This week I waded in the cold and cleansing waters of Lake Gitche Gumee. While I didn’t go swimming in this Great Lake, I did wade in the shallows as the waves rolled in. Let me tell you, Lake Gitche Gumee is cold as hell, but it was worth every minute of it!
For those of you who are not familiar with the name of the big lake, Lake Gitche Gumee is a play on the Ojibwa words “gichi-gami, gitchi-gami or kitchi-gami for Lake Superior. Loosely, it does indeed mean “Big Sea” or “Huge Water.” Source: https://www.lakesuperior.com/the-lake/lake-superior/281almanac/
Lake Superior, or Lake Gitche Gumee, is the largest Great Lake. According to Wikipedia, it is 31,700 square miles and has average depth of 483 feet. At its deepest point, it is 1333 feet deep! Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Lakes
Given its size, volume, depth and location in the Northern Hemisphere, there is no question that this water would be cold!
Some of you might be wondering how cold Lake Superior is this time of year. Well, I grabbed some data for you, and you can see the current temperatures using the NOAA website: https://www.glerl.noaa.gov/res/glcfs/glcfs.php?lake=s&ext=swt&type=N&hr=45
To break the suspense: it was probably around 38 degrees Fahrenheit where I was wading!
For more information on Lake Superior’s Temperatures, check out the following links (including a surf report….in Lake Superior….really):
Some of you know that I have been doing almost daily (now M-W-F) videos on the Small Scale Life YouTube Channel called Getting Grounded. It is a chance for me to take a break, go outside and get in touch with Nature. I started it on New Years Eve 2021, and I have a bunch of videos where I am standing barefoot in snow at the Third Floor Castle in the Sky, while I’m on the road or when I am at Eagles Ridge (haven’t been barefoot there yet, actually).
On a phone call, my friend Mr. Tactical Jay said that he had never seen the Great Lakes. He lived in the Pacific Northwest, Arizona (experienced Sedona – that lucky dog), and now lives in the mountains of Virginia. He has only visited Minnesota to experience a frigid Seattle Seahawks vs. Minnesota Vikings Playoff Game. Yes, he got to witness the Vikings lose to Seattle when Blair Walsh’s winning field goal hooked left and missed completely. So sad….(snicker).
Since I was in Duluth, I decided to drive up the North Shore to get some video and photos to show my friend Mr. Tactical. It was a really nice day, and I had just gotten my work done. I had my cameras and a recorder, so I decided to head north to a little wayside rest north of town. I parked, walked down the rocks and found a nice spot that was out of the southern winds. This video is the result of that experience.
Given that I am a stubborn Pole-Czech-Dane, I wanted to connect with the lake and wade in it. I have been standing in snow all winter, so I thought it would be no big deal.
So I thought!
I stood in the shallow waters for a bit while I filmed my Getting Grounded Video and afterward. I am not going to lie: it was COLD! This is the video I took for Mr. Tactical and the rest of the Small Scale Life Tribe:
While it was cold, I love to be in water. Even though Capricorn is an earth sign, I find solace and comfort in water. I grew up in the water (lakes and pools), and I am excited that our Eagles Ridge property is on the Apple River. I will be forever connected to the water and let the river take me where it takes me!
For more Getting Grounded Videos, check out the Small Scale Life YouTube Channel:
Lake Gitche Gumee…Sacred Places
Local Native American tribes have long understood the dangerous nature of Lake Gitche Gumee. There is a sacred tree called Manidoo-giizhikens, or Little Cedar Spirit Tree, by the Ojibwe First Nation. Settlers called it the “Witch Tree,” but I like the Little Cedar Spirit Tree.
Ojibwe people would make offerings of tobacco to ensure their safety navigating the dangerous waters, and has been a sacred place long before the French explorers wrote about it in 1731. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Witch_Tree
CBS did a story about the Little Cedar Spirit Tree in 2015. I really liked what John Morrin, a historian with the Grand Portage Reservation Tribal Council, had to say about the tree in the article:
“It’s hard to walk that road, that straight road,” Morrin said. “And I think that’s what it’s trying to tell us, that it’s going to be very hard. You’ve really got to hold on to your sacred ways.”
This is so true and very wise words!
Because this is a sacred site, you cannot visit the site without a member of the native Ojibwe people of Grand Portage as a guide. It used to be open to the public, but some people just are dreadful and vandalize anything and everything (sacred, historic or not nailed down). It really is disgusting what some people do sometimes.
Gitche Gumee….in Song
One classic song about the Big Lake is “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” by Gordon Lightfoot. This song is about an iron ore ship that sank in a wicked storm on November 24, 1975. The ship took on water and sank to the bottom, taking all 29 men to the bottom with it.
All hands were lost.
There are many theories about how and why the big freighter sank, and many in the maritime community have argued about these theories for years. One thing is clear: the sinking of this massive freighter caused changes and new rules for the Great Lakes shipping industry.
One of the biggest changes was in the mindset of the captains and crews: captains no longer were so cavalier about sailing heavy seas and big storms. One of the biggest freighters went down with all hands lost; they now understand the power and dangerous nature of Lake Gitche Gumee, especially when the Gales of November come calling.
The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald – Lyrics and Song
The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald lyrics © Warner Chappell Music, Inc
Songwriters: Gordon Lightfoot
The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they called Gitche Gumee
The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead
When the skies of November turn gloomy
With a load of iron ore twenty-six thousand tons more
Than the Edmund Fitzgerald weighed empty
That good ship and true was a bone to be chewed
When the gales of November came early
The ship was the pride of the American side
Coming back from some mill in Wisconsin
As the big freighters go, it was bigger than most
With a crew and good captain well seasoned
Concluding some terms with a couple of steel firms
When they left fully loaded for Cleveland
And later that night when the ship’s bell rang
Could it be the north wind they’d been feelin’?
The wind in the wires made a tattle-tale sound
And a wave broke over the railing
And every man knew, as the captain did too
T’was the witch of November come stealin’
The dawn came late and the breakfast had to wait
When the gales of November came slashin’
When afternoon came it was freezin’ rain
In the face of a hurricane west wind
When suppertime came, the old cook came on deck sayin’
“Fellas, it’s too rough to feed ya”
At seven PM, a main hatchway caved in, he said
“Fellas, it’s been good to know ya”
The captain wired in he had water comin’ in
And the good ship and crew was in peril
And later that night when his lights went outta sight
Came the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald
Does any one know where the love of God goes
When the waves turn the minutes to hours?
The searchers all say they’d have made Whitefish Bay
If they’d put fifteen more miles behind her
They might have split up or they might have capsized
They may have broke deep and took water
And all that remains is the faces and the names
Of the wives and the sons and the daughters
Lake Huron rolls, Superior sings
In the rooms of her ice-water mansion
Old Michigan steams like a young man’s dreams
The islands and bays are for sportsmen
And farther below Lake Ontario
Takes in what Lake Erie can send her
And the iron boats go as the mariners all know
With the gales of November remembered
In a musty old hall in Detroit they prayed
In the maritime sailors’ cathedral
The church bell chimed ’til it rang twenty-nine times
For each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald
The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they called Gitche Gumee
Superior, they said, never gives up her dead
When the gales of November come early
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