Northern Ontario Diaries: Jean E. Pendziwol

An auditory travel experience

Audio Transcript

Skating Wild
by Jean E. Pendziwol

Did you hear that?
Lake Superior calls to us.

Come with me—
I will take you
to the shores of Gitchigami—
to the sea
and the heart
of a continent.

Listen,
the sound of howling wind—
or is it wolves?
runs up and
down our spines,
making us shiver
even before we leave
the warmth of our beds,
​​the crackling fire,
even before we step out
into the purple light
of early morning.

We stand and look
across the Lake,
cheeks flushed,
pin-pricked skin,
our breath lingers—
small puffs of air
that drift into
morning.

We can see Superior
breathing, too.
Far from shore,
the wind and waves
have worked against
winter’s confining ice
and the water is open,
cold—yet warmer
than the air.
Sea smoke rises,
hovers above the surface
churning—
a fortress of fog
that drifts between islands,
cloaking the headlands.

Turquoise shards of shattered ice
tumble together
tinkling
as the Lake lifts them,
to craft a jagged line
that trims the shore.

Beneath our boots
snow creaks and crunches
as we walk around the point
carrying our skates.
Here, Lake Superior sleeps,
away from the wind and waves,
where winter has cast a spell,
filled the bay with ice—
thick and strong,
smooth and clear like glass,

midnight blue.

We stand beneath the ancient cliffs
of the Canadian Shield—
watch dawn climb the sky
make silhouettes of pine
and leafless birch,
spread warm orange light—
​gold, silver streams
along the horizon.

Look!
In the snow beneath our feet
we can trace the journey
of fox and white-tailed deer,
follow the trail
of snowshoe hare and mink
until their paths disappear
into the boreal forest.

And there, prints,
deep and round,
as large as my hand—
the wolf!
I see your eyes grow wide
assure you she is long gone,
nose pressed to the tracks
of a long-legged moose.
Only her story remains—
scripted on a canvas of white.

We lace our skates,
fingers numb,
hear the ravens croak,
the chick-a-dee-dee-dees
greeting us from the branches
of alder and ash
while a blue jay scolds—
thief thief—
and we tell him we’ve only
come to steal
cold breath,
the wind...
a memory.

We step onto the
surface of Superior,
our skates scoring patterns,
hissing and swishing
as we stroke and glide.

And then,
Lake Superior
speaks.
She tells the story
of her birth,
A story of fire and ice,
how the earth split wide
spilled molten rock
how great glacial sheet
sculpted her bed
and conspired with time
to wear down mountains
and tumble boulders
along her shore.

Her voice echoes
beneath our feet
as she stretches,
creaking,
groaning,
thick plates of ice,
settling.
She hums
her whale-song of water
bound by winter,
a concert of cello strings
tapped by stones,
quivering from her depths
resonating up and up
and into us.

We join the song
skating on the wild ice
of a vast inland sea.

Jean E. Pendziwol, wearning no coat and no boots, standing on a partially snow covered rock next to a lake

Photo courtesy of Jean E. Pendziwol

Jean E. Pendziwol

Thunder Bay

Jean E. Pendziwol was born and raised in Northwestern Ontario on the shores of Lake Superior and finds inspiration for her work in the beautiful natural environment she calls home. She is the author of the critically acclaimed children’s book Once Upon a Northern Night (Groundwood Books) and the bestselling No Dragons for Tea: Fire Safety for Kids (and Dragons). Her bestselling adult debut The Lightkeeper’s Daughters (HarperCollins) is available in more than 16 languages around the world. Pendziwol’s latest picture book, I Found Hope in a Cherry Tree, was published by Groundwood Books in September of 2020.