Once upon a time on Outer Island in Lake Superior, a lumber company cut much of the remaining old growth hemlocks and other trees to make baby furniture. The lumberjacks lived in a camp near sandstone ledges on the shore. They used a railroad built by previous loggers through the middle of the island to haul the heavy logs to a dock for shipping to shore. Eventually, the crew built an air strip so they could go home on weekends.
The company that used the wood was Lullabye Furniture of Steven’s Point, Wisconsin. By the 1960s, logging on the island cost too much, so the men left their camp. They also left behind the buildings, old trucks, a stove, a water tank.
Slowly, the forest took its revenge. Snow knocked down the buildings, the trucks rusted, animals carried away seat cushion stuffing for their nests. The forest regrew, swallowing the lumber camp and reclaiming the land as its own.
Russ and I meandered to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore last month. We had the privilege of camping on Outer Island for two glorious, warm nights. Lake Superior was so calm, we could hear ore boat engines quietly throbbing even though they were dozens of miles away as they passed the island.
I took this shot from the beach near the lighthouse. You can just see the lighthouse over the tops of the trees by the dock. A wave-worn rock provided a perfect foreground. Can you feel the peace?
I’ve never had time to just hang out somewhere and take photos for a week. That’s what I was able to do (thanks to my awesome workplace) earlier this month. I took a landscape photography class at the Madeline Island School for the Arts.
Madeline Island lies off the Bayfield peninsula in northern Wisconsin. It’s adjacent to (but not part of) the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.
The class focused on sunrise and sunset photography. This made for long days, but it was worth it. The class was life-changing and life-affirming. I knew I had a good eye — I told my fellow students I learned photography “by osmosis” from my mother — but I’ve never had any formal training in it. An F-stop? ISO? What are those? I got a crash course and affirmative feedback, but am still learning.
I’d like to share some of my favorites from the week with you. Locations include Joni’s Beach, Grant’s Point, Big Bay State Park, Black Shanty Road wetlands, the art school grounds, and Devil’s Island.
As always, feel free to use my images, but please give me (Marie Zhuikov) credit.
As you may be aware, Russ and I had the chance to camp in Theodore Roosevelt National Park last month. Here’s my last group of photos from the trip. We felt privileged to wander among the wild buffalo, horses and prairie dogs.
Russ and I spent three full days in North Dakota over Memorial Day Weekend. I’d passed through the park on my way West several times in the past and decided it was worth more time. I’m so glad we did it. Even though not many touristy things were open yet, we kept busy exploring the natural wonders of the park and area surrounding the town of Medora.
For my next few posts, I’ll be sharing photo stories as inspiration strikes. This first is about “concretions.” These were a highlight of our visit to the North Unit of the park.
These cannonball-shaped formations are made of sand grains from an ancient river that were cemented together by minerals dissolved in groundwater. That’s the official word. Unofficially, I’d say they remind me of Godzilla eggs.
We expected only a few local poets would be interested. We thought they’d offer poems about the St. Louis River on the Minnesota-Wisconsin border.
That was our mindset when the River Talk planning team at my workplace first developed the theme for the public poetry reading to be held in conjunction with the St. Louis River Summit as an evening program in March 2021. We were mistaken, but in the best possible way.
In reality, our call for river poems through the literary submission management platform Submittable garnered interest from 76 poets from across the U.S. and around the world. They submitted 148 poems for consideration.
“As it turns out, a lot of people like to write about rivers. That’s because they are really important in our communities and in our lives,” said Deanna Erickson, director of the National Lake Superior Estuarine Research Reserve, which co-sponsors the River Talk series with Wisconsin Sea Grant.
We quickly realized we were going to need more judges. In the end, we gathered six who represented a good cross-section of the audience we expected to attend the summit.
The judging was “blind,” which means the poets’ names were not associated with their poems. After two rounds, the judges narrowed the number of poems down to a dozen, with a few for backup in case any of the chosen poets could not be reached.
Although communication was sometimes a challenge, all 12 poets were enthusiastic about participating in the reading. They represented a wide diversity of ages and ethnicities.
The River Talk was a couple of weeks ago, but the warm fuzzy feelings it engendered remain with me. I could use many adjectives to describe it: powerful, beautiful, stark, raw, funny — but it’s really best if you listen to the poems and feel all the feels for yourselves. The reading drew 85 Zoomers, a record attendance.
The Lake Superior Reserve, our partner in the talks, recorded the reading and it’s available on their YouTube channel. Here’s a list of the poets (in the order they read) and the names of their poems:
Tyler Dettloff (Michigan) “My Stars” Heather Dobbins (Arkansas) “I Held us on for 36 Hours after the Levee Broke to hell” Ben Green (New Mexico) “Immersion: A Prayer of Intent” Lorraine Lamey (Michigan) “Catching Your Drift” Joan Macintosh (Newfoundland) “The Current Feels” Kate Meyer-Currey (England) “Timberscombe” Rebecca Nelson (California) “Of the St. Louis River” Stephanie Niu (New York) “To the Beaver’s Eyes” Diana Randolph (Wisconsin) “Knowing the Way” Ron Riekki (Florida) “It Took a Long Time to Discover” Derold Sligh (South Korea) “Rouge River” Lucy Tyrrell (Wisconsin) “Talking Water”
Ironically, the one poem specifically about the St. Louis River was written by someone who had never visited it. Rebecca Nelson said her poem, “Of the St. Louis River” was inspired by the spiritual experiences she’s had while watching water. She grew up in the Midwest and said she wrote the poem thinking of the rivers she knew from childhood. “I would love to visit sometime after the pandemic!” Nelson said.
