"It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door" … "You step into the Road, and if you don't keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to."
~ Bilbo Baggins from The Fellowship of the Ring by JRR Tolkein

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Why Lake Michigan? Why Pilgrimage?

Most of my life spent on the Shore of Lake Michigan

I just realized that I’ve spent most of my life residing within 4 miles of the western shore of Lake Michigan. Over that time I came to anchor my internal compass on THE LAKE.  Its always east. Even if I can’t see it, THE LAKE secures that part of the dial. I can navigate from there. I noticed this for the first time when I tried to find my way on the west coast of California; water is not supposed to be on the West. My internal map had been turned upside down.

Despite that proximity, or maybe because of it, I grew up taking THE LAKE for granted – its beautiful blueness, its limitless horizon, its fresh waterness, its fishy smell, its clean drinking water. The first time I visited New Mexico I was appalled at how dry and treeless it was. How could anyone live in a place like that, with no lake for comfort? But, at least the mountain was on the east. My internal compass functioned very well in Albuquerque.

Have known little of its history - until now

I grew up learning a small amount of THE LAKE’S history, both natural and human – enough to be in
Doing Lake Michigan research
during February snow storm

awe of the Big Water, freighted of the shipwreck history. I’ve traveled some of the lake shore, particularly from Chicago north to Door County, a little bit north of that to Marinette, a little on its eastern shore up to Warren Dunes, and then a big leap to Mackinaw Island. But, there’s a big swatch from Marinette over to Mackinaw through the UP (Upper Peninsula of Michigan) and down the west coast of the state of Michigan that I’ve never seen, much less understood.

A "Green" Pilgrimage to THE LAKE'S Sacred Places

But, now in the last few months, in anticipation of this trip, I’ve done lots of reading about THE LAKE both its natural and human history. When we did our bike trip to Door County last year I lamented not knowing the histories of the towns we passed through. I knew even less about the geology. Now I know a little more and want to give life to my newly acquired book learning. I want to ride the roads and put real places into my maps. I want finally, after all these years living so close by, to take THE LAKE into myself, and put some of those history pieces together. I could say that this will be an odyssey of discovery: “an extended adventurous voyage or a spiritual quest.” But I prefer pilgrimage: “a journey made to a sacred place,” because to me THE LAKE is truly sacred. 

Wikipedia mentions a new, Green Pilgrimage Movement, one focused on minimizing the impact of vast numbers of pilgrims on the very sites they revere. Thus, to do this pilgrimage to the sacred sites of Lake Michigan by bike is a fitting and proper fulfillment of my obligation to care for the current environment of THE LAKE as well as to learn its history.

Encounter Lake Michigan's History with me as I ride

On this pilgrimage I intend to pay homage to the whole gambit of Lake Michigan history: from sand dunes and their environs, to abandoned mining towns and smelting factories, to shipyards and shipwrecks. I want to learn some about fruit growing and forest fires, to put my hands on ancient rock and to trace the Niagara Escarpment outcroppings. I want to visit fur trading sites and the forts of Mackinaw and St. Ignace, to learn more about Father Marquette & Joliet and walk through Indian mounds and Ojibwa settlements. I also want to see the current state of industry and commerce. Now that the woods, the iron and the fish have been decimated what’s left? Who’s surviving and how are they doing it?

I've pulled together a bibliography of Lake Michigan history books and articles you might like to consult if this whole idea intrigues you. You'll find it on the right side. Click on the link and check out the list. Unfortunately, the very best source I've found appears to be out of print, Margaret Beattie Bogue's 1984 Around the Shore of lake Michigan: A Guide to Historic Sites. Ms. Bogue was a history professor at the University of Wisconsin - Madison and her professional discourse is a nice change from the usual local histories I've read. I found the book at the Milwaukee Map Store last November when I went looking for a Lake Michigan Map. It contains a great but simple map of the lake with its historic sites numbered and catalogued. In addition to the site references Ms. Bogue also gives us 100 pages of professional historical writing about The Lake from geology to glaciers to Native Americans, French fur trappers on into and through the industrial age. If you're a history buff as am I, buy it when you can find it. Or check for it in your library. I'll be referring to many of her references throughout the trip. A slightly new book, Lake Michigan: A Guide to all towns, rural areas and natural attractions by Donna Marchetti , 2000 is still in print and contains many of Ms. Bogue's referenced sites.

You'll also find a list of Lake Michigan sites we hope to visit in the right column. (Those of you reading this on e-mail will need to log into the actual blog to pick up these extra bits if you're interested.) I've listed them in the order we'll be riding - counter-clock wise starting in the Chicago area - and separated them into the Stages of our journey. As much as I'd like, I know we won't get to all of them, but I hope to hit the highlights. If there are other, less obvious ones you think we should check out, let me know. Hopefully each day's travel will include one or two. 

Through these visits I hope to soak in their meaning, absorb the history a little, feel the pull of nature. I’m willing to hold sacred both the human and environmental history.  I’m willing to work through what should be several levels of paradox. I’m trusting that somehow, experiencing THE LAKE up close I’ll see some confluence.

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