Wednesday, June 30, 2010

From the top of Mount McKay formerly called Thunder Mountain one can have a bird’s eye view of Thunder Bay, an important shipping port in Ontario, Canada.

According to Ojibwe legend, this sacred mountain is the nesting place of the Thunder Bird, a creature huge enough to carry away men or horses. The mountain is used by the Ojibwe for sacred ceremonies.

There is another Thunder Bay on Lake Huron, but I will write about that one later.

Here is a link to Thunder Bay Ontario:

Monday, June 28, 2010

Lake Superior's North Shore

Grand Portage Minnesota

Twenty miles from Isle Royale the sound of waves washing and polishing stones may be heard.

Lake Superior's powerful waves have smoothed and shaped rocks of many sizes on the beach and ice moved inland by waves has stacked the rocks in piles on the beach. Small stones clink and roll back and forth in the foaming surf. It's a good place to find agates.

The sound of rushing water--the Pigeon River runs over twenty miles of rapids to empty into Lake Superior. This river marks the boundary between Minnesota and Ontario, Canada. It is also the boundary between the United States and Canada.

The high rock cliffs along the coast line of the North Shore face south at an angle and collect the warmth of the sun so it is often warmer on the coast than inland.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior

Hiking Isle Royale made me feel I was living in Edenic times.  Thimbleberry bushes  grow taller than people and bear delicious fruit.  We saw a moose and heard its cry like a rusty bugle but we never saw  the elusive wolves.   The quavering calls of loons rang through the air.  The reason it felt like Eden was the absence of cars and roads and the beautiful flora and fauna.  We hiked paths and found greenstones, a semi precious stone formed in the volcanic rock of the island.

We also saw ancient copper mines where the First Nations dug the very pure copper found on Isle Royale and traded it as far away as Texas thousands of years ago.

We had to buy tickets for the boat trip to Isle Royale far in advance.  A small plane also takes passengers to the island but tickets for the flight must also be purchased long in advance.

Even thought it is not easy to reach, the trip is well worth it.    Here is a link with particulars:

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Keweenaw Peninsula

A young eagle flies from Grand Island in Lake Superior.  On a northwesterly thermal he glides with little effort for 150 miles and sights the Keweenaw Peninsula jutting out into Lake Superior, an 80 mile spine of hard rock and at its end, the town of Copper Harbor.

A stand of ancient white pines provide a shelter where the eagle spends the night.  Called the Estivant Pines, they are a remnant of a virgin forest; one of the very few stands of this age that remains after the lumber jacks cut timber to build cities in the mid 1800's.  Below him the ground is covered with thick, fragrant pine needles that have accumulated for over 200 years.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Grand Island: American Bald Eagles

Near Munising, Michigan a pair of American bald eagles has built a large untidy nest on Grand Island in the tallest tree.  They have a clear view of their surroundings and an uobstructed flight path to an inland lake on the island.  Just as other bald eagles, the pair mate for life and return to their nest year after year.

Protecting their nesting territory which has an invisible radius of fifteen miles around it, the male of the pair rushes at an immature eagle--his voice like an unoiled hinge.  Startled by this display, the young eagle takes flight.  Seeing that he has successfully defended his territory, the eagle returns to his mate.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Lake Superior

Near Grand Marais, Michigan there are high sandstone cliffs called the Pictured Rocks that stretch for 38 miles.  I took a boat trip along this shore and saw a pair of peregrine falcons that had a nest on top of the rocks.  This was a great spot for them to dive upon their prey.

I could hear the sound of waves thundering in the caves at the base of the cliffs.  The soft sandstone of the Pictured Rocks was formed when saltwater seas covered much of the continental United States millions of years ago.  Later, the powerful wave action of Lake Superior carved the stone into many beautiful shapes: one resembles a castle, others three battle ships, two indian drums, a broken flower vase, and the profile of an indian's face.  The buff colored rocks are steaked with green, red and black caused by deposits of copper, iron, and other minerals along with white limestone.

The Pictured Rocks are covered on top with forested sand dunes.  In the Grand Marais area there are waterfalls to explore.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Whitefish Point in Lake Superior: Graveyard of the Great Lakes

Hidden beneathe Lake superior's waters lie the skeletal remains of many shipwrecks.  Sailors call it the graveyard of the Great Lakes because more that 300 ships have been lost there in Lake Superior storms including the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald 17 miles off of Whitefish Point.

The 729 foot ore carrier went down in a November storm in 1975 after being buffeted by 30 foot waves and tossed by 70 knot winds.  The ship broke in half and sank with all 29 crewmen.  It now lies in 530 feet of water.

