Shore of Lake Superior at Bayfield, Wisconsin, in December 2021

The rocky shore of Lake Superior, Bayfield, Wisconsin, as winter sets in

Bayfield, Wisconsin, is a charming little village, population 500 or so, that sits on the northernmost peninsula of the state, along the southern shore of Lake Superior. It looks out onto a ice-clear body of water called the Chequamegon Bay. It feels, perhaps, like an oceanside village in New England, but is decidedly Wisconsin: fish boils, cheese curds, and deep, deep winter.

The average temperature of Lake Superior is 40 degrees year-round. It can dip below freezing in the winter, although the ice usually builds only along the shores, in giant blocks that are compressed to blue and tumble atop each other; stories of it freezing over carry the wonder of myth. Even in hot summer, when the surface temps warm a bit, it makes for a bracing swim; the lake can claim lives as much due to hypothermia as to drowning.

A short ferry ride takes you from Bayfield to Madeline Island, which is the largest of 21 islands that make up a collection of 21 land dots poking out of Lake Superior to make up the Apostle Islands, and is the only one with a year-round community. It is a not-too-crowded tourist destination by summer. By winter, the ferry shuts down. What traffic there is between the mainland travels by ice road after a hard freeze. For several of the in-between days of spring and fall, school kids and commuters travel by a wind sled that zips over the slush.

I have found Lake Superior a source of deep power and magic since I first started hiking and swimming there almost 50 years ago. Now I return to visit friends or teach a writing workshop at a farm-turned-art school on Madeline Island. That’s where I met Meghan Craft Dennison, director and vice president of marketing at the school. She always had a here-to-help presence and a luminescent smile, whether she was troubleshooting the printer in my writing studio or bringing me a boxed lunch. It’s my loss that I never had time to get to know her beyond those roles.

Yesterday her name popped up on one of my social media feeds, along with a picture that both drew me in and made me shiver with remembered cold. I knew it could only be of Superior. The written post was a short ode, posted without explanation.

I don’t claim to know poetry, but I know when a story speaks to the soul of a place and those who love it. Meghan gave me gracious permission to post it here, as a gift from a cold, dark, magical place on this cold, dark, magical day.

On Ode to the darkest day of the year and the Winter Solstice

and when the sea was turbulent

she said I will ride your waves

and when the sea grew dark

she said there is so much beauty in darkness

and when the sea froze over

she said I will sit still, but I will not hold my breath

and when the sea glistened in sunlight

she said thank you for sharing all of your colors

and when the sea was simply beautiful

she said I will take you in, all of you

and the sea said to the woman

share all of me.

I asked Meghan when  and how she wrote her Superior ode. She said what a lot of writers say when they’re honest: “In the shower.”

But how did she write it down, I asked. She sent the below, which is the quick capture, with edits, she did as soon as she got out of the shower. It’s the smart writer who keeps a notebook handy — whether at bedside or in a pocket or purse, and never lets the muse of the moment slip away.

It’s the practical writer who understands that even divine inspiration then needs an edit; note how she tends to the sound and meaning of words, and finds her ending.

It’s the respectful writer who gives credit where credit is due. In Meghan’s case, that’s the beloved children’s book, “The Runaway Bunny,” by Margaret Wise Brown. (“The book has a similar rhythm,” she said. “I read it to my daughter all the time.”) She also gives a nod to her therapist and, of course, to what those of us who know it simply call The Big Lake.

Draft with edit notes of Meghan Craft Dennison's ode to Lake Superior on winter solstice 2021

The draft with edit notes of Meghan Craft Dennison's ode to Lake Superior on winter solstice 2021.

The light of a new year and longer nights is coming. But don’t miss the magic of the dark, or the inspirations that find their way to your writing.

Further Reading