For 12 years I lived close to Lake Superior in Marquette, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Two of my children were born there and all three spent their early years there. But my will to survive its brutal winters faded as the economic pinch turned mean and took a bite from my hide. I had to move.
While living in the U.P., I learned of the Finnish people in the late Nineteenth Century, sailed across the Atlantic to establish a new life. Many of them moved to the U.P., and had been there long before I was in 1998; so were the French Voyagers, and the Anishinaabe before them. They brought little, but their most important resource was sisu, or guts. They also brought their 1000 year old family-bonding mantra: sauna on kuma! Sauna is hot!
I grew to love my sauna and associate the best of my life’s hot times in the coldest of places. I built a sauna from scraps and tin roof panels I scavenged from a junkyard. Somehow, I found $173, to buy windows, a door, a stove and stove pipe. Preparing my sauna the first time, the roof caught fire. A friend was there and we managed to put it out with buckets of water. In time, I made it work.
It was a gathering place for poets and writers. We’d steam together, and afterwards, I’d concoct white Russians in big blenders and pour them into glasses held by writers, musicians, filmmakers, and friends. I’d watch them melt into their chairs as poems oozed from boiled bodies. They (Jonathon Johnson, Russell Thorburn, Peter Markus, Kathleen Heideman, Jeff Gibbs, Ken Baker, Sharon Bohjanen, John Lund, Martha Bush, Kristi Johansen, and others), are still working, creating life and art. I can’t get back to Marquette now – we’re all shut down and longing to go somewhere, anywhere. Maybe these Sauna Pages from the last dark days of December 2000 will lead to a place where sauna on kuma!
One, John Macdevitt, has passed away, but his Marquette sauna story made its way to my sauna journal, written here, in his warm hand along with sauna words from Jonathan Johnson, Jeff Gibbs, and Russell Thorburn.