Lake Superior in Literature

In our last post, Andrew talked about how community is reflected in the stories about New Haven.  I’ll talk about how the Twin Ports of Duluth-Superior on Lake Superior are reflected in the books we’ve chosen.

Duluth-Superior is the largest port on the Great Lakes.  Located at the far western-end of the Lakes, coal, grain, sugar beets and taconite are shipped from the port.  The East End of Duluth, along the shore of the Big Lake, is the location of the historic mansions of the titans of the turn-of-the-century industries – iron and timber.  The St. Louis River was once lined with sawmills and choked with logs.  Fishing has also always played a big part of the economy and culture.  The Twin Ports are very connected to nature and very dependent on their natural resources.  The Ojibwe settled at the west end of Lake Superior, where food grows on the water (wild rice).

I drive to Duluth-Superior quite often from Milwaukee.  Once you get north of Eau Claire, there are a lot of trees and not a lot of people.  After driving about 2.5 hours on US 53, you go over a big hill before getting to US 2.  On that big hill, you see Lake Superior spread out before you and a cities in the distance.  This picture of the Twin Ports…on the edge of the wilderness where Lake Superior dominates the landscape is reflected in the literature.

Barton Sutter describes his connection with Lake Superior, “One of the many pleasures of living in Duluth is that you have to look at the lake a lot. You might only mean to get some groceries or a hammer from the hardware store, but on your way you see something so grand, so terrible and so beautiful, that you absorb your daily requirement of humility just by driving down the street.”

The themes that come up over and over again in the books set in the Twin Ports are isolation and the power of Lake Superior.  Gitchi Gumi (Big Lake) is so big and ever-present that she often is a character in the stories.  She provides food, transportation and jobs for those who live near her.  The climate is harsh and her moods change, which contributes to her mystery and power.

The experience of living on Lake Superior is so unique, that it is difficult to describe.  For example, in the last two weeks, in the last half of April, there have been three snowstorms, with some locations getting 2.5 feet of snow.  The stories help give a glimpse into the isolation of living in such a unique place, but also the spirit and resilience of the community that has developed.

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