Top Cultural Attraction in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula: World’s Busiest Lock System!

If you ever go to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, be sure to take time to visit the Soo Locks, which is the single most significant cultural contribution the Yoopers (“folks from Michigan’s upper peninsula”) make to American heritage.

Alan and I grew up in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, so we sort of took the Soo Locks for granted, although we loved sitting together by their lovely fountain even 50 years ago!

However, since traversing the Panama Canal a couple of years ago, we now have a new appreciation for the importance of the Soo Locks, so on our recent “Roots” tour, it meant a lot of us to be able to take some of our kids and grand children there and tell them “all about it!”

Source: Unknown. Found at http://geo.msu.edu/extra/geogmich/SooLock.html

Begun back in the early 1800’s and opened in 1855, the Soo Locks was one of America’s great infrastructure engineering feats, making it possible to ship the resources from the Lake Superior region to the rest of America’s Great Lakes (and beyond).

Michigan Survey Map. Wiki Commons
(mauve-colored areas to north and east are Canada)

The project was heroic, as it meant forming a lock to accommodate the 21-foot drop in water level from Lake Superior to Lake Huron via the existing rapids along a 1000-foot-thick sandstone river bed on the St. Mary’s River.

Poster at Soo Locks Visitor Center, in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan

Although the Soo Locks are one of America’s National Historic Landmarks, they continue to be a vital part of the modern shipping trade, receiving ships from around the world, and by cargo tonnage they are the busiest locks in the world!

Soo Locks, Aerial View. Wiki Commons

They consist of four individual locks that allow between 7,000-10,000 ships carrying more than 80 million tons of cargo (including over $500 billion’s worth of iron ore) per year to pass free of charge through their gates.

Photo from Soo Locks Visitor Center

The locks are powered entirely by gravity, and each traverse requires 22 million gallons of water to fill the lock.

View of the locks from a walk across the International Bridge Alan and I took in 2013. https://kathrynwarmstrong.wordpress.com/2013/07/02/walking-the-international-bridge/

A complete transit takes about 9 hours through the St. Mary’s River system.

Because they are part of the transportation system from Duluth, Minnesota all the way to the Atlantic Ocean via the St. Lawrence Seaway, cargo ships may be on a 2,342- mile trip when they traverse the Soo Locks, although ships from around the world have passed through this port.

The biggest freighters that come through the locks are up to 1,013 feet long (which is more than three football fields!), but the morning we visited, we got to see the Joseph H. Thompson pass through.

Joseph H. Thompson passing through the Soo Locks

Although the Thompson is only 706 feet long, it is one of the Great Lakes’ most historic vessels.

It was originally built in 1944 and has served both on the Great Lakes and the Atlantic, during wartime and peacetime!

Although impressive to watch, even for youngsters, it’s really helpful to go to the Visitor Center, where there are excellent explanations on the history and technical aspects of how the locks work.

Soo Locks Visitor Center

The most fun (and educational) exhibit for kids is a hands-on display where you can “open” and “close” the locks and let the ships go through.

Observation Deck at the Soo Locks

Obviously, you want to be out (or better yet, up on the Observation Deck) when a ship is passing through the locks, but if you have time beforehand, I almost think it’s better for people with young children to see the Visitor Center first so they have a better understanding of what it is they’re seeing.

Reflecting on our trip, I couldn’t help but think about how much we humans take for granted. Alan and I—as young kids fifty years ago—enjoyed the ambience and lovely gardens around the locks as just “the garden in our backyard” without any deep appreciation for the significance of the locks. Our grandchildren had a similar response. They had fun running around watching the big freighter come in and exploring the park, but they reacted with a simple acceptance of what “is” without any apparent wonder over the locks’ complexity or significance.

Another photo from our bridge walk in 2013. This is of the Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario side of the St. Mary’s River. There are twin “Soo” cities, and the locks are on the border between the U.S. and Canada, although the four U.S. locks carry the commercial trade.

My grandchildren remind me of myself! In so many ways, I am completely oblivious to the vast complexities of both God’s creation and the world’s civilizations. I find myself taxed trying to figure out how to use and care for the material blessings in my life—everything from turning on our video system to caring for the flowers in our garden—but I couldn’t begin to make a video system or create a flower! Could you?

