Saturday, 18 June 2011

Four Mile Beach, Jillena Rose

Late evening on a barren sandbar
And three people range
Its perimeter in the long
Silent shadows of sunset.

Water moves.
The sand is moved upon.
If you walk the place they meet,
You become part of the


There are no deep thoughts here,
No rage, resolution,
Conviction or conjecture.
Only the movement that acts

On the senses. Senses that move
Over shadows, shadows
In low light
On the sand bar.

Friday, 17 June 2011

The St Marys River, by Peter Gianakura

When my siblings and I would visit the Sault Locks back in the 1930's and as we approached the first lock, we could hear a roar coming from the north near the Canadian border. We soon discovered this sound came from the St Marys Rapids. As we crossed the locks and came closer the sound grew louder.

While attending Sault High, a classmate invited me to fish off the shore and cast into the St Marys Rapids. I had never fished at that time, but my friend had countless times. As we stood at the rocky shoreline I could see close up the roiling, boiling untamed surge of the St Marys River as the waters hit and splashed over the rocks and boulders. Some of these rocks were visible, others were hidden, but all added to the disturbance of the flow and to the roaring sound. I was mesmerized at such a spectacle, such a wonder.

Today, crossing over the International Bridge, the much tamer rapids appear. Rocks and boulders are now much more evident, the water much slower and not as disturbing. At this point man has tamed the avid path of the St Marys River.

Still the St Marys flows with a swift and powerful current and one still wonders in amazement how the native Americans, by the thousands, fished these waters in the mad tumble of water with rocks and boulders threatening their canoes and lives. Their skill was admirable and the st Marys River was the home of endless fresh water fish. The St Marys River is the dividing border between two great nations and continues to feed on both sides the senses of sight and sound and the natural species of fish that are still available. This border not only creates a division between two great nations but it also creates a spiritual connection, a friendly relationship with our Canadian neighbors.

Besides the ambiance of its flowing majesty and electric power, the river also provides us a means of conveying tons and tons of new materials and grain to meet the demands and needs of our society.

It's easy to take the St Marys for granted, but regardless, her waters have blessed us all in the past, in the present and in the future.

May she continue to feed us body and soul.

Family and the River, by Cris Roll

I think when you live on a body of water like the St. Marys River (or Lake Superior), it’s so integral to your life that you often don’t think about it. It’s like your family. You take it for granted. It’s just there. You don’t think about the unique or odd or wonderful things about your family because they just are your family. It’s only when you get away from your family as you’re growing up and experiencing other families that you begin to see your own family more objectively. And, I daresay, you appreciate your family more when you compare them to other families.

The river’s like that in a way.

When I was a kid, there was nothing more comforting than hearing the freighters calling back and forth to each other in the night. I still enjoy going to sleep to that sound. Train whistles sound lonely to me, but freighter horns are deep and rich and comforting. Like being wrapped in a blanket on a cold night. I have a friend who I used to take late night strolls with around town who could tell which freighter was which just by the sound of the horns. It was something he picked up working on the boats.

My mother told stories about crossing the river on the ferry during World War Two to get a turkey for Thanksgiving because there was a meat shortage over here on the American side. My Veyette cousins who lived downriver told stories about crossing back and forth to Canada on the ice every winter. In my adolescence, our neighborhood gaggle of girls spent nearly every summer day basking in the sun at Sherman Park and eating popsicles from the concession stand over by the pavilion. One of the moms hauled us back and forth happily, I would guess, to get rid of us in the afternoons because we always congregated in her kitchen or the porch of the house next door. And as teenagers, we all heard stories about the dating couples that parked somewhere down by the river “to watch the submarine races.”

Before my dad died in 1957, he worked at the Locks and rode his bicycle across the top of the gates to get to his work station inside the big stone administration building. Now there are railings on those gates to prevent accidents. My dad never fell off or rode his bike off the gates.

In the early ‘80s, I moved downstate for about a year. There was one hot summer night when my friend and I drove around East Lansing looking for a dirt road because we missed the Upper Peninsula so much. We finally found a two- or three-mile stretch of dirt road but it turned into pavement and, there we were, back in civilization again.

I felt landlocked in East Lansing. I longed to see the river and Lake Superior again. I realized that I just needed to know it was there, whether I looked at it every day or not. The river and the lake had given me my sense of orientation and direction in the world. They’re always to the north (unless you live downriver).

