When the Gales of November Come Early

I’ve driven across the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in the dead of winter with they skies so clear I swear you could reach out the window and touch the stars. But you don’t because it’s cold, like cold you can’t even imagine. I’m used to cold, but the high dry cold of the mountains, or the wide open blizzard cold of Dakota. No, the cold of Superior is different. It never really goes away, even in the high warmth of summer, you know it’s there just waiting for you to let your guard down.

I have been canoeing in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota several times, out of Ely and Grand Marais, but it took me until last year to spend any time in the City of Duluth at the head of shipping on Lake Superior. I am a boy of the plains and this lake may as well be the Atlantic Ocean for all I know or care. Lake Superior is the largest of the five Great Lakes—I never remember that, it always seems like Lake Michigan ought to be the largest—in fact the largest fresh water lake in the world.  Canada’s Ontario province guards the north shore while Minnesota and Michigan share the south shore with a wee small bit of Wisconsin between them.  Minnesota and Michigan’s territorial waters touch just enough so I can consider these two states I’ve lived in adjacent, connected if you will.  Connected by my pioneer relatives who moved between the two places.  Connected by the North, the woods, fish, moose and cold, cold water.  The French fur traders called it le lac supérieur, as it sits above and beyond all else in this part of our world.

The SS Edmund Fitzgerald was the largest ship on the Great Lakes until 1971.  On her fateful last trip in 1975, the Mighty Fitz went down with a full load of taconite in a large winter storm, 27km out of Whitefish Bay, Ontario.  You’ve probably heard Gordon Lightfoot‘s song once or twice before.  You can read more about the ship (with some good up-close pictures) at the Minnesota Historical Society website.

Lake Superior’s shores is not for the meek or the mild. It is a beautiful place that does not forgive or forget. In that beauty I think it is easier to enjoy, and certainly appreciate, those few warm days and weeks you get. A sunny day in November may be pass-a-day in Texas but up North we appreciate it, neh celebrate it. For we know just as easily that the gales of November do come early.


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