However, like a child, I want to learn, and experiment, and grow in my understanding of what’s around me, and I am thankful for the wondrous world God has made! I’ll never learn everything, but I want to understand the most important things about life, and for that, I turn every day to the God’s Word! 🙂

The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 29:29).

In Memorial: Lest We Forget

Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in France

“Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die.” —G.K. Chesterton

“Heroism doesn’t always happen in a burst of glory. Sometimes small triumphs and large hearts change the course of history.”—Mary Roach

Normandy Beach

 “On Memorial Day, I don’t want to only remember the combatants. There were also those who came out of the trenches as writers and poets, who started preaching peace, men and women who have made this world a kinder place to live.” —Eric Burdon

 “Patriotism consists not in waving the flag, but in striving that our country shall be righteous as well as strong.”—James Bryce

“137 years later, Memorial Day remains one of America’s most cherished patriotic observances. The spirit of this day has not changed-it remains a day to honor those who died defending our freedom and democracy.” —Doc Hastings

 “Over all our happy country—over all our Nation spread,
Is a band of noble heroes—is our Army of the Dead.” —Will Carleton

“The brave die never, though they sleep in dust,
their courage nerves a thousand living men.”—Minot J. Savage

“Those who have long enjoyed such privileges as we enjoy
forget in time that men have died to win them.”—Franklin D. Roosevelt

“No man is entitled to the blessings of freedom
unless he be vigilant in its preservation.”—General Douglas MacArthur

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter the words, but to live by them.” —John F. Kennedy

 “There is nothing wrong with America
that cannot be cured with what is right in America.” —William J. Clinton

“Veterans are a symbol of what makes our nation great, and we must never forget all they have done to ensure our freedom.”—Rodney Frelinghuysen

“May we never forget freedom isn’t free.”—Unknown

“Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being.
With freedom comes responsibility.” —Eleanor Roosevelt

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends
(—Jesus, in the Bible, John 15:13).

What a Friend We Have in Jesus
(—Joseph M. Scriven, 1855, Public Domain)

  1. What a friend we have in Jesus,
    All our sins and griefs to bear!
    What a privilege to carry
    Everything to God in prayer!
    Oh, what peace we often forfeit,
    Oh, what needless pain we bear,
    All because we do not carry
    Everything to God in prayer!
  2. Have we trials and temptations?
    Is there trouble anywhere?
    We should never be discouraged—
    Take it to the Lord in prayer.
    Can we find a friend so faithful,
    Who will all our sorrows share?
    Jesus knows our every weakness;
    Take it to the Lord in prayer.
  3. Are we weak and heavy-laden,
    Cumbered with a load of care?
    Precious Savior, still our refuge—
    Take it to the Lord in prayer.
    Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?
    Take it to the Lord in prayer!
    In His arms He’ll take and shield thee,
    Thou wilt find a solace there.
  4. Blessed Savior, Thou hast promised
    Thou wilt all our burdens bear;
    May we ever, Lord, be bringing
    All to Thee in earnest prayer.
    Soon in glory bright, unclouded,
    There will be no need for prayer—
    Rapture, praise, and endless worship
    Will be our sweet portion there.

(I took all the photos in May of 2016 during a trip to Normandy, France.)

Legacy

A Masterpiece of Beauty

Brilliant, heart-shaped quilt,
Potpourri of symmetries.
You delight my eyes! 

At the Atlanta History Center, this gorgeous quilt caught my attention. It is an exquisite work of art, full of dazzling colors and images—mostly of brightly colored flowers, but also fruits, wispy insects, and other bits of beauty. I stood mesmerized, wishing I had time to ponder each tiny patch in this vast work of quilted art. Hundreds of individual pieces and thousands of tiny stitches. A lifetime treasure. A worthy legacy.

I wonder if the artist had any idea that their quilt would delight the hearts of countless strangers over the years. Wouldn’t you love to have a life as rich, varied, complex, and attractive as this quilt? I would!!

We are building our lives each day, and what we leave as a legacy is up to us. What patches are we choosing to add? Do we have a design in mind? Are we picking each square to depict something that will uplift others and bring them joy? Are we cutting our lines straight? Sewing with meticulous care? When we are gone, will others remember us with gratitude and meditate on what we’ve said and done?

