A Place of Ten Thousand Lakes

With water lapping on their banks, expansive lakes offer tranquility, and open the minds of flat-dwellers on to a deep and reflecting world without the mundane bothering them, and then they invite one to expand one’s horizons where the lake meets azure sky. No wonder lakes have attracted people for millenniums. Whereas, waterfalls allow the mind of a metropolitan worker, raging like a rocket, to re-enter in to the heart of a lively river along with its falling waters. Cacophony of jet engines still drumming in his mind is drowned in the primeval musical roar that has been giving him peace since time immemorial. I had been jetting around a bit and therefore I thought why not visit a place that has both tranquility and musical roar! I decided to soothe my ears, fatigued by the roaring jets, with musical roar of Gooseberry Falls, just two kilometers away from the East Coast of Lake Superior in Minnesota, the State of ten thousand lakes.

The drive, about 5 hours, through rich green forests from the Twin City of Minneapolis and St. Paul is itself exhilarating.

It was end September, the trees wore charming shades of greens with some enthusiastic few wrapped in golden shawls, preparing to celebrate the imminent visit of autumn. We crossed many rivers and also enjoyed various views of so many lakes, sometimes near and at others far. After a drive of about three hours of colorful feast for our eyes, we reached Duluth from where a view of river St. Louis meeting Lake Superior was worth a halt as we were commanding a breath taking view from a considerable height. The panoramic scene of a river meeting its lover was unusual; the river’s banks were spread freely, like many facets of American women, in many corners and not bound within two sides. Indeed the river gave appearance of being a lake, for it was difficult to decide where was the river and where the lake. Has the equality of man and woman been copied by the nature! Across the river lay Wisconsin, another State, connected by a bridge, which also forms the boundary between the river and the lake. My friend and host Prof. Raahee informed me that Minnesota has the second longest non-oceanic coastal length in USA. All these make Minnesota a naturally attractive State. As we drove further, at one place we were invited by the lapping waves of the lake. We found the water of the lake crystal clear. We could not refuse this invitation of the singing and dancing waves, so we removed our shoes and greeted the waves. The exuberance of the enthusiastic waves drenched our legs; the legs were dry soon, but the heart still gets drenched whenever I recollect that meeting.

Although it was 4.30 in the afternoon and knowing that the sun would set at six, we put our baggage in the cabin and hurried to the Gooseberry Falls. Soon after parking, as we started to walk towards the Falls, I was elated to hear a jubilant and rather peaceful roar of the Falls. Here more trees had adorned themselves with red, orange and gold, preparing to welcome the coming of winter, a sight so beautiful that it got imprinted deep on my visual mind. The track was full of nature lovers, which speaks volumes for both the Falls and the people.

First we approached the Lower Falls. We were face to face with five magnificent torrents. I felt that, in India, this fall would have been named as ‘Paanch Paandava’, also because three were together on one side and two, slightly away, on the other side. These five torrents traversing a height of about 15 meters were full of sound and fury that signified something, that something, which is difficult to grasp. Why does this roar soothe us? Why does it charm us? I thought the best way to answer is to surrender to its charm. I sat down on a rock just in front of the Falls, at a height in between the top of the Falls and that of the river Gooseberry flowing around me. Prof. Raahee and his wife left for the track to the lake, but I could not move, at least for some time. The birds were, I am sure, adding to the harmony by their songs. The leaves, overwhelmed by the music, were dancing in the mild breeze, and some of the more matured leaves, unable to hold their joy, were rushing to meet the flowing waters. And the river was conducting its five (torrents) stringed instrument in to playing a symphony that no body has been able to surpass yet. All the noises of the world within and without got drowned in the primeval music. Suddenly the mind was free; it got tuned and submerged in this natural extravaganza. This music has a melody, a harmony and a rhythm that all music aspires to. After soaking the peace, freedom and joy, I thought I should track Prof. Raahee. While meandering along the bank of the river, I wondered at the youthful energy the river still had, although it was close to its life’s end. Most of the rivers that begin their journey of life to meet their beloved dancing and bouncing, walk in a restrained manner at the rendezvous to meet their lover. Here this river was bubbling with enthusiasm, still singing, not its swan song but a sonata. It does indicate good upbringing and continuous support from its father, the mountain. I saw some loons, beautiful ducks, that enliven this river with their catechu brown feathers that almost matches the Colour of water at some places. This water carries some iron ore for it is flowing through this iron country. A hundred years ago all this area was hectic with mining of iron ore that has helped this area in industrialization and consequent richness. 

