That wind came barreling down from the Northwest, over the hill into Grand Marais, and out to Lake Superior. At the uphill edge of town, a gust takes your breath. You walk three steps in place against it and turn away, staggering, to blink at the place where steel gray water meets paler sky. Beyond the horizon that wind piles water into mountains and overwhelms the Edmund Fitzgerald.
Grand Marais is a town with its face to a vast drinkable sea, cold enough to kill you almost any day of the year. The ghosts of colossal sturgeon claim its depths and wait, wait for the next of us to fall into torpor on the metallic surface and join them.
It’s a town with its back to a dark forest, too quiet to hide in.
In the worst of winter, cold steals into a cabin, snapping minds like twigs. A rifle repeats 5 times, and the wife, the kids, the head of household, lose their heat in dark pools, while outside, dogs whimper on heavy chains, waiting to be fed.
Should you survive, you’ll come out from under winter’s weight just in time for the descent of biting flies.
Why would anyone want to live here?
Perhaps because in the violent indifference of the place you also find beauty, and you sense the holy necessity of everything, down to the wriggling white grub, the bacteria digesting the fir needle, the chickadee’s insistent cheerfulness, the half-blind hulk of moose, even the mosquito’s whine.
And you want to know it, every part. You want to disappear into the heart of it.
This wanting can go several ways. It can die into hardness, the lack of gratitude for your own existence, and the need to battle against the suchness of the place. It can turn you into an expert on mushrooms. It can sing in your DNA, so that when you’re striding down an unpaved road, you’re blasted with an inkling of who you are. It can call you out, over and over, to the edge in the middle of hypothermia, where you let go, let everything go.
Like the inconsolable dawn, leaking into the coldest hour of night, a knowing seeps into your dark horizon. You are seen, embraced, loved. Every cell. Every clumsy thought. The place knows you.
It’s then that you realize: every day of your life will be spent in prayer. Every crunching footstep. Every stone tossed into the breathing water. Every sigh turning to frost in your hair.
For Barb L.