To my dear boy, Joe, from your life long companion and friend, Lake Superior,
You and I are a lot alike. Your body is mostly made up of water and the other part of you…well, they say you are what you eat… so, you and I are made of water and fish!
Oh, how my waves swell with pride to see how you’ve grown. I have rocked you as an infant, washed and fed you, refreshed and quenched your thirst with my waters. Reflected God’s glory and love for you in sunrises, sunsets and moonlight. Released steam to hover over still waters on cold mornings. I’ve awed and thrilled you with my powerful waves and at times, humbled you with them. I’ve calmed and soothed you with my stillness. With the seagull’s cries, I have drawn you to my shores. With herring and trout, I have sustained and entertained you and your family.
I remember you as a young, slightly naughty artist, painting my rocks red with your dad’s good boat paint. I have watched you and your brother rowing your boat in circles, learning to work together. I was giddy watching the love grow between you and your beloved. I rejoiced with you as you shared your passion for fishing with your family and friends. Seeing you so joyous and thankful with each fish that came over the gunnel, either in the net or on a hook, has blessed me.
You know my depths and my shallows and where those secret spots teem with trout. When fish escaped my waters up the flowing rivers to spawn, you would track them down with just as much joy and determination. I can still hear your children, nieces and nephews on those cool spring nights laughing as nets full of smelt were dipped and hip boots sucked against their legs. Your daughter, so thankful that she could go right to bed while you and your beloved would clean coolers full of smelt deep into the night.
Yes, you have experienced heart-wrenching loss, your dear brother and precious parents that you laid to rest in my waters. I was with you then, mourning your loss and feeling your pain.
I have been your highway to adventures to places like Isle Royale for bigger trout and greenstones, Hole in the Wall to commercial fish with your dad and Clark’s Bay for family-fun.
I have trained your hands in my icy waters. From washing sweet carrots from your dad’s garden to picking herring out of the nets. You have skated, snowmobiled and fished on my frozen waters in your bare hands as if it were summer. One winter, while working on a ship, you fell in my icy waters and swam the entire length to get back on. You showed bravery and compassion as you rescued Mr. Hendricks’ body and boat. One evening, with amazing speed and strength, you chased down those young men trying to steal your boat! And then, with mercy and grace, you let them go.
I have seen the crazy side of you as you gunned the motor to run the boat full of nets and fish up the ramp. You have shown ingenuity as you created wooden flaps to keep the boat from sliding back on the ramp and made an automatic scaler for the herring. Your hard work has not gone unnoticed, getting up before the sun to pick nets or to work in the woods. And, as if there were not enough fish in my waters, you started fishing salmon in the ocean!
Generosity is such a part of you. You take great pleasure in sharing your fish in many forms; from fillets cleaned with the flare of an artist to fish smoked and savory. You show hospitality by taking friends and family in your boat to secret places that I will not reveal. And then, with the help of your beloved, you invite them in to your home for a meal of boiled trout and milk gravy.
You taught your children to respect me. One particular day, your beloved was gone and you took the kids ice berg jumping. You continue to protect by reminding your daughter to stay near the shore with her kayak.
You have watched the otters playing nearby, seen moose and deer swimming in my protection, and the birds soaring overhead or bobbing nearby. Seagulls know you by name and trust your gentleness as you feed them.
Know that you are loved by the God who created the waters and the fishes; in other words, you and me! Happy Birthday, my friend!
Written by Denise Axtell, of Hovland, for her father Joe Carlson on his 80th birthday.