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Bishop Baraga and his aura

Bishop Baraga and his aura

Before we get started with the saints, guess how many days I’ve spent time outdoors for this commitment?  Yes, for those of you steadfastly counting, it’s been 160 days!  Does that qualify for sainthood?  (NO, just kidding!)

Last night Barry and I pulled our Buick into the Bishop Baraga Shrine parking lot.  The Bishop, who hasn’t really yet been declared an “official” saint, but whose 62 presumed miracles in his lifetime have qualified him for consideration, is memorialized in a sixty foot high shrine overlooking the Keweenaw Bay.  A thirty-five foot high hand-wrought brass statue of the “Snowshoe Priest” complete with cross and snowshoes towers above the traffic down on US 41, along the red rocks. 

Bishop Baraga hailed from Slovenia, and people make pilgramages to his statue from all over the world.  Anyone interested in reading more about the Bishop can peruse here or here

We’re not Catholic, and I haven’t pulled in that parking lot in maybe twenty or twenty five years.  But last night, with the sun shining so beautifully behind Bishop Baraga, a photo opportunity presented itself.  I was surprised to see the aura around his statue when uploading the pictures.  Maybe he really is a saint! 

"The Snowshoe Priest"

"The Snowshoe Priest"

Whether or whether not he might be a saint, I do admire the man for some things.  He had a big heart.  He cared deeply for many of the native folks.  He walked hundreds and hundreds of miles on snowshoes!  That alone qualifies him for sainthood, in my non-Catholic opinion. 

Today, still thinking about the Bishop, I decided to wander down to a small Catholic church near Zeba, on the  Keweenaw Bay.  The church honors another “almost Saint” named Kateri Tekakwitha.  Her serene peaceful countenance shines out from above the door of the church, which is no longer used as a worship site.

Kateri Tekakwitha, Mohawk Catholic

Kateri Tekakwitha, Mohawk Catholic

Kateri has always fascinated me.  Many devoted followers, from all faiths, religions, and spiritual beliefs, have intrigued me.  She was born in 1656 in New York, the daughter of a Mohawk warrior.  At age four, her mother died of smallpox.  She was disfigured on her face by the disease, which leads to the question:  where are the smallpox scars on her picture?  Let’s look closer.

Close up of Kateri

Close up of Kateri

Nope, no scars.  Perhaps that’s one of the miracles.  I have always felt a fondness for Kateri because, on my grandma’s grandma’s grandma’s side of the family (maternal side) we’re related to natives from New York.  Perhaps the Finger Lake area.  That would probably be an Algonquin tribe, but there’s no accurate records.  My grandmother’s mother died of the influenza of 1918.  Perhaps she descended from the Mohawks.  Perhaps we’re related to this saint.  Stranger things have happened, right?

If the Pope won’t decide that Bishop Baraga and Kateri Tekakwitha are saints…could we nominate them for Outdoor Sainthood?  Bishop Baraga is my outdoor snowshoe hero (I would probably have more snowshoe heros if there were names attached) and Kateri used to rise every morning before 4 a.m. and wait in the bitter cold for the church doors to open.  She died at age twenty four.  She was the first native to be declared a “Blessed”, whatever that might mean, and is a patroness of the environment and ecology, along with St. Francis of Assisi.

Heart shaped rock surrounded by seaweed

Heart shaped rock surrounded by seaweed

Since I know absolutely nothing about sainthood, I would like to suggest that perhaps our two local almost-saints simply had really big hearts.  Big hearts full of prayer and joy and sharing and beauty.

Modern blue snowshoes

Modern blue snowshoes

Today was a big day.  You betcha.  I opened our shed door and dug around inside until discovering….you’re right….the snowshoes!  Although it’s still possible to walk very slowly in the nine to eleven inch snow base, it’s simply not practical to hike far distances.  Yesterday my knees hurt while exploring out in the snow, so today the snowshoes made their Winter ’09 premier appearance.

Let me tell you — walking in snowshoes is not for the out-of-shape.  Anyone who snowshoes regularly knows it’s a real work-out.  Those of us not in optimal physical shape start huffing and puffing before we’ve maneuvered up and down one or two ravines.  You don’t need to go to the gym if you snowshoe daily.  Do give it a try.  (you may want to build up slowly until your stamina increases to match the pace of the snowshoes.)

One of the ABC’s of Snowshoeing is:  tamp down your first trail and then re-use it daily.  If you break through a foot of snow on Monday, Tuesday is bound to be an easier hike.  By Wednesday you’re grinning at the relative ease.  By Thursday it’s snowed again and you start all over breaking a trail.

This area boasts a famous priest from Slovenia who settled in Baraga County from 1843-1853.  His name was Bishop Frederic Baraga.  He came to minister to the local Ojibway (Annishnabe) people.  Some people think he was a saint; others hold opposite opinions…..yet I admire the fellow for one reason alone.  They called him “The Snowshoe Priest”.  He supposedly walked across the Upper Peninsula on snowshoes many times.  It’s reputed he walked 700 miles across this countryside in the wintertime serving his parishes.  His regular circuit covered distances of more than sixty miles.

Any of you snowshoers believe that?  I can barely walk a mile without panting and this fellow regularly walked 60 miles!  He’s a Snowshoe Hero.  At least he’s my snowshoe hero.  I’m not sure he needed to “save” the Natives, but that’s another subject.  His crowning glory (in these eyes) was his ability to put one foot in front of the other, snowshoe after snowshoe, for long distances.

One thing snowshoeing teaches is the necessity of paying attention.  If one loses concentration it’s likely the two shoes become crossed and….the next thing you know, you’re buried backwards in a snowdrift.  Another lesson:  do not approach a ravine and travel straight down.  Instead, snowshoe sideways.  One usually does not wish to flop head-over-heels down a hill.  Although it’s sometimes possible to slide down the hill as if the snowshoes were skis.

Finally, are you in the market for a pair of snowshoes?  If so, you have your choice of several options.  The pair at the top of the page might be referred to as “modern” aluminum snowshoes.  However, for your consideration, please view the two alternative wooden varieties.  I wore these wooden varieties for many years before begging a modern light pair for Christmas several years ago. 

The snowshoe on the right is called a “bearpaw”.  Doesn’t it look like a bear’s paw?  It’s best for navigating through cedar swamps, in brush, in challenging areas.  The snowshoe on the left is called (according to my husband) a “Michigan” snowshoe.  I couldn’t find this verified on-line, but apparently many locals refer to it by our state’s name.  In the past, long-distance snowshoers would utilize this longer fellow for lengthy cross-country hikes of….say….700 miles across the Upper Peninsula.

The "Michigan" and "bear paw" snowshoe varieties (and me)

The "Michigan" and "bear paw" snowshoe varieties (and me)

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