Hangin’ on the South Pier

I had to wait for some work colleagues on a pier on Duluth’s Ship Canal last week. They were late. I had a camera. Enjoy the fruits of my boredom!

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Duluth’s Aerial Lift Bridge (from a different perspective than usual.)

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A ship, the American Spirit, enters the ship canal. Looks like it’s going to crash, doesn’t it?

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A friendly little house wren kept me company. It was catching bugs behind the lighthouse on the pier.

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When my colleagues arrived, they installed a wave gauge pressure sensor off the pier that will be used to help detect and predict the presence of rip currents, which can sweep unwary swimmers out into Lake Superior. The local newspaper wrote a (front page!) story about the project. Read it here.

A Lake Superior Cruise

I stopped freelance writing a few years ago, choosing instead to focus on writing fiction and poetry. (And this blog!) I was tired of hiring out my brain for somebody else’s use, since that’s what I do all day at work already. Thankfully, I also no longer had a financialLSMagazineMay16 need to freelance, so I made the conscious decision to stop.

That worked well until about a year ago, when I took a cruise on Lake Superior aboard the Wenonah, the ship that took me on my first trip across the lake.

The cruise dredged up old memories. I considered blogging about them, but once I started writing, I realized I had a story I could sell, dang it!

Alas, I succumbed to freelancing, but at least the story was one I truly wanted to write. I know, poor me. It’s a good problem to have.

My story was recently published in Lake Superior Magazine. It’s a superb magazine — pick up a copy and check it out! (Page 14.)

They also published a couple of my photos. But I have gobs of other photos I took that day, which I thought I would share with you. Please enjoy this virtual cruise along Lake Superior’s North Shore.


The Wenonah at Silver Bay Marina.



The tip of Gold Rock, site of a shipwreck in 1905 that claimed a life.


That turquoise water looks like the Caribbean, doesn’t it? I wouldn’t jump in though. It’s a bit nippy.


Coming around Split Rock Lighthouse. Not many people get to see the lighthouse from a mariner’s view.


A more classic view of the lighthouse.


People frolicing with gulls on an island off Silver Bay.


Piles of taconite pellets waiting to be shipped south to be made into steel.


The taconite plant in Silver Bay, although it looks more like a cloud factory. Perhaps it’s not beautiful, but it’s part of the cultural landscape of this area.


The rugged coastline of Lake Superior’s North Shore.




The ‘Castle’ has Fallen, Spring Must be Coming

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The Lake Superior Ice Project formation collapsed near my workplace this week, and that means spring can’t be far behind. The photo above is from a week ago when the right part of it collapsed, and now the whole thing is a pile of ice rubble.

When the collapse in the picture happened, we weren’t sure if it was planned or not. It caused a bit of a stir in the office – especially since last year the structure had a rather spectacular and unintended collapse right in front of a New York Times reporter. But we later heard that the formation’s creator, Roger Hanson, had been working for the past few days on dismantling his ice castle.

It would have been nice if he had alerted the public that he was dismantling the structure. The woman in my photo complained that she would have come to see it earlier had she known. And it could have avoided some surprise and speculation.

I have “castle” in quotes in this posting’s title because the ice never ended up looking like the European-style castle with four towers that Mr. Hanson described in media stories. It looked more like a birthday cake with a door in it to me. I suspect our warm El Nino winter had something to do with that.

The structure also didn’t break any world height records as hoped, but it did serve as a focal point for a community Ice Festival, complete with fireworks.

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Ice orbs during the freezing process.

A related icy project (that I actually helped with instead of snarking about) involved bringing community groups together to create ice orbs in the shape of Lake Superior. The City of Superior’s Environmental Services Division organized this collaborative art project to highlight the importance of fresh water to the community. Different groups pledged to create a certain number of ice orbs so that 365 of them (Get it? One for each day of the year) could be installed near the ice castle for the festival.

The project was called Orb365 and, along with instructions on how to make the orbs, the project included educational messages about how water reacts to freezing and ways water is important.

I pledged 10 orbs, which I created by filling water balloons and sticking them outside in hopes that they would freeze. I started the freezing process four days before the orbs were needed, certain that would be plenty of time, especially in February in northern Wisconsin. However, the weather was so warm, the orbs didn’t completely freeze until the very last night, eliciting some anxiety on my part.


Lake Superior shaped in ice orbs.

Triumphant, I was able to deliver the orbs the following day to the “orb construction site” where a city worker artistically arranged them into the shape of the lake, and festooned them with lights. She positioned larger orbs to represent major cities around the lake.

Alas, now the orbs are melted along with the castle. The snow is almost gone, and the meatloaf-brown grass of spring is upon us. Although this winter was warmer than usual, I’m not going to complain about it. I’m sure the northern weather gods will make us pay for it next winter.

Working by the Duluth-Superior Harbor and Lake Superior

Huge chunks of ice piled atop eachother off of Wisconsin Point, Superior WI

Huge chunks of ice piled atop eachother off of Wisconsin Point, Superior WI in April.

No deep thoughts for this week; just wanted to show you some photos I’ve taken recently at and near my office on an island in the Duluth-Superior Harbor. I feel so fortunate to work in such a cool place and I never take it for granted. Ice can still be found in the bays and along the shore, but the spring break-up is finally here and it’s as if a bottleneck of birds has been unleashed upon the waters. I haven’t taken any bird photos, but I did manage to catch a fox kit out the office back door, an instant before it got scared away by someone approaching outside.

A fox kit investigates a stick as seen out the back door of my office last week.