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).

Find Us Faithful
—Steve Green

I used to sing this song when I was part of a ladies’ ensemble, and it still brings tears to my eyes to hear it, because it speaks of the longing in my own spirit!

We’re pilgrims on the journey
of the narrow road,
and those who’ve gone before us
line the way.
cheering on the faithful,
encouraging the weary,
their lives a stirring testament
to god’s sustaining grace.
o may all who come behind us
find us faithful,
may the fire of our devotion
light their way.
may the footprints that we leave,
lead them to believe,
and the lives we live
inspire them to obey.
o may all who come behind us
find us faithful.Surrounded by so great
a cloud of witnesses,
let us run the race
not only for the prize,
but as those who’ve gone before us.
let us leave to those behind us,
the heritage…


Winter and Spring Butting Heads

In like a lion,
Out like a lamb, but this March
Went out like a Ram!

A few weeks ago, Alan and I enjoyed watching the antics of sheep at the Tullie Smith Farm, which is part of the Atlanta History Center in Georgia. I couldn’t tell that the ram on the left had any reason for beefing, but he was intent on butting heads with the sheep on the right. I suppose he could have blamed it on a bad hair day, but I’m not sure that Madame Sheep’s coiffure was in any way superior. It looked like curls versus dreadlocks to me. At any rate, watching them made me think about how winter seems intent on blocking spring this year, for no good reason that I can see. It will be okay in the end. Spring will come, I know!

While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease” (Genesis 8:22).

Atlanta: Immersed in America’s Largest Aquarium

If  you ever get to Atlanta, be sure to make time to visit the Georgia Aquarium. This fantastic aquarium houses 100,000+ animals representing 700 species of fish and sea creatures in 10 million gallons of  sea water! It’s is the only place outside Asia where you can observe whale sharks, and one of only four sites in the world to display giant South African Manta rays. The Manta rays at the aquarium have wingspans of up to 13 feet, but the world’s largest have wingspans of up to 30 feet!          They are magnificent creatures and look like they’re flying in slow motion as they glide through the water. The  Georgia Aquarium is also home to several beluga whales, who are quite friendly with some of the staff and are happy to do tricks for applause! There are seven galleries and exhibits, each featuring creatures that thrive in particular environments. The largest exhibit, “Ocean Voyager,” contains 6.3 million gallons of water and several thousand fish. It is the largest indoor aquatic habitat in the world. It also has a 100-foot underwater tunnel and one of the world’s largest viewing windows. Other galleries include the “Suntrust Pier 22” where you can enjoy California Sea Lions splashing about . . . the “Cold Water Quest” for a look at African penguins  . . . “River Scout” for watching the antics of river otters, and “Tropical Diver” where you can experience an intimate look at shrimp and other sea creatures that live deep down under the sea! There are several “show times” worth catching too: feeding sea lions, talking to the beluga whales, and probably most thrilling of all—Dolphin Celebration. No photos are allowed during the dolphin show, so relax and put away your camera. Also, know that the first 10 rows routinely get drenched by the dolphins intentionally splashing you for fun, so if you don’t relish a good soaking, head for the 10th row or higher ASAP, which should be about 20 minutes before the show begins to secure a good seat. We visited just a few weeks ago while Alan was at a conference in Atlanta, and even though the aquarium is amazing as is, they’re in the midst of a $100 million dollar renovation, hopefully to be completed in the fall of 2020. I couldn’t help but think about the seemingly endless varieties of animals that God has created—the seas teeming with fish, and every little stream filled with turtles and other forms of life. No matter how hard we try, and although what men have accomplished is impressive, we can’t begin to contain or even identify all the forms of life on our planet. Did you know that our earth contains something like 326 million trillion gallons of water and another 3,100 cubic miles of water vapor in our atmosphere? I can’t even wrap my brain around just how big our “aquarium” is! No matter how hard we try, humans have never been able to create a single living animal! Only God can do that. I’ve been meditating on Psalm 8 lately, and it starts out by praising our Creator God, the LORD, because He can do what we cannot! His power is unfathomable. He has “set His glory above the heavens.” Mid-song, the psalmist points out that God has created man and crowned him with glory over all the earth, giving him the privilege and responsibility for caring for all of God’s earthly creation.     At the end of the Psalm 8, David praises God for his excellence. He reigns over heaven and earth, and his glory is so far above man’s that we can’t begin to contain or even imagine it! What a mighty God we serve! O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! who hast set thy glory above the heavens.Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger.When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet:All sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field;The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas.O Lord our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!” (Psalm 8)

