A Panoply of Presque Iles

Thursday morning Betty and I rose at 5:30 to catch the sunrise at Marquette, MI, on Lake Superior. Clouds reared up somewhere on the east end of the big lake (the third or fourth largest lake in the world, depending on how you categorize lakes). We listened to the complaints of seagulls and cormorants who still sat on their nests. In the berths of boats, a gang of mallards, one female and her young, back and forth, zigzagged between the sterns of white and blue hulls. Masts speared the emerging day as the wind rippled the water, set the trees to waving in the slant of light.

An old man sat at a table in the grass, his lunch bucket beside him, his brown ball cap pulled down low over his eyes. Women jogged along the path that runs for miles around this bay where iron is shipped out onto the Great Lakes.  Iron ore made this country boom and it still does. Compared with the rest of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, this town is wealthy.

As the sun rose, we watched it beat the thunderheads to a faint rose tint. Suspicious of our intentions, gulls circled as they hailed each other. They landed on the asphalt near our car and watched, then chased each other around and around, their webbed feet slapping the parking lot surface.

We photographed the reflection of masts, hulls, trees, clouds—all caught by sunrise light and flashed upon the rippling face of the blue lake, dark here, bright there, like the surface of a mirror in the protected places.

Wednesday was sultry as we left Duluth, Minnesota. Before departing we had red flannel hash with eggs over easy. Betty and I found where her great-grandparents lived in Duluth about a hundred years ago. Overlooking the lake, the house perched on a hill. She took pictures. Her mother lived there for a while in 1927, when she was a small child.

From there we wound across Wisconsin’s northern tip, stopped at a National Wildlife Refuge, saw ruby throated hummingbirds , cedar waxwings, black-backed woodpeckers. Mosquitoes feasted on our arms and legs. Clouds sailed across the sky, puffy and dark, they were welcome when they hid the sun’s anger.

The country is green, but snowmobile signs, skating rinks, bowling alleys, the harsh edges of weathered houses reminded us that the Februaries here will not be lush.

We went to Ontonagon, a tiny town settled mostly by Finns. We have a friend who grew up there.  We have lost contact with her. Her name was Hiltonnen, Sylvia Hiltonnen. The funniest, quick-witted of women. We have lost contact with her. My advice:  Don’t lose contact with those who are important.

They love red brick here, the color of iron ore, red, red, the rustiness of it pervasive in the multiple Lutheran and Catholic buildings in every large town. Every small town.

Yesterday morning as the Marquette breeze slinked around our legs, the bells at the big, two towered Catholic church pealed out a call to Mass. The sound echoed off the nineteenth century mansions built with iron ore money. They look across the water towards Ontario’s distant shore.

Last night we dined on white fish caught locally from the lake. Light and flaky and divine. Then we drove out to Marquette’s version of Presque Isle. Presque isle is French for being “almost an island,” and up north here in the land where the French first Europeanized the Americas, it denotes any piece of land that is almost an island. Michigan has more than one place so named. There are also Presque Isles in Maine, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, among other places.

While out among the white cedars, maples, spruce, white birch and pine, we photoed the sunset , the moonrise, the rocks and the way they caused the water to eddy. Mamma gulls fed their gray and brown youngsters who seemed to fake penitence as they slinked along, begging for a meal. They looked like mendicants getting ready to beat their backs with cats-of-nine tails on Palm Sunday.

This morning we knifed straight east across Michigan’s UP, crossed the Straights of Mackinac that flow between Lakes Huron and Michigan. We motored down the sunrise side of the state to Thunder  Bay. Canada has a Thunder Bay, too. Way up on the north coast of Lake Superior. (We wanted to go that way, but felt restrained by time frames.) On the way to our Thunder Bay, we visited another Presque Isle. This one with a working light house in operation  since 1871. The newly-painted white sides glanced light off the columnar shape of the beacon.

Tomorrow we return to civilization. Ann Arbor, where we will conduct more interviews for our movie.

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