Barb Huberty, St. Louis River Area of Concern coordinator for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, offered this comment in the Zoom chat, “I never knew that poetry could unite people across the globe.”
Sharon Moen, Eat Wisconsin Fish outreach specialist for Wisconsin Sea Grant, offered, “Thank you to all the poets and organizers! I am inspired by the depth of your thoughts and stories.”
Remaining River Talks will be held on April 14 and May 12. For more information, visit the River Talks page: go.wisc.edu/4uz720.
If you didn’t get a chance to see my article in “Lake Superior Magazine” about the rare and endangered Ojibwe Horses, the same story has been reprinted in a different magazine: “Equine Monthly.” Click here to read it online.
If you’d like to hear the story behind my story, read my blog post here. These animals are so special. I felt privileged to be introduced to them.
This Wednesday at 7 p.m. Central, I’m co-hosting a Zoom event that will showcase a dozen poets from around the world and across the country reading their powerful, evocative and beautiful poems about rivers. The March 3, 2021 reading is an evening program of the annual St. Louis River Summit, which brings together hundreds of people who work on and care about the St. Louis River in Minnesota and Wisconsin. It’s also part of our monthly River Talk programs, which are free and public-friendly. Details are below. Come experience different perspectives on our waterways!
Tyler Dettloff (Michigan) “My Stars” Heather Dobbins (Arkansas) “I Held us on for 36 Hours after the Levee Broke to Hell” Ben Green (New Mexico) “Immersion: A Prayer of Intent” Lorraine Lamey (Michigan) “Catching Your Drift” Joan Macintosh (Newfoundland) “The Current Feels” Kate Meyer-Currey (England) “Timberscombe” Rebecca Nelson (California) “Of the St. Louis River” Stephanie Niu (New York) “To the Beaver’s Eyes” Diana Randolph (Wisconsin) “Knowing the Way” Ron Riekki (Florida) “It Took a Long Time to Discover” Derold Sligh (South Korea) “Rouge River” Lucy Tyrrell (Wisconsin) “Talking Water”
For the holidays, Russ and I decided to get away from it all – so much safer for us and for others, especially with this new variant of Covid-19 going around. Where better to avoid seeing anyone else than in a bog?
At our cabin in northern Minnesota, we walk regularly past a bog. It’s right next to a gravel road, enticing us with its remoteness and untrammeled nature. The plat book we consult signifies the bog is privately owned, however there’s no owner’s name listed, so we weren’t sure who to ask for permission for access So, we just took a chance, donned our snowshoes, and trammeled it, just a little bit.
Although they look sterile, bogs are places of unparalleled abundance and life. The vast peatlands of northern Minnesota cover more than ten percent of the state. Unlike the clearing of the prairies and white pine forests, efforts to drain and develop the peatlands were mostly failures, although unnaturally straight ditches in some bogs testify to this toil.
The bottom of a peatland is a breathless place – cold, acidic, anaerobic – with no oxygen to decompose branches or the small, still faces of the weasels interred there. Sphagnum mosses wrap around the fur, wood, skin, casting their spell of chemical protection, preserving them whole. Growth is impossible, and Death cannot complete his spare work.
Minnesota’s peatlands formed over five thousand years ago when the climate cooled and rain increased. The state contains more peatlands than any other in the U.S., except its Alaskan stepsister. (A surprising number of Minnesotans spend time in Alaska and vice versa.) Although in the U.K. and northern Europe the smoky glow of peat still heats many houses, the trend never caught on in Minnesota.
In Europe, bogs are portals to distant worlds, wilder realms. Gods travel the bogs. In America, peatlands are just an inconvenience to be drained or avoided. Even the Ojibwe let them alone. Maybe that’s why birds love bogs, like the nearby Sax-Zim Bog. They are places where people are not. Owls can hunt voles, mice, and moles to peaceful content.
We saw many deer trails crossing the bog. Shrubby bushes of Labrador tea poked their tips through the covering of snow. We investigated an island of red pines at the bog’s edge – an upland out of synch with the rest. Climbing a short way, we came upon a human-made square wooden platform covered with a thin layer of snow. A cache of short, fire-ready sticks lay piled between two tree trunks nearby. It looked like a tent platform, ready for use.
We vowed to check the plat map to see how people could access this red pine “island” in summer. It was surrounded by the bog, but perhaps not too much bog for a person to cross when conditions are more liquid.
Back on the bog, we passed stunted black spruce trees and tamaracks, denuded of their needles by winter. A gentle snow began to fall, consecrating all with a layer of white.
All was silent. All was good.
We completed a circuit around the area, which was surprisingly much larger than we could see from the road. As we took off our snowshoes and walked back to our cabin, we were suffused with the peace of this wild place.
Imagine our distress when, a couple of weeks later, we walked past the bog again, only to see snowmobile tracks leading out onto it. The snowmobiles had run ragged circles around the part nearest to the road that was clear of trees. They churned up vegetation, spewing spatters of green “blood” across the snow.
It made me wonder what the snowmobilers were thinking of when they chose to motor around in the bog. They probably thought it looked like a fun place to tear around in – a wasteland, devoid of life, useless to humans. Why not have some fun in it?
Agh. It hurt my heart to see it. Thus, this blog post – letting people know that just because something looks useless to humans doesn’t mean it has no value. Bogs are home to countless creatures and many rare plants. Please, please don’t misuse them.