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).

Highlights of Biking Around Mackinac Island (and Life)

July is the perfect time to visit Mackinac Island!

And, the eight-mile road around the island on Highway M-185 is the perfect venue for taking young kids on a big biking adventure, because it’s the only highway in America where no cars are allowed!

So, a couple of weeks ago we headed north with our two oldest sons and their families on a U.P. “roots” tour, including a trip across the Straits of Mackinac on a Shepler ferry boat to spend a day on Mackinac Island.

Horse and buggy in front of Fort Mackinac on Mackinac Island

It was a picture-perfect day, and we were all in very high spirits!

Although the nine grandchildren are living in suburban California and Belgium now (read that, no easy, safe places for long bike adventures), they were all up for the challenge, so the first stop was to get fitted on bikes.

Mike pulled the baby in a Burley, and Grace had a trail-a-bike for their four-year-old. Actually, trailer bikes (which have wheels for pedaling while allowing the parent to control the balance) are recommended for the 4-7 year-old set, but our two seven-year-olds opted to ride their own bikes, which was very brave of them!

A Bicycle Built for Two. Mackinac Island

Alan and I took a little razzing from the attendant for what he must have considered a non-feminist approach to modern cycling, but we opted for a bicycle built for two. After (literally) more than 50 years of riding such bicycles around the island together, we weren’t about to be talked out of our old-fashioned favorite.

Burley and trail-a-bike on Mackinac Island State Park, Michigan

There are many advantages to riding on a bicycle built for two! You’re always together; you can hear, talk, and be super close to each other at all times (very bonding).

Roadsides full of wild, pink roses on Mackinac Island

The other advantage, at least for me, is having total freedom to take photographs of all the gorgeous scenery as we pass by!

Highway M-185 is full of flowers on both sides of the road all through the summer, so all you have to do is avoid horses and other people while soaking in the beauty!

We did take numerous stops along the way to enjoy all the byways, including a little wetland walk, where we learned that there are over 415 varieties of wildflowers on the island!

Monarch caterpillar on a milk weed

We have lots of budding (and grown) botanists in the family, so the kids stopped to check out many of the flowers and captivating critters.

Golden coreopsis and purple harebells on Mackinac Island

I’m not sure if it was the flowers, the the gorgeous water, or too many cousins riding too close together, but one of the seven-year-olds took a bad spill at one point!

I’m sure Judah was in a lot of pain from the bad scrape on one leg, but after taking a breather to regain his shaken confidence, he was willing to take off on his own again. It’s good to be tough!!

Thankfully, it wasn’t too much longer before we reached the halfway point! Whew!

We stopped for lunch at British Landing, where lots of seagulls as well as people hang out.

Just in case you’re wondering, the seagulls are not only beautiful and interested in people, they LOVE good food as much as humans!

Hungry biker eating a Cannonball at British Landing on Mackinac Island

We stopped for hotdogs and hamburgers at the Cannonball snack shop.

Everybody was “starving” by the time we got there, so it was a really welcome break.

(Of course, some of us are still pretty insistent about what we like best for lunch!)

Other highlights of the bike adventure included skipping stones,

riding beneath tree-lined canopies of fragrant cedars,

The Island House, Mackinac Island

enjoying all the spectacular hotels, homes, and gardens that line the island,

and our long-standing tradition of stopping at “The Devil’s Kitchen,” a series of limestone caves. (Can you see the Devil’s eyes and nose?)

When Alan and I were kids in the 60’s, and when Aaron and Mike were kids in the 80’s, we were free to scramble up the rocks, and that’s exactly what kids do if left to their own devices, but today there are signs prohibiting such pleasures. 😦

However, nobody can stop a child
from having fun and being just a little scared!

I think everybody was happy to return victorious from our big ride. (Aaron and his oldest had to go an extra two miles to qualify for a boy scout badge, but they are also extra tough!!)

After returning our bikes, we wandered down Main Street, checking out all the possibilities for an afternoon treat to celebrate conquering the trail.

When our kids were little, I usually made fudge to bring with us (to keep down the expense), but this trip our generous (and rather more affluent than we were) sons bought a little fudge and then let each of their kids pick a treat of their own.

Despite being dead tired, I didn’t hear any complaining as we waited for the ferry!

Waiting for the Shepler Ferry on Mackinac Island

It seemed like the perfect end to a perfect day, although I was a little worried about Judah and wondered if his spill on the bike had traumatized him. So, I asked him what his favorite parts of the day had been.

His response was unequivocal: “The trip to the candy store . . . and the bike ride!”

