East of Ely - Rolling with the rock of ages

by David Krikorian

My life can be divided into two parts, the first where I looked to the ground, and the second where I looked up through tree limbs toward the sky. The second half was spurred by my love of birds, while the first had its foundation in rock.
No surprise I was so focused on looking down since I started life with my childhood eyes much closer to the ground.
My grandparents had a cabin in eastern Ontario, where most of the rocks I found had been blasted along the roadsides, exposing minerals that looked like solid gold to a young boy. I had no idea then that the earth beneath my feet was comprised of a solid mass of magmatic rock that stretched from the Great Lakes to the Arctic Ocean. All I knew at my young age was that the ground had a feel that was oddly comforting.
My family moved to the Midwest where a vast underlayment of limestone called “Karst” formed when ancient oceans covered the plains.
In those days I found I was uneasy about my surroundings, so no wonder I ended up roaming the country from the Pacific Northwest to Central Florida as a young man.
When grandparents later sold their cabin, I felt I had lost my connection to that solid stretch of ground that I had learned was named the Canadian Shield. My love of pristine waters and forest eventually drove me to return to the north in Minnesota much farther west. Lake Superior Agates and Thunder Bay Amethyst fired a passion for me over a decade of vacationing in the region.
I eventually moved to Duluth, a city built on rock that stretched around the northern arc of its great lake basin.
Yet travelling the lake country to the north remained my peak obsession, as I slowly began to uncover why.
I learned there was a vast difference in the formation of Lake Superior and the Canadian Shield, as the lake was much younger and created by a rip in the continental plate, a tear in the fabric of the Shield so to say. This explained a lot, although for me it boiled down to not ever being able to find Lake Superior Agates in the Border Country, a simple but pressing issue in my early life.
But that would change one day when I was hiking the towering shoreline of Canada’s Pukaskwa National Park near the mouth of the White River.
I discovered a single sharp line where a dark gray lava flow cut over a stretch of rosy granite crystals that swept to the northwest and up a rounded slope of pink and white shield-rock. I started up the slope and instantly felt the ground shift from an uncertain foundation of a faster decaying magma flow into a world with a solidity that had withstood the grinding test of time.
I honestly don’t know if there is anyone as sensitive to the “feel” of the ground beneath them. Having such a clear reference as the sharp edge separating the Lake Superior lava flow and the Canadian Shield made it easy for me to tell the difference.
I do know that when asked about why they have come to the Lake Country, most of the people answer that it’s the lakes, the forest, the wildlife and the solitude. The Canadian Shield in the Ely region stretches around local pockets of iron ore that lay mostly north and east of Lake Vermilion. From here the “Shield” stretches northeast to the Atlantic coast and well into the region of Great Slave Lake and beyond.
Maybe I’m crazy to feel that this is such a fine place to stand. After all, what would living in the borderland feel like without the most enduring rock foundation on earth under our feet?
Without the granite headlands, without the bald outcrops and without the whaleback crystal-laden feldspar formation that will keep our Snowbank Lake cabin level and dry long after we’re gone.