Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Upper Peninsula of Michigan, circa 1975

Can you see it, out on the horizon? A low black blotch along the water. A freighter, riding low in the water, moving its cargo of iron ore from Ashland, Wisconsin, to somewhere in the lower Great Lakes. A romantic vision, even before the eerie lyrics of Gordon Lightfoot became part of our memory.

I am blessed to have been raised within a three hour drive of views such as that. Copper Falls, Potato Falls, Saxon Harbor, and Ashland in Wisconsin. Just over the border in Michigan are Ironwood proudly displaying the world’s tallest Indian, Black River Harbor, the Porcupine Mountains and the Lake of the Clouds.

In 1975 we started our vacation at McLain State Park just outside of Hancock, Michigan. I don’t know what it is about this state park, but it has always held a fascination for me. I think it is the amazing sunrises and breathtaking sunsets over Lake Superior. Late in the evening, when all is still, you can hear the water lapping at miles of beach. When the weather is not cooperating, the waves pound upon the shore, spraying the lake water inland.

Somewhere on the highway, heading towards Copper Harbor, there was a small gift shop on a bluff above the water. The proprietor sold pieces of driftwood with paintings of birds on them, rocks with paintings of birds on them and framed paintings of birds, along with lots of polished stones picked up from along the shore. The building had a small tower. Up two flights of stairs there was a little windowed room with fantastic views of the Lake, scenes made even more memorable by looking through the telescope bolted to its four foot high post. The iron ore freighters were still too far out for any detail to come into focus, but at least you could now make out the outline of the vessels.

Five months after we returned home from that particular trip, one of those freighters along with its 29-man crew would succumb to the will of the Great Lake. You can't spend anytime along Lake Gitche Gumee without hearing the strains of the ballad of the Edmond Fitzgerald.

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