Tuesday, July 10, 2007

North Shore and Thunder Bay

Patrick and I drove to Thunder Bay, Ontario this past weekend. The drive up the North Shore of Lake Superior was truly fine: crystalline air; a clear blue sky; a big blue lake; a rocky shore line; and low mountains covered with an intensely green pine, birch and aspen forest. The stretch north of Grand Marais, including the Grand Portage Reservation, was especially amazing. This is seriously beautiful country. We didn't take pictures the first day, and the following two days were partly cloudy with hazy air. Not nearly as pretty.

Thunder Bay is a working port, mostly low buildings spread out along a harbor. The only public access to the lake (as far as I could tell) is Marina Park, which was occupied by a Blues Festival while we were there. If we'd had more time, we could have driven the waterfront roads and maybe seen some boats loading grain. This is a major terminal for grain from the prairie provinces going by ship to the rest of the world; and there are huge rows of elevators at either end of the harbor. On another, brighter day, when it wasn't 85 degrees, humid and overcast, the elevators might have looked more impressive.

As it was, we took a brief look at the hazy harbor, then went to the history museum, which was small and dusty, and then to the small but fine Thunder Bay Art Gallery. The Gallery has a focus on contemporary First Nations art; and there was an exhibit of drawings by an Ojibwa artist, which Pat and I liked a lot. They were done with white and turquoise pencils on black paper: flat, stylized human and animal figures deriving from North American pictographs, Australian aborigine painting and even European cave art.

The artist's name is Ahmoo Angeconeb. The Gallery is raffling off one of his drawings. I bought three tickets. I don't expect to win, but it's nice to dream.

That was one high point to the trip. Another was Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park, which we saw the next day. The falls drop 120 feet into a rocky canyon, edged by pine forest. We made up for taking no pictures on the first day of the trip by taking a lot of the falls and canyon.

We stopped at the Grand Portage National Monument on the way south and took pictures of the modest recreation of a fur trading fort, trying to keep modern objects, such as the asphalt road, out of the pictures. I suddenly realized I was photographing the neatly trimmed lawn, which has to be as unhistorical as the highway. I can't imagine the voyageurs out with scythes, cutting the grass, which was probably not available in the Northwest in 1800. Doesn't lawn grass come from Europe?

I just checked. American grasses are not suitable for lawns, and English grass did not do well in North American climates. Our current lawn grass was developed in the early 20th century by an alliance of golfers and the Department of Agriculture.

Farther down south, we stopped in Two Harbors. There were two ore boats at the taconite docks. We took more pictures, but decided not to wait till the ships left. It didn't look as if either was ready to go.

So -- beautiful scenery, art, ore boats and a little history. Not a bad trip, though we were both tired when we got back.

I forgot to mention, when I first wrote this, that the lilacs and peonies were blooming up north, a month after they bloomed in the Twin Cities. It was as if we had spring back for a day or two.


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