Winter Stories of Lake Superior

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.

Ice forming

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.

About Kathy

I live in the middle of the woods in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Next to Lake Superior's cold shores. I love to blog.
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42 Responses to Winter Stories of Lake Superior

  1. Barbara says:

    Now I understand the meaning behind the name of your blog. I didn’t know the Anishinabe word for “spirit” and “story” is the same – that is very telling… I do believe that everything in the world does have a story to tell us and only hope that I spend enough time listening to these stories… Thanks for the stunning pictures. I love the stark beauty of winter and the grey skies.

    • Kathy says:

      Barbara, want to know a secret? I didn’t know this until I researched it the other day. It was a joy to realize that the names are the same! Loving the stories that are shared through all of us…down to the tiniest chickadee. 🙂

  2. Susan Derozier says:

    Kathy – I feel like I am back there looking out over my beloved lake with you. I live now looking out over the Gulf of Mexico and, though beautiful, I still long for that spirit of which you speak. I recall going down to the shore in Superior when it was -40 and taking pictures. Everyone thought I was insane but I came back with photos of the mists (purple, mauve, gray) hanging just feet above the lake frozen in mid air. For these moments each day I can breathe in the ether with you and sit in its magic with gratitude. Thank you again!

    • Kathy says:

      So glad to be able to share c-c-c-cold photos of Lake Superior with you. (And I have loved looking over the Gulf of Mexico when in Fort Myers Beach with my parents…) You took photos at -40? You were one brave woman!

  3. P.j. grath says:

    I spent last night on Lake Superior–in spirit–reading an advance reader’s copy of a novel due for June release, SOUTH OF SUPERIOR, by Ellen Airgood. What a great place to be! I am grateful, however, to be in my physical home, too, less than a mile from Lake Michigan. Some wild nights we can hear the waves crashing from our front yard. Thank you for this lovely post, Kathy. I was especially struck by the windblown sand on top of snow in the woods. Who down here would expect that?

    • Kathy says:

      Pamela, I remember my love affair with Lake Michigan when spending summers on Intermediate Lake in Bellaire as a teenager. We used to go over to the lake and feel the rhythm and pulse and beat of the waves against the sandy shore. I love how every lake has its own personality. Each so different, so unique, so precious. My elementary years were spent on Lake Huron and my love for her is so filled with pebbles and rocks and distant sailboats…

  4. Karma says:

    Wow, those are are some stunning ice formations. That is something I’ve never experienced around here. Our little ponds and lakes freeze smooth and flat, and of course an occasional winter adventure down to Cape Cod never shows a frozen bay. Thanks for posting these pictures, and for telling the story of the Lake spirit.

    • Kathy says:

      Karen, the formations of ice are really fascinating. Because–every year–they appear so different. One good thing about smooth & flat ponds and lakes is the possibility to go ice skating. Do you ever do that?

  5. Sue says:

    I am grateful that I come from this place. For the spirit of this lake that moves through me. For the spirit of this land that lives in me. For the roots of those trees that keep me rooted, even when I live and travel away from Superior shores. I am so grateful to you Kathy, for sharing the spirit of Superior with your words and photos. It makes being away more bearable.

    • Kathy says:

      I feel the spirit of Lake Superior in you, Sue. To be truthful, I feel the spirit of the Upper Peninsula in you much more than many of the people who live here! So glad to be able to share its beauty and wildness with you.

  6. holessence says:

    Kathy – This morning I am very grateful for your “Spirit of Winter Tree” photograph. It spoke to my heart.

    • Kathy says:

      Laurie, I took a picture of this very same tree last year and loved it so much that it drew me back for another photography session. May even photograph it every season!

  7. Hi Kathy:

    I got your link from your DH’s article in this week’s paper — LOL!!! Love your photos — I’ll come back to look more thoroughly as time permits — nice to find you here. From one Baraga County Blogger to the other — best wishes!!!

    Sharon Johnson
    Hamar Road

    • Kathy says:

      Sharon, I stopped by your blog the other day, too, and saw that you are an expert stamper. And you’ve been in the blogging business for several years. I am always delighted to find another local blogger! Thank you for visiting. (By the way, you know we used to live on Hamar Road, right?)

  8. sonali says:

    The pictures are so beautiful! woowwww 😀 once again, I wanna visit lake superior!!

    • Kathy says:

      I am glad that you liked the photos, even though the skies were gray, Sonali. (The sun is shining right now but I am still in my pajamas and too lazy to go chasing the light.)

  9. john says:

    What a glorious present! That first picture just shot through me. I could feel it run from my heart to my brain. With the warm weather going into December I was afraid that the bay might not freeze over thick enough for fishing, but it appears on its way. Seeing the unnamed towns of shacks and tents emerge on the ice each winter is a sign that things are right with the world. (And the sight of pick-ups and SUVs a mile off shore is a sign that crazy is universal) All the pictures were a real treat! Today I am very grateful for a woman who jumps out of her car and runs through two feet of snow with her short boots on to document the beauty and majesty of nature and shares them with the world.

