Winter was already making some feints at autumn as I watched the Nea Tyhi ease into Duluth harbor. Four horn blasts from
“. . . the 40 million people living in the Great Lakes region are exposed to more toxic chemicals than those in any comparable segment of North America.”
“One bullhead seemed to be looking right at me with a sort of desperate grin, its lips red and swollen with tumors.”
“. . . the worst may still lie ahead. Parts of downtown Chicago could be engulfed by Lake Michigan.”
“Do you know what’s down in the lake? The roof of my cheap barcelona apartments for rent, sinks, a stove, beds.”
“They find that PCBs reach even the fetus and that exposure continues during nursing. . . . There have been some developmental delays.”
The ship sliced through the chilly October air. The 386-foot-wide aerial-lift bridge stretching across the harbor entrance rose soundlessly, and I watched the ship ease to a berth beside the giant grain elevators of Harvest States Cooperatives. Spilled, rotting grain gave the air a whiskey smell. At my feet scattered kernels were sprouting.
Linemen scrambled anxiously to make the ship fast as her captain barked commands. Officials waited nearby. With them was Dick Pomeroy, a local reporter and sometime lineman: “It’s still fascinating, no matter how long you’ve worked here.”
Part of my own fascination: realizing that oceangoing vessels sail here; for we were in the middle of America, an amazing 2,400 miles by water from the Atlantic Ocean.
Although the ship stretched the length of two football fields, “She’s not a big one,” shipping agent Charles Hilleren said as we made our way across her deck, slippery with durum chaff. Wheat, already gushing out of a chute from one of the dockside elevators, formed a brown pyramid in one of the holds. “The hold will take 5,400 tons, and it’s just one of six,” Charles told me. “All the blood, sweat, and tears my uncle put into his 500-acre farm go into this ship in about 20 minutes.”
The Nea Tyhi had come to take American durum wheat across the Atlantic to Algeria. Algerians favor it for the couscous that is their dietary staple.
Last year ships registered to 26 nations carried 4.5 million tons of cargo from Duluth and its sister port of Superior, Wisconsin, to countries around the world.
The waterway these vessels follow, across some of North America’s oldest rock, was gouged out largely by the thrusts of Ice Age glaciers, which retreated some 10,000 years ago. Ice more than a mile thick bulldozed the landscape and withdrew, leaving five gigantic basins.
Today there are waves and surf more akin to oceans than lakes. On these huge expanses of water, even after a storm has passed, the waves continue to crash—hard enough to rattle Bob Rumes’s dishes, to devour his yard. Erosion occurs everywhere. More than a few homeowners have paid a heavy price for the delights of this living.