February 2013 Superior Reads

By Cross and Anchor: The Story of Frederic Baraga on Lake Superior

by James K. Jamison

With the recent declaration that Bishop Baraga is “venerable,” a renewed interest in the saintly bishop has arisen, so Jerry Harju (North Harbor Publishing), in connection with the Ontonagon Historical Society, has reprinted James K. Jamison’s 1948 book about Baraga.

Written as a novel, but drawing heavily upon primary sources, including Baraga’s letters, By Cross and Anchor is in many ways more effective reading to understand Bishop Baraga than the perhaps better known biography Shepherd of the Wilderness or Baraga’s diary. I make that judgment because fiction often has the power to bring to life events so that readers feel like they are experiencing rather than simply reading about them.

Jamison explains up-front his reasons for writing Baraga’s story as fiction—he wants to recreate the likely conversations Baraga had while still being as historically accurate as possible through his research. I found it interesting that Jamison notes he is not a Catholic, but he was inspired by oral stories about Bishop Baraga that he heard from Native Americans and locals—at that time, only eighty years after Baraga’s death.

The book is highly readable, written in short chapters, and contains several illustrations. It would be suitable for any reader from about age nine and up. It is written in that old-fashioned pleasant storytelling style of the 1940s, sincere and devout, and perhaps a bit heavy on description, but with words that flow beautifully.

Many well-known stories about Baraga are included as well as some lesser known ones, including Baraga and his guide being caught on a piece of float ice that Baraga had faith would drift to shore and safety—which it did, his meeting with Douglass Houghton, an Indian who attempted to kill him, and the giving away of his stockings on his death bed which were said to heal a woman’s diseased legs.

The book also details the reasons for everything Baraga did, from deciding to leave a comfortable life in Europe, to his efforts to help the Native Americans, including establishing the reservation at L’Anse Bay rather than seeing them sent westward by the government. Baraga’s unwillingness to be a bishop and his preference for being an Indian missionary are made clear, as well as the bigger picture of his watching the fur trade decline, the Catholic Church’s reasons for establishing the Diocese of Marquette, first named Amyzonia, then the Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie and Marquette. Eventually, Baraga was faced with moving along with the times, having to minister to the growing population of white men who came with the mining of copper and iron ore, although he would have preferred to be solely an Indian missionary.

I had not known previously that Baraga’s sister, Antonia, came to work with him in the Indian missions for a time. Nor had I been aware of how difficult it was for him to establish his diocese, having to recruit new priests, train them himself, and then deal with them when they abandoned their churches or were not suited for the work.

Throughout his life, Baraga was a model of self-denial, refusing even to sleep in a bed in his old age when a new priest arrived because he knew he was older and tougher than the young priest. Anyone interested in knowing more about Upper Michigan’s snowshoe priest will find By Cross and Anchor a great place to start.

Five Years on the Appalachian Trail

by Buck Innerebner

Save perhaps for Bishop Baraga, most U.P. residents would think twice before hiking the Appalachian Trail, which runs from Georgia to Maine and encompasses about 2,200 miles. But once Buck Innerebner got the idea into his head, he had to do it. At fifty-eight years of age, it was no small undertaking, and he decided to do it not as a “thru hiker”—one who hikes the entire trail in a year—but over the course of five years. From 2007-2011, Buck hiked several hundred miles annually. He began in April 2007 in Georgia, and then each year picked up where he left off on the trail, as well as the time of year, so that his last stretch was accomplished in August 2011 from Vermont to Maine.

Along the way, Buck had company. First his fourteen-year-old grandson, who ended up having so much back pain he had to quit hiking. Later, Buck had some friends join him, most notably Tom, who becomes his main friend on the hike. But Buck finds friends all along the trail, and for this reader, the people Buck met were more interesting than the hike itself.

Buck kept a detailed daily journal as he hiked, which helped him to recapture his experiences for his book. He not only wrote about everyone he met along the trail, but he kept in touch with many of them afterwards. Several times he tries to answer the question of why anyone would decide to hike the Appalachian Trail and what was to be gained by doing so.

Buck never comes up with an all encompassing answer other than the simple love of hiking, but some of the suggested reasons were entertaining, especially one older man who explained that he was spending six months hiking because men usually die before their wives, so he was giving his wife six months to get used to not having him around to see whether she could do it, and then she could always call him if she needed anything. But not everyone was so tough or philosophical. Another wife told her husband if he were going to spend over $1,500 on equipment to go hiking, he better at least hike half the trail; he hiked ten days, hated it, then spent three weeks in a Motel 6 in Tennessee afraid to go home early.

Along the way, Buck sees many sites, including taking a detour into New York City and experiencing the effects of Hurricane Irene. Of course, he sees plenty of wonderful views of nature, opting not to go up to the top of the Empire State Building because the view couldn’t match the views he saw in the mountains. But one of his best experiences along the trail was the kindness of strangers. At various places, past hikers showed their generosity by offering meals, or a hiker might just stumble upon a cooler filled with cans of Mountain Dew and a lawn chair to rest in.

The book does have some noticeable typos and errors in it and I think a map of Buck’s journey as well as some photographs of him at various places along the trail would have really helped to make Five Years on the Appalachian Trail a phenomenal book for an armchair hiker like myself. That said, the book has plenty of humor and would be a great read for anyone considering a similar hike so he or she would know what to expect—but don’t plan on bringing the book on the hike with you—Buck would be the first to tell you that the less you carry in your pack, the better off you’ll be.

Editor’s Note: Books reviewed are available in local or online bookstores. Tichelaar is the author of Spirit of the North. For book review submission guidelines, visit www.mmnow.com.

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