Wednesday, November 2, 2016

November 2: Lake Superior, Mount Superior, Something Miraculous

Monarchs are "tough and powerful, as butterflies go."  They fly over Lake Superior without resting; in fact, observers there have discovered a curious thing.  Instead of flying directly south, the monarchs crossing high over the water take an inexplicable turn towards the east.  Then when they reach an invisible point, they all veer south again.  Each successive swarm repeats this mysterious dogleg movement, year after year.  Entomologists actually think that the butterflies might be "remembering" the position of a long-gone, looming glacier.  In another book I read that geologists think that Lake Superior marks the site of the highest mountain that ever existed on this continent.  I don't know.  I'd like to see it.  Or I'd like to be it, to feel when to turn.  At night on land migrating monarchs slumber on certain trees, hung in festoons with wings folded together, thick on the trees and shaggy as bearskin.

I chose this passage because it talks about Lake Superior.  Every day, as I drive to work, Superior is in front of me.  On summer days, I can see its blue palm reaching out to the horizon.  If I stepped out of my office at the university right now, I could walk across the hall and stare out the window at Lake Superior, its vast plane of water.  On really sunny days, it's difficult to tell where the lake ends and sky begins.

Dillard collects interesting facts.  Until I read Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, I never knew that Lake Superior is leftover from an immense mountain.  It's difficult for me to imagine it, actually.  I've grown up around this freshwater sea.  The ore boats, big as a couple of football fields, steaming into the harbor.  The white water of winter storms, pounding away at the sand and rocks.  Yet, some time ago (thousands of years?  hundreds of thousands?) there was a mountain instead of a lake.  An Everest kind of mountain. 

I like the idea of living near a mountain that large.  Maybe some sort of Upper Peninsula Sherpa culture would have existed.  Monks living high up on Mount Superior, ringing bells, chanting on frigid January nights.  People coming from all over the world to scale its heights, with and without oxygen.  Base camps.  Maybe a Yeti or two.

In about half an hour, I have to go teach my film class.  Most of my students were raised in the Upper Peninsula.  Lake Superior is a common sight for them, like a toothbrush on the bathroom sink.  Nothing to get excited about.  My students don't think about the fact that, at its deepest point, Lake Superior could swallow the Empire State Building.  Amazing.  Or that there is 31,700 square miles of water out there.  Astounding.

I'm just as guilty as my students, though.  I don't always take time to recognize the miraculous stuff (like Lake Superior) that I encounter on a daily basis.  Whirlpools of autumn leaves.  A church bell chiming.  A really good ice cream cone.  Vanilla.  Nope.  I take it all for granted, until somebody points it out to me.

Last week, as I was walking to my car after teaching my film class, three deer walked into the parking lot.  I could hear their hooves snapping on the pavement, like a group of women in high heels walking down a sidewalk.  I stood there, watched them.  They stood there, watched me.  Maybe we were all doing the same thing:  admiring something strange, a little miraculous.

Saint Marty is hoping to see something miraculous before he goes to bed tonight.  Maybe his daughter will wash her dinner dishes.  That would be pretty amazing.

The monarch migration

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