Gitche Gumee

I just returned from a short trip to my father’s cabin on Lake Superior in Northern Ontario. The last time I was up in August 2011, my father and brothers were still alive. My parents went up every summer in late July, after the bugs cleared out, and stayed until late September or sometimes early October. Before this year, I’d never been to the cabin without my parents being there with me. It was the place I went to spend time with them each year. Visiting them in Houston, a 2.5-hour drive from my home, would have been closer. But the cabin is special. And so I traveled to Canada in late August nearly every year. 2011 would be the last trip for my dad.

It’s been nearly two years since he died, and I thought I’d healed enough that I could manage being there in his absence. And if I couldn’t, well, the Big Lake has energy that can heal broken hearts.

The Big Lake They Call Gitche Gumee

Soon after I’d arrived, I realized I should have taken the trip alone. It would have made it a lot easier to just let go each time I burst into tears over seemingly random things. My father’s clothes hanging in the closet. Working on the water pump in the rain. Watching the chipmunk filling his cheeks with leftover blueberry pancakes. Sitting on the deck in the misty morning with a cup of coffee, the loons floating out front fishing for breakfast. The memory of my father sleeping upside down in the bed because of the spatial disorientation from Alzheimer’s.

On this morning, I fed him peanuts rather than pancakes.
On this morning, I fed him peanuts rather than pancakes.
Morning Loon
Morning Loon

But I brought a friend, and so I kept trying to keep a lid on the emotions that kept bubbling up and overflowing. When I wasn’t busy trying to keep the tears from leaking out of my eyes, I was trying to keep myself from shushing my friend. As it turns out, she is a talker. She simply could not bring herself to shut the hell* up for five minutes at a time and just enjoy the sound of the waves, and the wind, and the quiet. She talked endlessly of the most mundane and uninteresting things. And when I didn’t respond to her prattle, she talked on and on to herself, an endless loop of mumbling interspersed with loud cackling. I imagined tying a rock to her neck and throwing her into the lake.

*The word in my head here was not hell. But I am trying to be more judicious in the dropping of the F bomb into my posts.

I’ve got nothing against talking. I too enjoy opening my mouth and letting thoughts spew forth. I can prattle on with the best of them. But I know when to shut up and listen. I know when there is not one thing I can possibly say that would be more important than the call of the loon. The rippling of the water against the rocks on the shore. The wind brushing through the leaves of the birch trees.

Just the thought of those sounds soothes me. I needed a tremendous amount of soothing this year. Soothing I did not get. And so I will conjure up those sounds and lose myself in my imaginings, until next year.

Next year, when I return to the Big Lake they call Gitche Gumee. 


  • You brought the wrong friend. I bet it is pleasant with her if you sit in a bar or on your couch and WANT some kind of chitty-chatter to go on as background noise. But at a place where you know you want to enjoy nature and some sweet and sad memories she is out of place. That is the right kind of place to take a dog with you – or a silent friend. Maybe you should not have kept a lid on your emotions – that might have given her the right sign to leave you to your emotions. Most people go speechless at the sight of grief.


    • I did indeed bring the wrong friend. Most of my friends are talkers, to a point. As am I, at times. But we know when to be still. There are lots of dogs up there. A couple we visited with down the road from me has a labradoodle and a white golden retriever. What a paradise for those sweet pups.


  • Next time, next year, go by yourself with a fishing pole and a decent tackle box. You’ll enjoy yourself. And, for the fish you don’t catch, that’s what a supermarket is for.


  • Your imagery took me back to my own childhood and a lake my family used to visit. The loons and chipmunks were all there plus that gorgeous sunset. Vacations are good to renew the soul even parts of the soul that feel broken.

    Too bad you had to hear your chatterbox of a friend with you. But it was meant to be because you didn’t really know what to expect and it’s good to have someone when we don’t now



    • It’s a beautiful place. But as with most things from my childhood, it’s a mixed bag. I was a bit trepidatious about bringing this particular friend, but opted to take a chance rather than being alone with the unknown. Maybe she saved me from a fate worse than chatterboxing.


  • Yes, right now it’s about soothing and we have to find it ourselves. That’s partly why I got my kitty…she is something else to love.


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