When I left the Sault it was after the air force base had closed at Kincheloe. There weren’t many jobs, and I had gone looking for something better. I ended up in a job I hated, and the wages were no better than what I had made in the Sault. So many young people had left to never come back. People made jokes about making sure the last one to leave the U.P. would turn off the lights. But one day, I decided that everybody couldn’t leave. And I was one of them.

I took my chances, and I came back. Back to the Sault. Back to the river. And it worked out over time, although I was unemployed for months. And now, I can look at the river every day if I want to. I often don’t. But I know it’s there. Kind of like family, there when you need it.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

A Life on the River As told to Gregory Zimmerman

A Life on the River
As told to Gregory Zimmerman

Mose was a bit worried. Christmas season 1941 was coming up and he had just been laid off by the Army Corps of Engineers. He was 21 now and would have made a career of the Corps, but it wasn’t going to work out that way for him.

He had gained great experience on the river with the Corps, including working the river ice survey by skates. Skating the river provides a real close-up view. He knew the river well before that job, and even better now. And he knew his way around boats.

Growing up in downtown Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan, he was never far from the river. The odd jobs he worked as a kid included helping out on the US/Canada ferry. (Other odd jobs included helping at Callahan’s grocery store and even earning some commissions by connecting visitors to the Sault with boarding houses they could stay in. His dad had an unusual odd-job related to the river as well, working as an extra in the 1922 silent film “The Rapids,” filmed here in the Sault and featuring a very new-to-movies Mary Astor.)

That afternoon, Mose was up on the second floor of the federal building, looking into enlisting in the Navy. The sign posted on the board stated that would require a trip to Green Bay. That was a disappointment. A trip to Green Bay wasn’t going to work out at that time. Walking down the hall, he was approached by a man who asked it he’d like to work on the Favorite.

Mose knew the Favorite, just as everyone in town did. It was a heavy wrecking tug, one of the biggest around. It wasn’t the first tug to be called the Favorite, in fact it was the fourth, all pronounced with the long i. Its predecessor had an illustrious career working the river but had been sent off to distant duties. This slightly smaller Favorite had also earned a strong reputation for its muscle on the lakes.

Mose spent a year on the Favorite, including time as wheelman. The work was all across the Great Lakes, freeing grounded freighters, salvage operations, even light duty ice breaking. Mose got additional boat experience, including taking evasive maneuvers. During one particular night-time storm in south Lake Michigan, a breakwall appeared unexpectedly, visible only by the lightning illuminating the skies (this was pre-radar). Mose took her hard to starboard and prevented an collision with the breakwall.

The experience wheeling in the Great Lakes paid off. Mose ended up in the Coast Guard, in an LCI flotilla, in action in Africa and the landings at Sicily and Salerno. But before they could help invade Sicily and Italy, the flotilla had to get across the Atlantic. An LCI (Landing Craft Infantry) was designed for landing troops and equipment on the beach, not to cross the ocean. They were rather short ships to make an Atlantic crossing at only 158 feet long with a 23 foot beam, and with a flat bottom. They crossed the ocean in convoy, protected by larger, more heavily armed ships.

During one big storm in the Atlantic , some confusion cropped up about the exact location of all the other ships in the convoy. Mose was wheeling an LCI when he saw the boat immediately ahead looming closer. Another hard to starboard maneuver prevented a collision with the other boat. Mose served with the flotilla in Africa, Italy and England where the flotilla began to prepare for the landing in Normandy. Mose got to come home before Normandy and returned home (on the Queen Mary) safely.

Back from the war, the river continued to figure large in Mose’s everyday life in the Sault. Fire fighting became his career but his avocation was the river and woods. An avid fisherman (and hunter -- Mose also stewards an excellent 80-acre parcel he re-forested, the now 35-year old spruces provides great habitat.)

Mose knowledge of the river continued to expand as he spent hours and hours from the upper river to Drummond in his own boat and while ice fishing, often with Billie, his wife of 50+ years who has her stories about the river (such as having to run an extra set of keys down to Munuscong when something happened to Mose’s set).

Even back when others saw the river as a handy place to discharge waste, Mose saw it as a place worth protecting. He has seen slag dumped directly in the river, poorly treated waste water discharged into the river, and seemingly small actions such as people tossing garbage over the side of a boat. None of it makes any sense to him.

He speaks out against pollution, not in formal hearings, but among his friends and acquaintances. He has been involved in some organized efforts; he worked with Michigan United Conservation Clubs, helping collect petitions for the original Michigan bottle bill. When the Binational Public Advisory Council for the St. Marys River started in the late 1980s, he attended the first few meetings, but found the discussions a bit too drawn out. He viewed his part as being on the river, and talking it up in informal settings. He let others hash out the policies and procedures.

