While shuffling through the music on my iPhone on my way to work this afternoon, I rediscovered this gem of a track by legendary Canadian folk singer Gordon Lightfoot; an artist whose name could not be more indicative of his genre.
Hailing from Orillia, Ontario, Lightfoot is well-accustomed to the Great Lakes, just as my hometown of Wilmette, Illinois (just north of Chicago) taught me to respect the massive bodies of water.
Although the Great Lakes are often heralded for their beneficial impact to the United States, it seems that few have heard of the tragedy which occurred on November 10th, 1975.
On that fateful day, 29 American sailors lost their lives to the waters of Lake Superior. Known by the Chippewa Tribe as Gitche Gumme, Superior is held sacred to the tribe which has visited the area for millennia, leaving their mark in the form of rock paintings on a wall overlooking the lake.
Even though Superior and its lore may seem far off to many, it is a place which I know all too well thanks to two ten day hiking trips along the coastal trail of the massive lake this past summer.
Winding up and down the large hills – mountains in my eyes – of the trail with only one peer my age (20) to assist me, it was my duty to bring ten 15 and 16 year old boys back home safely. However, the wind and rain of Lake Superior is notorious, and refused to be ignored as I placed one heavy foot in front of the other on my way back to civilization.
Crashing lightening seemed to strike right on top of our heads during the most intense storms, making a point of scaring whoever thought they were man enough to complete the trail. Yet, through all the hardship and struggle, my group gritted their teeth and pushed through, refusing to let any adversity get in our way.
Unfortunately, the sailors aboard the Edmond Fitzgerald were not as lucky.
In memorandum to the lost sailors of the Great Lakes freighter, Lightfoot tells the intricate story of the disaster, giving some background along the way as he fulfills the role of folk – both story and song.
“Lake Huron rolls, Superior sings
In the rooms of her ice-water mansion.
Old Michigan steams like a young man’s dreams;
The islands and bays are for sportsmen.
And further below Lake Ontario,
Takes in what Lake Eerie can send her.
And the iron boats go as all mariners know,
With the gales of November remembered.”
Incorporating Lake Superior’s sisters (Michigan, Ontario, Huron, and Eerie), Lightfoot makes sure we never forget the power and prowess of the Great Lakes, lest we forget the past and allow tragedy to strike again.