There is a shipwreck museum at Whitefish Point: http//

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Mackinac Island and the Great Turtle

The distance from Beaver Island to Mackinac Island is 50 miles. Water pours through the Straits of Mackinac like wine from a bottle.

According to Native American legend, Mackinac Island was formed by a giant turtle. Storytellers long ago said that when the world was very young and all the living creatures were wandering over its surface looking for the best place to live, a large number of turtles came to the marshy southern shore of Lake Erie. Most of the turtles liked the spot so well they settled there. But the leader of the band, a huge turtle, was lured northward from Lake Erie by strange lights he had seen moving across the distant horizon. He could not persuade the other turtles to go with him so he made the journey alone.

When he reached a point of land that partly divided Lake Michigan from Lake Huron, he could go no further because the winds were cold and ice began to form around him. Finally he could go no further and an icy barrier froze him into place, a little black spot on a waste of frozen water. When the spring returned and the ice melted, the shell of the huge turtle remained fastened in place by a tall reed. As the years passed the turtle grew into an island which the Indians named Michilimackinac which means “the great turtle.” The island has always been an important place for Native Americans who told many stories about it.

Today no cars are allowed on the island. There are horse drawn taxis and lots of bicycles. I painted the picture when I was there. It is of me riding a bike and my daughter roller blading.

Link to my books and art.My books etc.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Beaver Island in Lake Michigan

photo Michigan DNR

Like many islands on the Great Lakes, Beaver Island is good habitat for frogs, turtles and snakes because of its coastal wetlands and lack of many predators.  Central Michigan University has a laboratory there that specializes in the study of reptiles.

Once when I visited the island by sailboat, I had a chance to see many interesting species.  There was a pet show for children and they had brought many varieties of frogs, snakes and turtles.  There were prizes for the best and most unusual pets.

Beaver Island is a popular island for sailboats, and power boats.  The island has 600 year round inhabitants, many of them Irish, but population increases with the tourists who visit in the summer.

It's a beautiful island.  On another occasion, I arrived on a small plane and toured the island where there were remnants of an old settlement.  Below is an article from Wikipedia about the King of Beaver Island:

 Although Beaver Island is known mostly today for its beaches, forests, recreational harbor and seclusion, at one time it was the site of a unique Mormon[11] kingdom.

The island's association with the Mormonism began with the death of Joseph Smith, founder of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Most Mormons considered Brigham Young to be Smith's successor, but many others followed James J. Strang. Strang founded the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Strangite), claiming it to be the sole legitimate continuation of the church "restored" by Joseph Smith. His organization still exists today (though not on Beaver Island), numbering up to 300 adherents.[12] His group initially settled in Voree, Wisconsin, setting up a community there which remains to this day.

Seeking a buffer from persecution and perhaps more isolation to increase his control of the group, Strang moved his followers to Beaver Island in 1848. The Strangites flourished under Strang's leadership and became a political power in the region. They founded the town of St. James (named after Strang), and built a road called the "King's Highway" into the island's interior that remains one of its main thoroughfares. The Strangites cleared land, built cabins, farms and other improvements, and sought to establish themselves as a permanent presence on Beaver Island.

Strang was elected to the Michigan House of Representatives in 1853, and again in 1855. He also founded the first newspaper in Northern Michigan, the Northern Islander. During Strang's stint in the legislature, he made Beaver the center of a new county: Manitou County included the Beaver Islands, Fox Islands, North Manitou, and South Manitou islands, with the county seat at St. James. Manitou County was disestablished by the state of Michigan in 1895 (see below).

Once established on Beaver Island, Strang declared himself a polygamist, a practice which he had previously opposed.[13] He had five wives and fathered a total of fourteen children.

In 1850 Strang proclaimed himself king, but not of the island itself. Rather, he claimed to be king over his church, which at that time contained most of the island's inhabitants. He was crowned on July 8 of that year inside a large log "tabernacle" built by his followers, in an elaborate ceremony that featured a crown (described by one witness as "a shiny metal ring with a cluster of glass stars in the front"),[14] a red royal robe, a shield, breastplate and wooden scepter. The Strangite tabernacle and Strang's modest house are both long gone, as are the Strangite royal regalia, but a print shop built by his disciples remains—the only Strangite building left on Beaver. Today, it houses a museum dedicated to the island's history.