What a Mighty God We Serve
(Originally an African folk song,
but more recently sung by Hezekiah Walker who added to the lyrics)

“What a mighty God we serve
what a mighty god we serve
Angels bow before Him
Heaven and earth adore Him
What a mighty God we serve.

He holds the winds in His hand
And He is the great I am
He is the bright and morning star
And without Him I would fall

Jehovah Jireh, my provider
Jehovah Shalom, my peace
Jehovah Tsidkenu, my righteousness
What a mighty God we serve.”

The Birthday Club Ventures to Shipshewana

This fall’s birthday adventure took us all the way down to the golden corn fields of northern Indiana and a little corner of the world where time seems to have stopped about a hundred and fifty years ago!Shipshewana (affectionately called “Shipshe” by the residents) is home to one of America’s thriving communities of Amish folks.  There are about a third of a million Amish people living in the United States now, mostly in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana.  They are most easily recognized by their head coverings, simple, modest dress  and style of transportation, which is exclusively horse-drawn carriages. (They will not own—but will ride—on other forms of transportation, such as school buses for the children.) If you want to take a tour of the town, they offer horse-drawn buggy rides!Or, you can eat sitting in a buggy at Das Dutchman Essenhaus in the little burg of Middlebury, which is where the girls took me for wonderful, old-fashioned buffet lunch of great country (and Amish-style) cooking!If you go to northern Indiana’s Amish country, I definitely recommend enjoying some of their excellent food, but come hungry, because you will get very full!  🙂

Besides yummy food, there are all sorts of interesting shops to visit,  so save some time to explore their wonderful assortment of homey craft stores. They’re also famous for their simple but sturdy, hand-crafted furniture. Susan’s youngest daughter married a young man whose mom works in Shipshe, so we stopped by for a visit!I always think of Grand Rapids as having a lot of Christian influence, but for those of us who love Scripture, Shipshewana is a shopper’s paradise!

The focus of the afternoon was a visit to Menno-Hof, a museum of Mennonite and Amish history. Menno-Hoff is a warm combination of personally guided segments of the tour and  state-of-the-art audio-visual explanations.  As I have baptist/brethren roots, I felt a real connection with the “anabaptist” movement that eventually spawned the Mennonite and Amish communities, although it wasn’t clear to me from reading the information at the museum if they believe the Gospel…the wonderful good news of salvation by faith alone through Christ, or if they are somehow depending on their humility, modesty, good works, and self-denial and to qualify them for heaven.  (If you are Amish and read this, please feel free to explain the Amish position to us, will you? Do you believe you are saved by being a faithful disciple, or do you pursue God’s holiness as an expression of gratefulness for his salvation?) We couldn’t do the museum justice in less than an hour or two, and it would have been easy to linger for longer, although the girls had more in store yet!One popular myth about the Amish is that if a farmer has an eligible daughter, he paints his front gate blue, which means young men may come ‘a courting! Although this is apparently not really true, The Blue Gate Restaurant capitalizes on the long-standing fable, and they serve wonderful food…such as you could imagine a mother might serve up to a favored prospective beau for her daughter! It was the  perfect place to stop in for our birthday party, and to experience some of their popular peanut butter, custard, and pumpkin pies. Diet alert for sure!! In all, we had another spectacular day, and I can heartily recommend visiting Shipshe sometime if you’re looking for a quiet, cozy place to relax and reflect.    The Amish folks live plain, simple lives, but everything we saw was pleasant!   Even their public restrooms (like the Blue Gate’s) were clean and beautiful!    And, everywhere we looked, there was something to lift our hearts to God!            So, if you’d like to get away from the frenetic pace of life sometime,          consider an afternoon or weekend retreat in an Amish community!

