Monday, September 04, 2006

The Wisconsin channel, a graveyard and the Edward L. Ryerson

Duluth Harbor is closed off by the longest freshwater sand bar in world. There are two passages through the sand bar: the canal on the Duluth side and a natural channel on the Superior, Wisconsin side, which the Army Corps of Engineers has deepened and maintains. Most ships come in through the canal, providing entertainment to the many tourists who swarm in Canal Park in the summer. However, ships going to the docks on the Wisconsin side -- including the B & N taconite docks -- use the channel.

Yesterday, Patrick and I went to Duluth to catch a look at the Edward L. Ryerson as she came in. We knew she was going to the B & N docks, so we drove over to Superior and onto Wisconsin Point. The Minnesota side of the sand bar looks like a beach resort, with houses tightly packed along a single street, most with views of the lake or the harbor. The Wisconsin side is a park with a badly maintained road winding through scrub forest past entrances to beaches, all with warning signs: "No life guard. People have drowned off Wisconsin Point." At the end of the point is a lighthouse and the channel.

We got out and walked along the channel and the beach. The problem was, the Ryerson was supposed to be arriving in an hour. We should have been able to see her on the lake. Nothing was visible except sailboats. Patrick walked along the channel till he had a good view of the B & N docks, which are on the land side of the harbor, directly opposite the channel. The boat loading ahead of the Ryerson was still there.

The arrival and departure times for the big lakers are very approximate. Pat had been checking on line for several days. The Ryerson's ETA had been listed at 3:30 p.m., then 12:30 p.m. We'd stopped briefly at the museum in Canal Park. the woman there told us the Ryerson would be "in the area" between 1:30 and 2:30.

We were on time. The Ryerson must be running early or late. We didn't know which. We decided to leave.

On the way out, we stopped at a graveyard, that was used by the Fond du Lac band of Ojibwa in the 19th century. The bodies have been moved. But there's a historical marker in a stand of first-growth pines. The marker is surrounded by several of the big chunks of concrete that litter Wisconsin Point. The marker, the chunks and several little, undergrowth trees are covered with gifts: prayer ribbons, dream catchers, stuffed animals, old shoes, cheap jewelry, those pine tree deoderizers that people hang from rear view mirrors, empty cigarette packs and stubbed out cigarettes.

The cigarettes make sense. Tobacco is sacred. Patrick, who smokes a pipe, got out his tobacco pouch and left a pinch on each chunk of concrete. The rest of the gifts are what poor people have to give in honor of their ancestors.

It's a strange place, because it mixes traditional Native American beliefs with the debris of modern white American life; and it's a restful place, because it says, "Our ancestors matter. We matter. People matter."

We found the graveyard a year or two ago, and I have been wanting to go back ever since. Pat said it would be okay for me to take pictures, so I did. (He is half Ojibwa and has been studying Ojibwa culture.)

Then we headed back to Duluth. On route, still on the Wisconsin side, we saw the Ryerson. She had come in through the canal and was heading very, very slowly toward the B & N docks. We took a quick turn and found a parking place at a small park. There we sat, right on the water, and took pictures of the Ryerson as she went past, escorted by sailboats.

Why was it so important to see this particular boat? She is back on the lakes after eight years out of service. She is a straight-decker, rather than a self-unloader; and straight-deckers are rare these days. (Google, if you are curious.) Finally, she has a reputation of the being the most beautiful laker ever built. She hit the water in 1960; and her superstructure has a sleek, aerodynamic, 50s modern look -- not necessary in a ship with a top speed of 17 miles an hour, but lovely none the less.

After she passed, we drove home.


Blogger Unknown said...

One day I was walking along the beach near The Wisconsin channel. There were hardly any people, and lay scattered some abandoned beach items, canopies like, garbage.

9:12 AM  

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