Large bodies of water have a way of wearing down one’s sense of personal grandeur, or misery. Standing on the shoreline, or sitting in a boat, you quickly realize that you are pretty small in the grand scheme of things. For those living on the coasts of their continent, the waves of the ocean are a constant. However, for those of us living in the center of North America, Lake Superior is the closest thing we have to an ocean.
Lake Superior is truly the leader of the continent’s lakes. It’s the largest of the Great Lakes, and the largest fresh water lake in the world by surface area (31,820 square miles/82,413 km2).
Home to over 80 species of fish, numerous wrecked ships, and an endless supply of huge boulders, Lake Superior is called Gitchigumi, meaning “big water,” by the Anishinaabe (Ojibwe). And if you are looking for a good swimming hole in the middle of summer, Lake Superior probably isn’t the place. With a water surface temperature ranging between 32°-55°F (0°-13°C), Lake Superior provides more of a shock than a swim!
During a recent trip along the Northern Minnesota shore, I sat down on the edge of a cliff and did a little meditation. Waves crashing in, gulls and crows squawking, cool wind hitting my still body as breathing occurred, blending in with everything else. There was no need to do anything, no need to even try and let go of what was arising in my mind.
It’s much harder to experience this kind of calm connectedness in the middle of the busy city I live in. There’s more effort involved, and sometimes you just end up sitting with a lot of noise, both inside of you and outside. This, too, is life, but the ease of getting lost in it all is so apparent when you step away from it, and slow down in a place like the shoreline of Lake Superior.
The photo above is where I sat in meditation. The plant is yarrow, which some may know as a powerful medicine plant. According to Greek mythology, Achilles used yarrow intensively to cure his war wounds — hence its Latin name Achillea millefolium.
According to herbal medicine traditions, the plant is not only a wound healer, but also a healer of colds, fevers, sore throats, infections, and skin irritations. I have personally watched the crushed leaves end the bleeding of a cut with such suction that the skin was nearly sown back together again in less than 10 minutes.
The lake itself is also a healer, taking whatever comes to it and transforming it, slowly, into something else. Whenever I go there, I’m almost immediately reminded of my smallness, how no matter what is going on in my life, the lake just goes on functioning. It’s so much bigger than anything I, or anyone, can ever do. This need not be a cause for sadness. Indeed, to recognize that you are not so important after all is a step towards the greatness that is contained within all of us.
“Lake Superior” © Nathan Thompson