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Gales of November: an essay by local author John Bragstad

Nov 08, 2023 10:22AM ● By Content Editor
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By local author and writer John Bragstad  - Boreal Community Media - November 8, 2023

“The land had been well named. It was the weather breeder of 
Canada. From it came powerful winds and unpredictable 
storms, all the more vicious because of their suddenness.”  
Sigurd F. Olson, The Lonely Land 

This is November, a time famous for gales sweeping down from 
Canada or across from Michigan and Wisconsin. Our skies are 
grey and surly. There is plenty of wintry weather on the march. 

Lakes of the BWCA can be wild and raucous. Gunflint Lake is
one of those. The hills surrounding it funnel the wind and catch
anyone in an ambush who isn’t paying attention.

Lake Superior is even more dramatic. Some pictures show waves
launched against the cliffs near Tettegouche; the mist carries
thirty feet or more up the rock faces. The spray touches even the
pines set along the ridge.

At one of the shops in Grand Marais, there is a painting of 
fishermen, their boats crouched in a rock-strewn cove, guarding
against the open water of the Big Lake. They wrestle with long
delays and boredom. They make do with conversation. But that
day, the sea wins.

Another watercolor shows a fisherman’s boat lifted almost out of
the water. The man in the bow has an oar buried deep in the
wave’s crest. In the back, another crouches with his hand on the

Everything depends on this dance between forward movement
and balance. Too much turned to the wind, and the boat will
capsize. It is a contest, met not once, but with each rushing

Life here, on the open sea, can be raw and sometimes
unforgiving. There is no “bench” to put into the game. Nature
knows of no time-outs or rest breaks.

These same calculations are not only “out there” on Lake
Superior. We choose to travel, and the snow dances in our
headlights. Weather predictions are for inches before the day is

Do we set out anyway? Do we decide our willpower is enough to
make it to our destination? And at what peril?

And what of not going, of letting snow drifts paralyze us from
ever leaving the driveway? Sometimes, we can lose heart the
longer we stare.

The winds of November remind us that there is a time for
caution, a time for movement, a time for letting go of all our
expectations of what we think should be, of what should

It is a time when life deserves our respect, when sometimes we
must humbly tread as we consider what we will need for the long,
irrepressible winter that lies ahead.

Adapted from “The Gales of November,”  
Compass Season by John Bragstad

About the author

John A. Bragstad has been a therapist, working with couples and individuals, for 25 years. He is self-published and is enjoying retirement. Lake Superior is just off his front porch.

He has written three books: Compass Season, Loon Laughter at Midnight, and Who's Watching Whoo? They are available in Grand Marais at Drury Lane and Lake Superior Trading Post, or at

Related: Meet your Boreal Community Media Freelance Journalist: John Bragstad

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