By the shores of Gitche Gumee,
By the shining Big-Sea-Water,
Stood the wigwam of Nokomis,
Daughter of the Moon, Nokomis,
Dark behind it rose the forest,
Rose the black and gloomy pine-trees,
Rose the firs with cones upon them;
Bright before it beat the water,
Beat the clear and sunny water,
Beat the shining Big-Sea-WaterThe Song of Hiawatha (1855). Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
The apparent pedagogy of the Ardmore, Oklahoma, public schools, of which I am a product, held that memorizing or at least reading long epic poems would somehow supple the minds of the children of ranchers, oil field workers, and the city’s middle-class. Yet even though my 12 year old mind was as stiff and unwilling to be suppled as any, I really liked “The Song of Hiawatha.” Not that I could admit it to anyone back then, but I did. In particular, I always liked and remembered the fragment above. To a kid used to Oklahoma droughts and tornadoes, there was something incredibly exotic about the image of black and gloomy pine trees next to a vast, shining sea.
Gitche Gumee, Lake Superior, the shining Big-Sea-Water…
All of which is a very long way to saying that I finally got to see the shining Big-Sea-Water last summer. And although I would dearly like to go back again this summer, COVID-19 has put a stop to that. So I dug out some photos that I made and have gone on something of a mental voyage by putting them in this post. Our trip was nothing epic and has been done by countless others, but perhaps you will enjoy reading about our version.
After crossing Lake Michigan by ferry we headed north to the Leelanau Peninsula (the little finger on the left-handed Michigan mitten) so that we could see the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. These are huge sand dunes that overlook Lake Michigan. The views they offer are spectacular.
Gazing with half-open eyelids,
Full of shadowy dreams and visions,
On the dizzy, swimming landscape,
On the gleaming of the water,
On the splendor of the sunset.The Song of Hiawatha (1855). Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Traverse City and the Old Mission Peninsula are nearby. We enjoyed both. Our neighbors from Michigan tell us that the peninsula is less agricultural than it used to be. Due to both changes in the market for their product and warming of the climate, many of the cherry orchards we saw in years past have become vineyards. Although I used to really enjoy the cherries, the wine they now make, especially the whites, is very good!
Then we drove to the Upper Peninsula, stopping in St. Ignace, which is just on the other side of the Mackinac Bridge, one of the largest suspension bridges in the world. St. Ignace itself is over-blessed with souvenir shops and gas stations. Most people only stop there before taking the ferry to Mackinac Island. Nonetheless, it does have a nice harbor and provided us with a splendid evening sky.
After we left St. Ignace the weather deteriorated with very low clouds, heavy rain, and fog. Rather than stop at Tahquamenon Falls as we’d planned, we went on to the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point. It is well worth a stop. Having heard Gordon Lightfoot’s song, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, more times than I can count, I was surprised to learn that the Fitzgerald’s 200 pound bronze bell is located in the dark and somber museum. Contemplating it and the 29 men who drowned when the ship went down in November, 1975, is a moving experience. The ship was later located in 535 feet of water approximately 17 miles from Whitefish Point. The bell was recovered in 1995; a replica bell with the names of the sailors who died was then placed on the ship’s pilot house.
The museum also contains replicas of many other ships that have also been lost on the Great Lakes. Indeed, over 240 have been lost off Whitefish Point alone. There is a functioning lighthouse at Whitefish Point that has sought for many years to prevent shipwrecks there. One can tour the keeper’s home and examine other items in the museum, e.g., there is a huge Fresnel lens designed to beam light far out to sea. Plus, there are some really remarkable wooden surf boats used for rescues. These are little more than light wooden frames covered in the thinnest of wooden planking, essentially racing shells. Rescuers sat at the open boat’s benches and rowed through heavy seas at great peril to themselves to reach a stricken ship.
Westward by the Big-Sea-Water,
Came unto the rocky headlands,
To the Pictured Rocks of sandstone,
Looking over lake and landscape.The Song of Hiawatha (1855). Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
We, too, went westward, on to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and the town of Munising. The weather was remarkably changeable while we were there. On our arrival in Munising there were heavy clouds which, it should be said, led to a wonderfully varied sunset. The next day we attempted to view the Pictured Rocks from the water, but conditions were so rough that the operator decided to turn back. Even in the bay, the conditions were very difficult. Later that day the lake became a millpond with stunning blue skies.
As the weather cleared we visited the park. It is beautiful whether from the water or from land.
Although these Trillium are a bit past their prime, I have never seen larger ones – about the size of your fist.
And the waterfalls! Whether in the park or not, they were beautiful.
And the evening sun descending
Set the clouds on fire with redness,
Burned the broad sky, like a prairie,
Left upon the level water
One long track and trail of splendor,
Down whose stream, as down a river,
Westward, westward Hiawatha
Sailed into the fiery sunset,
Sailed into the purple vapors,
Sailed into the dusk of eveningThe Song of Hiawatha (1855). Henry Wadsworth Longfellow