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Hidden Treasury of Religious Art at Scrovegni Chapel…Lost in Padua

The baby was due Wednesday, and Michael predicted that it might be a photo finish between Baby Cakes and me as to who would arrive first. We had a “Plan B” in place while I was in transit from America just in case the baby came and Michael couldn’t meet me at Venice’s Marco Polo Airport. However, Mike was there smiling when I emerged from the baggage claim area. That was Friday.  By Saturday, Grace was more ready than ever to deliver, but Baby was unwilling to participate in a premiere showing, so Michael valiantly offered to take care of their four kids so Grace and I could visit the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, about a 40-minute drive from home. “Intrepid” is perhaps a modest understatement of Grace’s enthusiasm for life, and she’d really been wanting to visit this acclaimed masterpiece of Western Art before they left Italy, so we decided to take our (a?) big chance and go. Having GPS is one of the world’s finest exploration conveniences…when it works. The first time Alan and I visited Venice (about fifteen years ago), our GPS kept telling us to exit off the highway where there was no exit (all new construction), and we had a terrible time finding our way to our hotel. That particular terror was in the back of my mind when Michael warned us that the GPS wouldn’t really bring us to the right spot. He said we’d have to cross the Brenta River, so that we did. Then, our GPS said we were just three minutes from the chapel, but it didn’t seem able to direct us further, so we found a parking space (which is definitely a driver’s pot of gold  in this area of Padua) and began to walk. Many Italians know a little English, but few with enough facility to actually give adequate directions, and we quickly became completely disoriented on the twisty streets. I should have thought to take photos on my camera every time we turned a corner, but I didn’t. For future reference, if you’re traveling and unsure of where you’re going, take photos, and record where you’ve parked your car on your phone’s GPS if you have a smart phone. This works great for recording trail maps, too!At one point, we saw a young, professional-looking woman and approached her, thinking at last we’d get help. She’d never even heard of the Scrovegni Chapel (aka Cappella degli Scrovegni in Italian) and wondered if it might be downtown. After bumbling about like the blind leading the blind for half an hour, we finally found the chapel, which is part of the “Museo Civico of Padua.” Whew! The Scrovegni Chapel is filled with frescoes painted by Giotto in 1305 and is the forerunner to the exquisite works that Michelangelo painted two centuries later in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel. Although it’s virtually unknown relative to the world-famous Sistine Chapel, people do come from all over the world to visit, and we were give a twenty-minute slot with a small group in a carefully temperature and humidity-controlled environment to view the life of Christ as depicted in this chapel. (If you’re going to visit, reservations ahead are almost mandatory! We were late, but they graciously allowed us in with the next group. Thank you, Italy!)One of the most famous scenes is Joseph kissing Mary at their wedding. I was told that this is the “first kiss” ever depicted in Western Art (perhaps the world?).The Museo Civico of Padua is filled with literally thousands of pieces of artwork.                       They even have their own Pieta, by Antonio Bonazza.Grace and I spent hours marveling at all the gorgeous religious art, and it made us all the more amazed that so many people within a few blocks of this world-class treasury seemed to have no knowledge of its existence. How could that be? Did we fail to ask the right questions? Use the right words? It reminded me of my son Jonathan trying to find an evangelical church in Germany. He lacked the vocabulary to explain what he was looking for and so stumbled around for a long time before he found a very vibrant congregation of spiritually-minded believers.                 (Thankfully, he did, because that’s where he met his wife!) At any rate, we spent a glorious day standing in reverential awe of God as we experienced this beautiful chapel/museum hidden away in the heart of Italy.I fear that all too often Americans (myself included) fail to help others find their way to Christ. It’s easy to be like those busy Italians who lived and worked outside the walls of the Scrovegni Chapel but were oblivious to its existence. They never visited, had no clue what was inside, and couldn’t tell anyone how to get there…yet people from all over the world are seeking.  Can we open our eyes to the gospel message, believe it, receive it, and share it with others? For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us” (2 Corinthians 4:6-7).

(P.S.—The end of this story will have to be told next time. Do you think we found our way back to the car? Before Grace went into labor?  Tune in next week… 🙂  )