Mose still maintains his 16’ fishing boat, but at 91 doesn’t get out as much as he’d like to. He’s glad to see that the river is cleaner, but sees that we still have a lot of work to do, much of which involves changing people’s and governments’ opinions and habits.

We newcomers working on the St. Marys River cleanup recognize that we’re building on the attachment to the river of the previous generations of river residents. Not all of us can talk about spending a life on the river but we’re trying to keep it in good shape for those who can and so that future generations will be able to.

Monday, 13 June 2011

It Really Is Summer, by Britton Ranson Olson

We have a secret beach my family and I have shared for years picnicking and swimming from. You can't walk or drive to it, but must take a boat to get there. Our first attempt is usually in early June and our last in late September. There have been years we've been able to go into October, but rarely.

Every year the configuration of the beach changes, sometimes pretty dramatically. It’s always interesting to see what's happened during our first visit back after a rough winter. Sometimes there is a stream carved through it, sometimes an internal pool has been created, sometimes it’s big and broad and sometimes there is almost no beach at all. But it's always fun. And every year I can't wait to return and see what it looks like again.

The St Marys, Big and Blue by Robert Flowers

Summer days in the sun
Its rays warning our backs
Upbound, downbound freighters steaming
Their tremendous props churning the water
Their draft, pulling the water to the channel
Walking on the wet sand
Waiting for the water to return
Body surfing the wake to the beach.

Tossing a daredevil into the calm bay
feeling the thrill of a Northern Pike
fighting to escape the hook and line
12 year old arms, battling a 24 inch monster
I win. Now, how do I remove the hook
without those razor teeth lacerating my finger
It's so slimy, the fish skin

A yard full of sisters, and neighboring girls
sitting on the lush, soft grass
greased up in tanning oil
soaking in the sun
How could I, or my friend resist
tossing them all into the refreshing water
one at a time
We were teens after all.

Seemingly endless days of summer
The water was fresh and cold
We couldn't stand to remove ourselves
until our skin was blue
And the night air seemed cold
and we'd shiver for long long time
But the river took away all our cares
and bought peace into our lives

And the ice froze
And the shovels went to work
pushed by boys, who wanted to play hockey
Goal posts were made from chunks of snow
And we didn't want the girls to play
They always wanted to make the rules
No Slap shots, and now hoisting the puck! They'd cry out
And then, during the game, their goalie would lie prostrate, accross the net
taking away any chance to make a goal
But they could take slap shots, and hoist the puck.
They were girls.

17 years old
Can I use the canoe with my freind
You can, but don't cross the river in the dark
We won't
Then the night came
We launched the canoe
Not a flashlight to our name
and in the heart of the channel
a freighter steams up river
And we are in the channel
She can't see us
Adrenaline kicks in.
When it's critical, a canoe can move very fast.
We're still alive

Then we grew up
The river properties grew in value
grew because wealthy people discovered its beauty
Ordinary folks can't afford a house on the river any more.
I would live there still, if I could
And my grandkids would play in the water every day
and my sons would throw their sisters in the water
and the girls would cheat at hockey
and the world would be a great place to live.

Bob Flowers (Dawn Sundstrom's big brother)

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Memories of Growing Up on the St. Marys River, by Dawn (Cartwright) Sundstrom

Memories of Growing Up on the St. Marys River

Dawn (Cartwright) Sundstrom

Every summer as a child I spent on her shores, swimming, floating my cares away. To sit on the dock each day and listen to the soft lapping of water was serene & calming,

To view the beauty each day was a privilege and we knew we lived somewhere special.

Sweet memories of boat rides with Dad to Sugar Island to get a Fudge-sickle at the bait store,

Summers on the beach, watching the big freighters glide by, sucking out water, pushing back frothy waves, upsetting our sand castles.

Glorious days of swimming with friends and family, first time learning how to Dog Paddle, water-ski, and dive.

Scary moments of slipping under water and then big brother pulling me up from the depths.

Docks being built, boats dropping by to visit.

Party boats at night floating by with music, and people partying onboard.

Our Wedding in my parent’s front yard along her beautiful shores with a big Freighter saluting us after we took our vows.

Many days we basked in her greatness, family picnics, swimming all summer long…what lovely days and how I miss her!

I now live far away from the beautiful St. Marys River but I come home a couple times a year and I soak her in, the pretty blue waters…

I hope they never turn brown, green, or muddy…please keep her alive because she is our history and our future!