A fox kit investigates a stick as seen out the back door of my office last week.

Yesterday I accompanied some researchers out on the St. Louis River Estuary. They were taking water samples for an ongoing project about seasonal water quality variation in the river. Because it was a calm day, we went out on Lake Superior just for kicks, through the Superior Entry. I got a good shot of the lighthouse despite the chilling wind that stole my cap later on and dunked it into the river. The researchers were nice enough to turn the boat around so I could retrieve it. My cap is now christened in the estuary, so I guess I’ll have to wear it out there all the time now. Anyway, I love the reflection in this photo!

The lighthouse that guards the Superior Entry into Lake Superior.

The lighthouse that guards the Superior Entry into Lake Superior.

On the other side of the breakwall was the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredger and some tugboats. The Army Corps dredges the harbor (digs out the muck) to ensure that the harbor is deep enough for the boats that ply its waters. The dredge is resting here. I thought this photo looks like a little mechanical family; papa dredge, mama tug and baby tug. Enjoy!

Dredge and tugs, Superior WI Entry to Lake Superior

Dredge and tugs, Superior WI Entry to Lake Superior

The Music of Nature

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Nature isn’t just what we see. It encompasses all our senses. Think of the vanilla essence of Ponderosa Pines, the rough grains of sandstone, and the sound of a dolphin’s exhale as it surfaces. We’re so used to the visual it’s challenging to remember other senses, especially in environmental and scientific work. I recently learned there’s a field that specializes in sound and the environment. It’s called acoustic ecology.

Acoustic ecology explores the relationship between living beings and the environment through sound. This can take many forms, from delving into what a forest sounded like 70 years ago when different species of birds lived there, to the affect of car alarms on the urban environment.

On a blustery day this past October I had the chance to talk with an acoustic ecologist. Chris Bocast is a talented musician who specializes in the field. He just finished producing a podcast about Lake Superior for our joint employer, Wisconsin Sea Grant. The series isn’t an example of acoustic ecology per se, but it does show how sound can illustrate environmental topics.

Because I’ve worked around Lake Superior for many years, Chris wanted to include me in the series. And of course, I couldn’t let him get away without covering the St. Louis River Estuary, too.

We met during a Sea Grant conference in downtown Duluth. For the interview we walked next door to the historic Greysolon Plaza Hotel. We sat in the hotel’s ornate and quiet mezzanine lounge.

In the middle of our conversation, Chris asked, “What’s the function of an estuary in an ideal ecosystem?” I replied that I happened to have written a poem about that, and darned if the poem didn’t make it into the series. It’s “Two Sisters” from my last entry.

Click here to listen to the Lake Superior podcast series. My poem can be found near the end of program #7 (Superior’s Sister).

The piano-based ambient music Chris created for the podcasts is unnamed. He told me it’s designed to evoke a sense of the pristine. I don’t know about you, but I could bliss out on his music all day.

Two Sisters

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I used to have a sister. She died years ago under unfortunate circumstances, and Lake Superior holds her ashes. If you’ve read my novel “Eye of the Wolf,” what happened to the main character’s sister (Melora’s sister) is similar to what happened to my sister.

People often ask me if parts of the novel are autobiographical. Of course, the story is drawn from my experiences, and I combined the traits of several friends to make up a character or two. (They know who they are!) But I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s autobiographical, especially not the werewolf parts. (Grin) It’s the same with the poem below. It’s not about my sister but it contains her essence. I remember feeling like the ugly duckling compared to her more classical beauty.

Although I know that poems are supposed to speak for themselves, I would like to explain this one. The poem is about two things I love: Lake Superior and the St. Louis River Estuary. (The river in Minnesota, not Missouri.)

My love for the estuary came second and was harder won than my love for the lake. Lake Superior is what the tourists come to see. It’s picturesque and impressive; easy to love. The estuary is part of the less glamorous, roll-up-your-sleeves-and-let’s-work Duluth-Superior Harbor. It’s where taconite, coal and grain are unloaded from trains onto ships, where salt and cement dust sit in stockpiles, where polluted Superfund sites were left for us by our forebearers. But farther upstream, the river gets as wild as any federally designated wilderness. You just have to get out there and experience it to know.

I came to appreciate the estuary when I worked for Minnesota Sea Grant and the St. Louis River Alliance, both water-related organizations. Lake Superior is so huge, it’s hard to feel like you’re having an impact, whether one is a polluter or a restorer. The estuary is more manageable, and impacts can be seen more easily. I liked feeling that the work I did made a difference to the local environment.

The appreciation took a few years to grow, but it’s in me now and doesn’t diminish the respect I have for the lake. It’s like the parental cliché about adding another child to one’s home. Your capacity to love simply widens to encompass two instead of one.

Or it’s like having a sister. I hope you enjoy the poem.

Two Sisters

I am the quiet, hard-working one.
My sister gets all the attention.
She is larger than life, loud, showy.
I am slender, forgotten, kind to animals.
Her eyes are icy blue.
Mine are a warm brown.

My sister has a temper.
You know when she’s angry.
She’ll slap you and swallow you whole.
I am calmer, still dangerous, but
my hands are gentler.

These days, people are taking notice of me.
A team is giving me a make-over.
I may never be as popular as my sister, but
I have a lot to offer. It’s all a matter of
making the most of my assets,
repairing the neglect and over use,
restoring the smooth skin of my youth.

My sister, she might get jealous, but what can she do?
I’m protected by my friends who stand in a line between us.
Besides, what does she have to be mad about?
My life flows into hers.
What helps me, helps her.

©2013 Marie Zhuikov