Although part of me likes the idea of a weekend with no events to attend and dreads yet another “big” weekend in Cook County, I am intrigued with a new idea concocted to bring visitors up the North Shore—the Lake Superior Storm Festival.
The Cook County Visitors Bureau has come up with a delightful scheme to turn a negative into a positive. As I wrote in last week’s Unorganized Territory, it is easy to start feeling blue this time of year. The brilliant fall colors are gone, leaving barren trees against gray skies. It’s getting cold and damp and it gets darker earlier and earlier. Why would anyone want to visit the North Shore in this dreary period between fall colors and snowfall?
Those of us who live here know the answer to that. We know that when all the leaves have fallen, new vistas open up. We get to see interesting rock formations that are hidden by foliage when it’s warm and are covered with snow when it’s cold. Wildlife starts moving around and is easier to spot deer or moose or wolves through the trees. It’s fun to see a snowshoe hare in the midst of its transformation from muddy brown to snowy white. The lovely tamarack lingers, adding an infrequent splash of color.
And then there are the storms. Because the trees have shed their cover, we get more glimpses of Lake Superior as we’re driving to work or taking a hike. And the always-changing Big Lake is even more temperamental as the temperatures cool.
There are days in the fall and winter when the lake is deceptively calm. It is in the fall that the lake most often turns a beautiful periwinkle blue. And as winter approaches, as November arrives, the lake gets stirred up. Lake Superior is perhaps at its most dangerous in November. There are innumerable stories of shipwrecks in the bitter storms of November. Most memorable for my era is the Edmund Fitzgerald, immortalized by Minnesota songwriter Gordon Lightfoot, but hundreds of other ships have been lost on Lake Superior in the Gales of November.
According to the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point Light Station in Michigan, an estimated 6,000 ships have been lost in the Great Lakes and 30,000 lives have been lost. Not all of those lost were on Lake Superior or in November, but many were—the SS Algoma that ran aground off shore of Mott Island on November 7, 1885; the SS Mataafa, Madeira and Amboy lost in the Mataafa Storm of 1905; the SS Henry B. Smith lost in the Great Lakes Storm of 1913; the Chester A. Congdon that ran aground in fog off Isle Royale on November 6, 1918; the SS Myron, a wooden steamship that sank in November 1919; and of course the Edmund Fitzgerald on November 10, 1975.
Despite the sad fate of so many ships and so many mariners, or perhaps because of them, we are drawn to the lake when those gales arrive. Every time there is a major storm, with wicked winds and high seas, people rush to watch the water. We are impressed by the waves slamming against the shore, splashing up and over the Grand Marais lighthouse, the lakewalk near Bluefin Bay in Tofte or Hollow Rock in Grand Portage. It is thrilling to listen to the roar of the wind and the waves and to feel the spray of frigid water—from the safety of the shore.
So the visitors bureau is clever to promote our storm season. Instead of wringing its hands about declining “heads in beds” in local lodges and resorts because of inhospitable weather, the visitors bureau is capitalizing on the dreary season of weather too cold for camping and too warm for skiing and snowmobiling.
I like the idea. I think it’s a good thing to share our love of the lake with others, especially if it helps give our local economy a little boost with off-season visitors.
It may be tempting fate to encourage people to come see a storm—it may not arrive on cue—but the visitors bureau has carefully tailored its message to not promise big waves, but instead many fun activities about Lake Superior and her storms.
I’m happy to see that a number of Cook County businesses and community members have gotten on board and are offering activities like a funky fashion show at Stone Harbor Wilderness Supply; a chilly dip in Lake Superior in the Wave Dash at Lutsen Resort; artistic opportunities at The Garage in Grand Marais; and storm-related music at Cascade Resort in Lutsen.
The schedule of events is pretty small for this inaugural Lake Superior Storm Festival, but it reminds me of the first Moose Madness event in grand Marais. That overwhelmingly successful event started out small as well.
It will be tough to match Moose Madness since that is held over the Minnesota Education Association (MEA) weekend, traditionally the last big family weekend, but the Storm Festival may be successful in an entirely different, quieter way. Moose Madness is a bit mad—lots of boisterous kids, a silly moose walking around Grand Marais, and nearly as many people as the 4th of July.
The Lake Superior Storm Festival might just be what we all need—Cook County residents and visitors alike. Because in addition to the fun activities lined up during the festival weekend, there is a reminder to stop and just watch the lake. We shouldn’t need an event or a major storm to do that. But we often get swept up in our busy dayto day duties and we forget that we have one of the deepest, coldest, most peaceful, most angry, most beautiful bodies of water at our doorstep. Stop and enjoy it during the Lake Superior Storm Festival on November 7-10. Stop and enjoy it every day.
Sit in reverie and watch the changing color of the waves that break upon the idle seashore of the mind.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow