WHERE THE LOVE OF GOD GOES: The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

Does anyone know where the love of God goes
When the waves turn the minutes to hours…

–Gordon Lightfoot, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”

It was circa July 1973, and my husband and I—young, free-wheeling and in love, with more dreams than experience—embarked on a driving trip through upper Michigan.  We’d never been much farther north than Lansing at that point.  We pitched a tent along the way, getting to know Grayling and Mio, the Au Sable River and the Traverse City wine country, finally turning back when we reached Lake of the Clouds in Michigan’s Porcupine Mountains.

Along the way, we stopped at Sault Ste. Marie, on the St. Mary’s River.  Originally called “Sault du Gastogne” by early French fur traders, it was renamed by Jesuit missionary Pere Jacques Marquette in 1633, to honor the Virgin Mary.

The St. Mary’s River is the only water connection between Lake Superior and the Great Lakes; but there is a section of the river known as the St. Mary’s Rapids, where the water falls about 21 feet from the level of Lake Superior to the level of the lower lakes.  With ingenuity and persistence, the settlers built a series of locks, called the “Soo Locks,” to bypass the dangerous waters of the river—and in 1855, the steamer Illinois passed through the locks in less than an hour.  The four locks in use today permit shipping through the Great Lakes into the waters of Lake Michigan, connecting the American Midwest to the Atlantic Ocean.

Standing there at the Locks in 1973, Jerry and I watched as a freighter passed through the locks, the ship’s crew “manning the rails,” a tradition which showed that they had no evil intent.  We snapped 35 mm photos which were later developed into slides.

Only years later did we review the 35mm slides we took that day and realize that the ship we’d seen that day was the mighty and legendary Edmund Fitzgerald, destined for immortality as a “ghost ship.”

On November 10, 1975, just two years after we captured the ship and its crew on film, the Edmund Fitzgerald—en route from Wisconsin to Detroit’s Zug Island—sank in the waters of Lake Superior during a storm.  The ship broke in two, its crew of 29 were lost, and Gordon Lightfoot wrote his ode to the ship and its brave crew.  Today, 35 years after the loss, Old Mariner’s Church in Detroit still sounds its bells 29 times each day in honor of the sailors who lost their lives in this most famous of Michigan’s many shipwrecks.

Looking at the photographs today, I remember that these men—most in their 40s or 50s, and some as young as 21—were not planning to die that day.  They left loving wives, children, parents, and friends, drawn to the depths of the sea and the arms of their Creator.  Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord.

RIDING THE RAILS: What I Learned Aboard Amtrak Wolverine #351

Good morning, America, how are you? Don’t you know me—I’m your native son….
–train lyrics by Steve Goodman, “City of New Orleans”

I consider myself an experienced traveler.  Over the past twenty years I’ve explored seven or eight countries, and all but a couple of the contiguous American states.  I’ve traveled at least twice by train:  once as a small child, when my grandmother took me to Toledo aboard the last steam train to provide service in Michigan; and once with my own children to Ann Arbor for a day of museums and adventure.

So who would have expected that a five-hour train ride from Dearborn to Chicago would be so full of new experiences?  I mean, had I embarked on a cross-country ride on a Harley, or cruised the Yangtze, or hiked Mount Kilimanjaro, I’d have expected to be somehow changed by the experience.  But meandering along through Kalamazoo, Battle Creek, Dowagiac, New Buffalo, Hammond-Whiting, and Chicago?

Knobs and Handles – Planes and trains have followed distinct evolutionary paths—so the systems which I’d come to expect on an aircraft, such as a sliding door lock for the restroom, presented new challenges on the train.  The restroom faucet is an enigma in itself—there is no handle, and after a bit of fiddling I found that pressing against it from beneath released a splash of warm water.

The Secrets of Cities and Swamps – But I was surprised by more than the mere mechanics of the passenger car itself.  Cities and towns reveal an older, seedier side from the vantage point of a moving train.  I’ve driven Ypsilanti’s Main Street a hundred times, even enjoyed the festivals in historic Depot Town; but from the tracks one sees the city’s effluent:  its discarded bikes and lawn chairs and rubber tires, forgotten tractors, dirty, unwashed rear entrances.  At Kalamazoo, graffiti artists had reclaimed bridge abutments with their wild and colorful strokes.  In cities all along the way, beyond the weed-strewn bed lay smokestacks and service plazas, steeples and storage units, and the stubble of industry gone sour.  But here, along the tracks, nature had reclaimed the land.  Beavers had erected their lodge in a swamp; and I watched as a wild turkey rose from the low grasses, oblivious to the fate of its domestic cousins, already destined for stardom at next Thursday’s Thanksgiving feast.

And Most of All, the People – If cities and countryside are to be experienced and enjoyed, and animals are to be loved, how much more then can the people we meet enrich our lives and fill our hearts?

So it was for me aboard Amtrak Wolverine #351 on Thursday morning.  There were all kinds of plain and fancy folks:  young ingénues with laptops and DVDs; elderly vacationers heading off to see a brother in Missouri; unemployed workers seeking a career or just a job in the next town; business commuters, heading for meetings in the Windy City.

Seated behind me, a young man entertained his companion with tales from his personal “Blair Witch Project”:   “He spotted me on top of the building and called out, but I jumped and ran into the woods.  He followed, and I could hear his breath, hear the branches and twigs break beneath his feet.  He almost caught up with me, but then….”  To my disappointment, the two young men disembarked at Kalamazoo for a “seven-minute smoke break,” as promised by the conductor, and either stayed behind or returned to sit in a different seat, so I never heard the end of the story.

Amtrak’s conductors and crew were caricatures of themselves, as though pulled from central casting for “The Polar Express.”  The white shirts with epaulets and gray conductor jackets and hats were reminiscent of an earlier era, and from the portly conductor to his young female counterpart, all wore them with pride.  The youngest worker we saw, a girl barely past high school with wisps of long dark hair peeking from behind her ears, was so cute it brought a smile—and when I turned to my husband, I found him also grinning, enraptured by her youthful charm and oversized hat.

My life is so busy with “doing” that this experience—ten hours of forced “being” and “thinking”—was a great gift.  I was warmed by the sheer goodness of mankind, as evidenced by the people who were my companions on my journey.  How much, I thought, must God love us, if I can so love these people—people I scarcely knew, but who each, by their lives and comportments, revealed the essence of humanity.  It was a long, tiring, and very rewarding day!

Party Hearty, Michiganders: It’s SOCIAL MEDIA DAY!

Hurray, Facebook!  Let’s hear it for Twitter!  C’mon, YouTube!

If you’re in Michigan, as I am—and if you’re reading this post on-line, as you are—then let’s hear it for Social Media Day!!

Michigan’s Governor Rick Snyder, whose Twitter handle is @onetoughnerd, signed the proclamation on June 27, bringing to three the number of states which officially celebrate Social Media Day on June 30. 

And my home state of Michigan is no slouch, media-wise!  Boasting 137 social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, Michigan also has the second-largest Facebook presence of any tourism agency.  Its political Twitter account, @MIgov, has the third-largest following of any state government. 

And that’s not all:  Governor Snyder and other state officials frequently hold virtual town hall meetings.  The media website Mashable reports that online viewers can submit their questions via Twitter using hashtags such as #AskGovSnyder, #MIBudget and #MIJobs.

The virtual party will be tomorrow.  Michigan’s social media specialist, Nikki Sunstrum, explains, “As a state government, we really couldn’t hold a statewide party.”

Governor Snyder hopes that Michigan’s citizens will learn more about the benefits of social media, and will visit the state of Michigan social media website.