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Travel: Ojibwa found power in Lake Superior

"In the old days, when the Ojibwa were still brash newcomers to Lake Superior country, young men of this tribe would head out on vision quests. Like Jesus in the wilderness or Thoreau in Walden -- though with a different theological context and assuredly a different notion of wilderness -- they left their villages to be alone.

Along the northeast shore of the lake are puzzling structures, like snow forts built of rocks. Research has suggested they are hundreds of years old. Speculation has fancied them "oracle grots" or "vision quest pits," places where men took shelter during their pilgrimages.

I imagine these young men on the shore of the world's greatest freshwater lake. They must have whiled away days in loneliness and nights filled with fear, for they were still young men -- boys, really. As hunger and loneliness took hold, their imaginations soared. Perhaps delirium set in. They would experience the vision that would guide their remaining lives. And they could return to their homes.

Surely the vastness of Lake Superior impressed them. The evidence is in the rock paintings at Agawa Bay, where iron oxide pictographs of suns, bears, caribou and the great lynx Mishi- bizheu animate the cliffs and testify to the power of spirits to enter our world through portals of rock and water."

Get the Story:
Finding strength in meeting the challenges of Superior (The Minneapolis Star Tribune 11/20)