That made me super happy, but it also made me think about my own life. I’ve been on a journey. Most of it has been really great, but like Judah—I had one bad fall near the beginning and got pretty scraped up! However, wouldn’t it be sad if we let our hurts and pains and accidents make us too skiddish to keep trying? And, isn’t it wonderful that we have a Father who watches over us, encouraging us along, and who promises to reward us at the end?! Do you know Him? Are you trusting in Him? God is good. Life is good. It’s not all picnics and vacation days, but it’s all good for us when we let God be our Father and never stop trying!

Thy mercy, O Lord, is in the heavens; and thy faithfulness reacheth unto the clouds. Thy righteousness is like the great mountains; thy judgments are a great deep: O Lord, thou preservest man and beast” (Psalm 36:5-6).

“Walt, The Man Behind the Myth”

Family Vacation to Walt Disney’s “EPCOT.”

Trips camping down at Fort Wilderness in Disney World was the stuff of dreams for our kids growing up, so it was with great pleasure that Alan, Joel, and I were able to spend a week down there this spring with our son Jon’s young family, who’d never been there before.

Jon and Linda have three little girls, and everything was new, fun, and fascinating!

Jon is one of the most innovative people I know, and The Magic Kingdom has always been a source of inspiration to him because there’s such strong encouragement for people to pursue those sparks of imagination that come to each of us—if we’ll only stop to pay attention!

Epcot Center: Spring Garden Colors

Every park is creative, clean, and colorful.

Watching “Movies Under the Stars” at Fort Wilderness Campground

No matter where you look, there’s likely to be something delightful—and often surprising—right beside you!

Great White Heron perched on top of a table umbrella

If you’ve been to “the happiest place on earth,” you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Disney: The Man Behind the Myth

Although Jon is a theologian with a heart for spiritual life more than “fun,” there’s a lot to be learned from the life of Walt Disney.

He was without a doubt one of the world’s most influential innovators of the twentieth century.

If you’re ever looking for some insight into this legendary man, his daughter told Walt’s story in a warm and honoring biographical documentary back in 2001 (although we just watched it recently!).

Walt, the Man Behind the Myth is G-rated, family friendly, and well worth watching!

One of the most helpful things I’ve learned from Disney comes from his
“Five Lessons on staying motivated and bouncing back from failure:”


*Follow your heart
*Be grateful for failure and move forward
*Go all in
*Invest in knowledge
*Embrace self-delusion (because) delusion and extraordinary success go together

As a Christian, I might modify these a little, to say such things as “Follow the Holy Spirit’s leading” and “Embrace your calling,” but the ideas can all find roots in the Bible:

*Psalm 37:4, “Delight thyself also in the Lord: and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.” You have to know what’s in your heart, so don’t ignore it!

*Psalms 32, 51, and 138 (for instance), David praise God for his help to move forward in times of failure and need.

*Colossians 3:23, “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men.” If that isn’t going “all in” I don’t know what is!

*Proverbs 18:15, “The heart of the prudent getteth knowledge; and the ear of the wise seeketh knowledge.” Proverbs 1:7, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.”

*Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”

Are you inspired? I am! 🙂

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…


Pussy Willows Stalking Spring

Soft as kitten paws,
Silent as a crouching cat,
Pussy willow stalks.

We live close to Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, which is fast becoming a world-class venue for botanical garden lovers. Every week or two, we take a stroll through the gardens, and although there were no flowers blooming as yet on our last visit, we found a bank of pussy willows glowing in the late afternoon sunshine. Don’t you love the signs of new life emerging after the long, dark winter?

Truth shall spring out of the earth;
and righteousness shall look down from heaven” (Psalm 85:11).

Spring Break

To escape the cold
Spring breakers went south to find
Stiff winds and sand drifts.

I sure hope that isn’t what happened to any of you dear people who’ve been on spring break recently, but that was our experience in March when we went to Florida for a medical meeting. It was “Bikers’ Week” and the highways were jammed with college kids and motorcyclists, but we had the beach to ourselves due to the icy winds and blowing sand.

In Michigan where I live, it actually snowed again last night! 😦 Try as we may, we don’t always get what we hope for! Thankfully, when we were at Daytona Beach in March, we had our winter coats, so we just bundled up and hiked the beach anyway. (That’s Alan in the distance, who can outrun me any day!)

Like the Whos down in Whoville who refused to let the Grinch steal Christmas, may we find joy in our imperfect lives rather than dismay in our unfulfilled expectations! As Robert Louis Stevenson put it: “Make the most of the best and the least of the worst.”

Rejoice evermore.
17 Pray without ceasing.
18 In every thing give thanks.
(1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)


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.”