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Friday, April 15, 2005

Signs of Spring

Ah, spring has definitely settled in here in St. Joseph. The grass has begun to green; the daffodils are showing and the tulips aren't far behind; we've strung together more than an hour or two of sun at a time; often, you can close out the day at work listening to the Cubs struggle against some rival. And the siren is back.

One of the most wonderful things about St. Joseph is that it is right on Lake Michigan. (I never thought I would be able to live four blocks from the lake!) Along with the weather and leisure benefits, it brings in all sorts of sounds, too. For example, when it is foggy, you can hear the lighthouse foghorn from my house. Or during the peak of summer, especially on the weekends, you can hear the sound of lunkheads, er, boaters, gunning their engines on their cigarette boats as they scare away the fish. Or you can hear the siren on the bridge going up.

You see, St. Joseph isn't just a leisure destination, it is also a commercial port, and the huge Great Lakes Freighters which ply the waters of Lake Michigan call at St. Joe from time to time, picking up and dropping off various cargoes. I have always enjoyed seeing these ships navigate in and out of the mouth of the St. Joseph river here. I think that is partly because it shows that this town has a serious side to it, too -- we're not just about vacations, leisure and tourism (although the House of David is a worthwhile diversion), we're also involved in nuts-and-bolts commerce. We're not just fudge, t-shirts and souvenir spoons; we're also grain, gravel and concrete.

So as the ships navigate in, there are two bridges they have to get by. One is a nifty rail bridge which swivels in the middle; the other is a regular old drawbridge on the main drag which interrupts the flow of traffic. (There is another drawbridge, but that is further down where the river isn't dredged, so it only opens for sailboats.) So when the bridge is opening to let a ship through, a siren sounds that I can hear all the way down at the church with the windows open. When it sounds, it is as if I am hearing some distant report: not just that a ship is in, but that the ice up near the Straits of Mackinac is clear; that the sailors are done wintering in Toledo and have returned to their seafaring trade; that the work of the summer is upon us. It seems to bear all the romance of long ago, wondering what these lumbering leviathans bring with them, as I wait for my ship to come in.

It's a place-sound, a sensory marker of the specific location and time which if not unique, is at least distinct. And I'm going to miss it.

Spring blessings to all!

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