Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Most Superior Place

Lake Superior is aptly named. The greatest freshwater sea in the world, like an ocean it makes its own weather. Around its basin is a vast wilderness that feeds from it -- a rich and ever changing necklace draped over the shoulders of a watery god and resolutely indifferent to all human concern.

Within an easy day’s drive of this wonderland live more than 20 million Americans. Most of these people are at least vaguely aware of its existence. Some have even seen it. Few know it well.

Those hardy folk who know it best are the ones that live in its embrace. It’s not an easy place to be. With but few exceptions, the towns are small and getting smaller by the year as populations age and the young folk leave, drawn to big cities by the siren song that promises excitement, opportunity and ease of living. What most of us might consider routine services are in this region often hard to come by or nonexistent. What most of us might consider poverty is commonplace. How many people do you know that burn wood to heat their homes in the winter?

These small towns are remnants of a robust past. At different times Voyageurs roamed the rivers and forests, taking furs. Lumbermen then cut those forests to the ground, with the magnificent hardwood and fabled pine used to build cities like Chicago and Detroit. Miners blasted and dug through long dangerous days to retrieve the iron and the copper that helped fuel an Industrial Revolution that led to the America of today.

Quintessentially American, these towns with names like Bessemer and Ironwood, Ontonagon and Grand Marias were settled by waves of immigrant workers from across Europe and beyond. And of course, before any of these were the Potawatomi, Ojibwa and Sioux, whose culture in this place long preceded white folk and whose culture in this place remains vibrant and provides for ancient echoes.

Over the next year I’ll explore the many facets of the Superior basin and you’re invited to come along. Whether you know and love this place, or have visited upon occasion, or if you’ve never come within 1000 hundred miles of the Superior shore, together (at least vicariously) we’ll come to know these people better whether by seeking them out and listening to their stories or by eavesdropping in their diners. I guarantee that if what you take from small town America is all that the media delivers, some of their views will surprise you.

We’ll slog through swamps, hike forests, paddle streams and lakes then take rest beneath the shade of a hemlock next to shining waters so blue it hurts the eyes to look. And together we’ll stand in awe on the Superior shore as night falls, the Milky Way ascends and the Northern Lights come to dance the night through.


It’s time to hit the road to see what we can see and maybe learn a bit along the way. Please feel free to ride shotgun -- that seat is reserved for you.






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