“By the shores of Gitche Gumee,
by the shining big sea waters
stood the wigwam of Nakomis,
daughter of the moon Nakomis.”
Those words were the bedtime story of my childhood. My maternal grandfather, a school teacher, loved poetry, and in his younger years memorized many classic poems. He often recited this favorite to us in a melodic voice he reserved for poetry. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote The Song of Hiawatha in 1855.
I never knew where Gitche Gumee was until two weeks ago when we made a trek to the North Shore of Lake Superior. Lake Superior is Gitche Gumee — the “shining big sea waters.” A cousins’ retreat was the original purpose of the trip, however, it morphed into more than just a Labor Day retreat. Our son is living in Ely, Minnesota, so it seemed appropriate to tag on a few extra days to visit him and experience his lifestyle for a while. When we learned about the North Shore, we added on a couple more nights.
A little fear and hesitation created by travel during the pandemic didn’t dull the anticipation of the trip. I’m a careful packer and took great measures to pack the clothes we would need for the dramatic temperature difference in Minnesota. Even in late August, the weather forecast included temperatures in the lower 50s and only the 70s for the high. What a relief those numbers promised. My advanced planning paid off. We had the clothes we needed for hiking, sightseeing, canoeing, and RV camping.
Despite a little hiccup with our rental car in Duluth (steer clear of Hertz is my advice), the trouble required only a slight change in accommodations for our first night. The resort on the North Shore was gracious in response to my desperate plea for a one-night cancellation. As it turned out, the new plan to spend the first night in Superior, Wisconsin, provided opportunities on Saturday morning that we would not have had if our original plan was in place.
As landlubbers, we were fascinated by many aspects of life around the sea. Our morning walk was around the bay in Duluth affording us views of both large and small seacrafts. We walked across the Aerial Bridge in Duluth and struck up a conversation with a local who lived within sight of the 100-year-old bridge. The Aerial Bridge is just what it sounds like — the bridge lifts up into the air to allow large ships to pass underneath it. More than 500 feet wide, it is not a drawbridge but lifts horizontally. After walking across, we decided we should drive across as well. On the return trip, lengthened by a stop for some beautiful flower beds, the warning bells sounded. Dennis pulled into a parking lot and we jumped out to see the bridge lift.
It was quite the tourist attraction. We were two of many who came to the edge of the canal to watch the proceedings. The atmosphere was like a county fair. Kids were eating ice cream, popcorn, and cake pops. Adults were sipping on lattes and iced coffees. The Park Ranger from the Maritime Museum (closed due to COVID-19) announced the name of the ship and gave a brief description, her history, and cargo. As the ship passed under the bridge, the captain’s salute sounded — one long blast followed by two short blasts from the ship’s horn. Then the bridge operator saluted back with the same signal. This is the common welcome to Duluth’s harbor. The Captain’s Salute (l-s-s) is Morse Code for “D” — for Duluth, presumably. I found this charming for some reason. If you’d like to watch the ship enter the harbor, I have posted a video on my Facebook page and a lengthy video of ships entering Duluth harbor is available at https://www.duluthharborcam.com/2018/12/laker-lillabies-captains-salute-at.html.
We motored up the North Shore on old Highway 61 which hugs the lake. I never grew tired of looking at the vast expanse of water. It looks for all the world like the ocean. I think I could spend hours sitting on the shore. I learned that the lakes are not affected by the lunar tides like the oceans but fluctuate with the winds. Lake Superior has more water than the other four great lakes combined.
Before I left home, I promised myself I would plunge my body in Lake Superior. Its average temperature is 37 degrees. When the opportunity came, I could only wade calf-deep in the frigid waters. I do not understand how people were swimming in it. The afternoon’s drive included state parks, a logging camp, and abundant beautiful wildflowers alongside the road.
And this, folks, was only the first day.
Mary Reid is a Haralson County resident who dreams of writing a memoir of her family’s time in Africa.