    • Kathy says:

      John, I am glad to share these photos with you–I figured you (and maybe a couple others) would recognize our famous red benches in L’Anse. The bay is freezing every day. You wouldn’t believe how fast its making ice now. There is a little shanty-town at the head of the bay for those fishing for smelt and herring. I would have taken a picture yesterday but the snow was blowing sideways and it was a complete white-out. So glad you appreciate this!

  10. Carol says:

    Beautiful photos, but ohhhh the cold! You are a hardier soul than I, and kudos to you for that!

  11. Oh YES
    The spirit of winter spoke to me too…driving 6 hours today back to Chicago

  12. Dawn says:

    These are beautiful, and just lovely to look at from my warm chair inside my warm office with the sun shining in my window. But I also remember taking pictures in the negative temps…freezing fingers, and in those days fear of freezing film. Just last March we were at White Fish point and it was so windy and so cold we could only look at the lake for a few seconds before turning our backs. Still. I miss it all.

    • Kathy says:

      Oh those freezing fingers! (Really? You had to worry about film freezing too?) During my year of the outdoor adventure I cried more than once from number fingers on that camera. It’s interesting how we can miss something that is so freezing…

  13. barb says:

    I like seeing the ice on the lake and the heaves, too. Such power in water!

  14. quietpaths says:

    This place is a very special, powerful point on the planet. Your photos don’t need any sun to convey that. Great ice shots, Kathy. Thank you.

  15. photobyholly says:

    Beautiful – the photos and your words! I used to think that living anyplace in Michigan was awful (mostly the heat & humidity in the summer), but then I went to Mackinac Island for (believe it or not) the 1st time in my life a few years ago. The weather was amazing! Being close to the water really makes the air a lot more comfortable!! I’m right smack in the middle of the mitten…

    • Kathy says:

      Holly, I think we lived near you just before we moved to the U.P. We were going to school down at Michigan State University in Lansing and found a job in L’Anse listed on the board of the journalism office. I hope that you have learned to love the breezes that blow across the mitten. (Although they are probably much less than near the lakes.)

  16. elmer says:

    so gloomy yet so beautiful. this is a refreshing read. i love lakes, but only on a sunshine

  17. Shelly says:

    Hi Cathy,
    Long time I haven’t read your blog I apologize for that I’ve been going though a lot lately. I can relate to when you moved to Texas from Lake Superior. I live in Canada I moved from where I grew up to the other side of the country. Where I grew up is Lake Superior (just a province over), so I know about the cold and all that I grew up in nature. I left 5 years ago and the place where I’m at now I can’t really complain it’s a BIG city with EVERYTHING at my finger tips, yet I still long for the cold days, snow and the SUN! Yes you read right I moved to the West cost. During the winter there is BARELY any sun just RAIN and more rain.

    • Kathy says:

      Shelly, it’s really good to see you again! It’s OK if you don’t read for awhile–just come by when the Spirit leads you. It’s interesting how people can long for cold days and snow. I agree–the big city has lots to offer. And so does the woods, the lakes, the chickadees. Blessings for all you’ve been going through.

  18. Marianne says:

    Thank you for this post, Kathy! I just learned tonight while listening to a First Nations speaker say that a tradition of theirs is to give thanks to the sun, the earth and the water. Also, I heard another speaker say that a heart-based meditation technique is to connect your own heart with the heart of Father Son and the heart of Mother Earth. Isn’t that beautiful? I’ve been practicing with it.

    • Kathy says:

      That is the first thing the natives taught me back in the 1980’s. To always be giving thanks. Many of them start their day by putting a pinch of sacred tobacco under a tree. sounds like a beautiful practice with the heart and earth.

  19. Yotewife says:

    Thank you so much. My husband(also a photographer)spent summers in Eagle Harbor with his Grandparents every year and has always felt so drawn to the area. This summer, we were finally able to take the family up for a vacation and I am in awe with the spirit of the place. I grew up outside of Chicago, have lived in Milwaukee, and Seattle, and spent my childhood hanging out with my Grandparents in Port Huron… I am not a stranger to the Great Lakes or ocean… but nothing compared to what I felt up there. I have found myself checking out the webcams (I happen to LOVE winter) to see what is going on – but this was just beautiful. Thank you so much for this.

    • Kathy says:

      Nice to meet you, Yotewife! Thank you for visiting Lake Superior Spirit. I should be posting some more outdoor photos soon. It is a very special place up here. So glad that you like it. By the way, did you know I grew up twenty miles from Port Huron? A little town in the thumb called “Yale”. My parents, brothers and their families still live in the Thumb. Stay tuned. I’ll show you some more snow.

  20. Ana says:

    Your winter images are just amazing….really…a loooooove them 😐

    • Kathy says:

      Ana, winter is such a beautiful time around here. It can feel so pristine and white and lovely. It can also be so darn cold that the ice seeps into your bones. It’s good then to sit by the woodstove. Suspecting that winter is just right around the corner…thanks for visiting my blog.

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