Strang and his followers often clashed with their non-Strangites neighbors on Beaver Island and adjacent areas. While claiming to be king only over his own adherents, Strang tended to exert authority over non-Strangites on the island as well, and was regularly accused of forcibly seizing their property and of physically assaulting them. Open hostility between the two groups frequently resulted in violence. Strangites were beaten by local ruffians at the post office, while Strang once fired a cannon at an unruly group of drunken fishermen who had threatened to drive his people from the island.[15] Strangites held an increasing monopoly on local government, blurring the distinction between church and state in their "utopia".

While Beaver Island's would-be monarch held many progressive ideas (such as the conservation of woodlands), his autocratic style of rule came to be seen by many as intolerable. One edict, for instance, dictated the type of clothing Strangite women must wear (see bloomers). Two women refused and Strang had their husbands flogged, a task made easier after one of them was caught in the act of adultery with the wife of his business partner.

While recovering from their injuries, the husbands began plotting against Strang. On June 16, 1856, the United States Naval gunboat USS Michigan pulled into the harbor at St. James and invited Strang aboard. As Strang walked down the dock, the two men shot him from behind and then ran to the ship. The boat pulled out and dropped the men off at Mackinac Island without arresting them. Neither were convicted of the crime.

After Strang died from his wounds on July 9, 1856, mobs came from Mackinac Island and nearby St. Helena Island and drove the Strangites (then numbering approximately 2,600 persons) off Beaver Island, confiscating their property. With the Strangites' departure, local government in Manitou County (including Beaver Island) all but ceased. Courts and elections were rarely held. County offices were usually unfilled, and the area acquired a lawless reputation affirmed by Michigan governor John J. Bagley in 1877 when he called for the county's abolition.[16] A bill was accordingly introduced, but it did not pass. A new attempt in 1895 was successful, and the Beaver Islands became part of Charlevoix County while the Fox and Manitou islands became part of Leelanau County.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Door Peninsula Wisconsin

     With the golden sunrise at his back, the eagle leaves South Manitou Island and flies west across the clear, blue-green waters of Lake Michigan to the Door Peninsula, a finger of land jutting into Lake Michigan's waters from Wisconsin's mainland.  He is tired after his fifty mile flight that took him over the 45 degree latitude; exactly halfway between the equator and the north pole.  He rests in a tree on the shoreline and his head turns slowly and he tucks it under one powerful wing while one great foot locks around a white pine branch.

     On the west side of Lake Michigan the Door Peninsula stretches 75 miles separating the big lake from Green Bay.  Native Americans and French trappers found the channel so treacherous for their canoes they named it "porte des morts" or death's door.  Today it is simply called the Door Peninsula.

     It's shore line has been carved into caves, arches and cliffs by the turbulent waters. The limestone is part of the Niagara Escarpment laid down in ancient saltwater seas.  Fossils embedded in the rock show what creatures lived long ago.  Today ancient cedars cling to the rock and the woods ring with birdsong. 

    The area is famous for its fish boils: whitefish steaks, potatoes and onions prepared over an open fire. 

     The eagle sleeps in the branches of a white cedar clinging to layers of limestone.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Sleeping Bear Dunes on Lake Michigan

An American bald eagle scans the horizon from the top of Sleeping Bear Dune, the world's largest moving dune.  The eagle sees a ghost forest of dead trees where shifting sands had covered living trees and then as the sand shifted again, uncovered a stand of dead trees.

In back of the dunes an oak and aspen forest anchor the sand in place with their root systems.  There are deep ravines between the dunes.  A cougar hides in the shadows.

The eagle flies eight miles northwest toward South Manitou Island where he lands, feeds on a dead fish and rests for the night.

to be continued.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Chippewa Legend of Sleeping Bear Dunes

Sleeping Bear Dunes, are on Michigan mitten's little finger, the Leelanaw Peninsula.

164 feet above the shore, the highest dune, North and South Manitou Islands may be seen: the Chippewa called these islands the bear cubs. The Chippewa legend tells of a giant mother bear who swam across Lake Michigan from the opposite shore in Wisconsin to escape a forest fire. The mother bear told her cubs to follow her closely as she swam toward Michigan's shore, but the distance was too great for her twin cubs and they drowned within sight of the shore.

According to the legend, the Great Manitou, or Great Spirit of the lakes took pity upon the mother bear and changed her cubs into two islands when it saw her grief. Today she still looks over Lake Michigan; the shape of Sleeping Bear Dune is the shape of the great mother bear looking out toward her cubs who were changed into North and South Manitou Islands.

to be continued.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Great Lakes Relief Map

Seeing the Great Lakes from outer space gives us an appreciation for these freshwater seas. Click on the links for the map and for my books. Books by Barbara Spring