"This Urge to Remain in Lake Superior, Forever" by Kathleen Heideman, 2008

A historic wood boathouse is on the right and sits right on the lake, two small boats sit on a dock attached to the boathouse. A near shore is visible across from the boathouse.
Edisen Fishery

NPS Photo

At Edisen Fishery, we find racks for drying nets that no longer get wet,
a dory split open along the keel like a gutted herring, upended in sun,
and cork floats no longer flung at dawn, with prayers for safe return, over water.

Old boathouses dot the craggy shorelines, sagging in the middle,
broken by snow or cedars, toppling in slow motion to meet their reflections.
They know in their waterlogged bones where they'll retire: deep water.

When the National Park was created, landowners were given a choice:
sell outright, or put the island in the name of the youngest. Men hired lawyers,
children became life-leasees, and women signed their names with salt-water.

But after a boat sinks, don't you think certain men dream of resurrecting it
— diving down to work the nets again? Some cabins were removed,
resorts burned — sleeping cabins rafted away like wood-smoke on water.

 
A metal boat with Voyageur II on the side rests at a dock on a sunny day
Voyageur II in Rock Harbor

Photo courtesy of Yeva Cifor

Maybe the mailboat will never return. Who'd notice? But it used to be an event:
Mail! In old photographs, everyone's still crowded at the dock, anxious
for parcels, letters, news. The Voyageur carves a terrible wake in the water

when it finally arrives — my canoe nearly capsizes with excitement!
She swallows my postcards and steams off, unsatisfied. These islands are dotted
with objects that once served Purpose: saws for cutting frozen lakewater,

ornate iceboxes, kitchen cupboards populated by antique flour-sifters,
pie-crust crimpers, heat-diffusers, cast-iron griddles, "refrigerators" of chicken wire
where milk and eggs cooled naturally, a fresh breeze lifting from icy water.

A few faithful apple trees continue dropping apples — but who remains
to make windfall pie? We search the shore for rusty lanterns, shards of china,
wave-licked bedsprings. Didn't we save these cabins among rocks and water

to remind us of our place in the world? Didn't we each sign a life-lease?
All things serve until broken: bins with their names stamped in tin, Flour,
Sugar, Coffee, Tea, Grease — even grease! — and a clean bucket named Water.

My father, still farming, fears retirement. What would I do? he demands —
What would I do? He's spent his life milking cows, sharpening plows, baling hay.
Now he shakes his head, stares out over hayfields as if they were dangerous waters

where a terrible Cruise Ship full of lounge chairs will arrive, and force him to board.
The Voyageur carries passengers and letters sent c/o life-leasees, but rarely does it check
this harbor for outgoing mail. Spiders string nets under the maildock, at the waterline.

This urge to remain in Lake Superior, forever — who can deny it? O give us chores,
let us stand a few harsh decades more, a cabin braving every storm until thy aspen's
lease be gnawed down by beavers, dragged by God's own teeth into blessed water.

 

Last updated: December 17, 2019

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