I met Prof. Raahee and he suggested that we track up to the Upper Falls. Upper Falls is, most of the times, one stringed instrument in that it has one major column of water covering a height of about 6-7 meters. If the Lower Falls were to be named as ‘Paanch Paandava’, then this would have been named as ‘Karna’ Fall. It allows a closer approach to itself. I sat down near its head. The river rushes through the Falls no doubt with great vigor, ardently desiring to meet its lover. But then it meets a solid and high range that blocks its path, so it has to take a sharp turn left, and consequently it loses some of its enthusiasm in its way, but most of its water flows on slowly, leaving a whirlpool of frothing water behind. This whirlpool is formed in between the Falls and the blocking range where some poignant water with its froth goes round and round on the surface. This water forgets that if it does not lose its heart when facing adversities, it would be part of the river still bubbling with energy and enthusiasm when meeting its lover a few miles ahead.

The sun was about to set. My attention was suddenly drawn by the whoosh of a raven’s flight. The light all around, suddenly, appeared to be desperate, as if in a hurry to go somewhere, probably its home. The coppery red maple leaves were still glowing, mind you not reflecting the sunlight, but were radiant themselves, emitting rays, perhaps to guide some travelers in this threatening dusk. I noticed that an exultant wave had come from the Upper Falls and in its jubilation had cleared the froth on the whirlpool. We returned to the cabin for a well-deserved and joyful rest.

No travelogue on Minneapolis can be complete without mentioning its cultural activities. Its museum is very modern and lively, not merely full of permanent exhibits. Children like some of its displays especially because interesting interaction is generated by means of questions and answers in the audio- visual displays. The data are presented after considerable thought so that they summarize and present the information in the most useful manner. There was a very special staircase, which produced musical notes as people climbed or descended its steps. What amazed me was the fact that despite the totally uncoordinated movement of people on the staircase still produced musical notes. As the movement on the staircase was uncoordinated, the notes it produced should also have been uncoordinated and hence non-musical, if not cacophonous. Does it mean that, when in good mood, we create music in our mind even from uncoordinated notes? But above all, it has a special theatre where Imax films are shown. These films are projected on a somewhat curved screen, which is about 20 meters by 50 meters. The curvature is such that it makes a surface, which is somewhat spherical, so that at no point is it too far from the viewers sitting on stepped chairs over a large area. Prof. Raahee had taken me for a film on Mount Everest. The feeling throughout was so realistic that I felt as if I was walking and climbing, even feeling the icy cold chill, except that I did not suffer from severe lack of oxygen (I did feel breathless many times). I must hasten to add that I had this feeling despite the perfectly functioning air conditioning system in the theatre. Talking about theatres, I was told that the Guthrie theatre is a world class theatre, and if a play is accepted and played here, it becomes world famous. There is another theatre here run and directed by Shree Deepankar Mukherjee who has retired from the directorship of Guthrie. The seats in these theatres are booked weeks in advance and it is almost impossible to get a ticket within few days of a show. Quite a few of the plays here are based on Indian themes with total atmosphere presented as Indian including the music. The colleges here are also known for their high quality of teaching. Well, there should be no doubt that Minnesota State is equally rich in natural beauty and cultural atmosphere.

As we were driving back, the enthusiasm was waning. I have observed that enthusiasm while starting for a coveted place and that on the return from that place are quite different. Is it tiredness, is it the thought of getting back in to the routine of the mundane world, is it the banging in to the mind of things that are waiting to be completed? Well whatever it is; it appears to be connected with future activities, neither with past nor with present. Probably, the high enthusiasm while going was also due to the joyous expectation of what we imagine we would get, and not connected with the ‘present’ of traveling ! At times may be a pleasant image (shadow, if it is unpleasant) of past creates the pleasanter images of expectations. Probably to remove the dullness the car radio was switched on. There was a talk on the Big Bang Theory; I felt happy that science, though a serious subject, is a popular one too. The station tuned was ‘Public Broadcast Station’, and public in this country really means belonging to the public. The Station is financed and controlled through public donation, and not by Government or any commercial organization. At the end of the absorbing programme, the host Garrison Keeler signed off, “Thank you for tuning to ‘A Prairie Home Companion’ here in Minnesota where the men are handsome, the women strong and all the children above average”. I was slightly amused by this and later on learnt that Minnesota is known for its high quality public schools, rated amongst the best in the country. I can say that the men are intelligent and women beautiful too, and would like to return to this land of ten thousand lakes.      


More by :  Vishwa Mohan Tiwari, AVM (Retd)

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