet.
Sometimes we forget that the ecosystem in which we live informs us in so many ways. Years ago, my husband and I moved to Texas for a short stint. (I swear I should tell you that story one of these years.)
You know what suddenly became clear? I had grown up nurtured by the breezes of the Great Lakes. They were so “normal” to me that I never ever noticed their continual refreshing presence–until moving to the middle of Texas.
My body physically felt parched, like something was missing. The breezes were as much a part of my body as the desert dryness is part of those who live in the western part of the U.S.
"First Sand Beach"
Years ago, an Anishinabe (Ojibway) woman gestured out toward Lake Superior.
“Can you see the spirit out there?” she asked.
I looked at the endless waves pounding against the shore. The deep blue in the middle of the bay. You could almost feel something–but I didn’t know what to say. I remained silent.
Another native elder once advised, “You have to respect that spirit in the lake. Give it offerings in appreciation for what it gives us.”
Spirit of winter tree
I hoped to take sunny photos of Lake Superior for you, but the sun refuses to cooperate. It’s January in the Upper Peninsula. It’s gray. Gray informs everything. The black and white world keeps our focus inward, as we try to stay warm.
Ice never forms the same way twice.
The fishermen (including my husband) are tempting whitefish and burbot and lake trout on the Huron Bay. They sit in their little shacks and thread sucker or smelt on silver hooks. They lower the bait into the frigid water and wait.
We haven’t eaten any fresh fish yet…but Barry says Sunday looks like a good day. The lemon pepper sauce is waiting patiently in the frig.
Ice heaves, thrusts upwards.
You can’t imagine how cold it was when I took these photos earlier in the week! The kind of cold in which one rushes, breathless, through the icy morning toward the lake. The wind attempted to throw you back into your car. You persevered. You waded through two feet of snow (in your short boots, darn it!) toward the beach. Once on the beach, the howling north wind-swept the sand almost clean in places.
Wind from the lake blows the snow away at "Second Sand Beach"
Did you know that the Anishinabe word for “spirit” and “story” is the same? The word is Adizokan. Everything in the world has a story to tell us: the howling wind, the icy lake, the twigs and branches lying in the sand.
We can rush by with our busy schedules, or we can pause to listen.
Frozen Huron Bay as it appears through the trees
Sometimes at night you can hear loud booms from Lake Superior as the ice cracks and forms. Sometimes it can wake you from deep sleep.
“It’s just the ice down on the bay,” you murmur, and roll over, pulling the quilts closer.
In a few weeks, the fishermen will cast their bait 220 feet into the big lake.
By the end of the month, adventuresome souls will jump into a hole cut in the ice up on the Portage Canal. Celebrating the spirit of Heikinpaiva (when the bear rolls over in his den) they will briefly join the spirit of the lake for a frigid communion.
No, readers, I shall not.
More ice every day.
It’s good to pause by Lake Superior and feel gratitude for its endless spirit, its endless stories.
The Anishinabe say winter is the time for telling stories.
Thank you for listening.