Minnesota’s magical North Shore can have a powerful influence on visitors.
“For me, the place changed my life,’’ said Adelheid Fischer.
For Chel Anderson, the Lake Superior region is her life, a place she’s called home for more than 40 years.
“We both have such a deep attachment and love for the North Shore — we were claimed by it,’’ Anderson said.
Fascinated by the area’s unique plants, wildlife, geology and human history, Fischer, a writer, and Anderson, an ecologist and botonist, wondered aloud why there wasn’t a book that connected those strands to give a clearer picture and sharpened understanding of a region considered by many to be Minnesota’s crown jewel.
So, 17 years ago, the pair — best friends — began writing one. Now, “North Shore’’ (University of Minnesota Press, $39.95) has been published.
The book’s subtitle is “A Natural History of Minnesota’s Superior Coast.” Their approach was to make the science of the North Shore accessible and understandable, without dumbing it down.
“Having lived there and soaked up everything I could about the place for decades, one of the things that really struck me is the natural history and cultural history stories were told as if they had no connection to each other, which made absolutely no sense,’’ said Anderson, 61, who grew up in Burnsville and moved to the North Shore in 1974.
“It was obvious they were inextricably connected and were powerful influences on each other.’’
Fischer, 59, who grew up in Wisconsin, lived in Minneapolis for 16 years and now calls Arizona her home, wanted to write a book that went beyond bird or wildflower identification.
“I thought there had to be people like me who really wanted to know more but aren’t scientists and don’t want to get bogged down in that language.’’
“Such a big book”
The 600-page book, filled with panoramic photos and helpful maps and illustrations, ranges in topics from the effects of nonnative earthworms on the forest, to the recovery of lake trout, to the geology and hydrology of Lake Superior. Other chapters explain how North Shore places received their names, how human development has affected water quality and what climate change may bring to the area.
The comprehensive book is broken into five sections: Headwaters, Highlands, Nearshore, Lake Superior and Islands, and uses numerous scientists as sources to help tell the North Shore’s story.
“People say it’s such a big book, but we’re still only telling part of the story,’’ said Anderson. “The hardest part was deciding what we would tell. We wanted to tell stories that get across not only the magnificence of the place, but the deeper and essential messages about connections and relationships that we are part of.’’
The book isn’t necessarily intended to be read from front to back, the authors said.
“We wrote this with many portals of entry for people who may only have little bits of time to read,’’ Anderson said.
“Hopefully, if they see something in the table of contents, and they go and read that, it will draw them to read about something else.’’
Among the facts readers might learn:
• The rocks people hike or picnic on are among the oldest, exposed bedrock on the planet, about 2.5 billion years.
• A proposal was considered in the 1800s and early 1900s for a canal linking Lake Superior to the Mississippi River.
• The Pigeon River was named by Ojibwe for the now-extinct passenger pigeons that once nested there each spring.
• A mature white pine tree can withstand surface fires for up to 10 minutes before heat penetrates its thick bark.
Do Anderson and Fischer have a favorite place on the North Shore?
“I love my home,’’ said Anderson, who lives near Hovland. “I have the privilege that when I step out my door, I’m in a place I love.’’
But she has recommendations for visitors:
“I would pick a quiet spot along Lake Superior, and just sit there and take it in. I understand they come and want to go and do things, but there should be a point of stillness where one just sits and watches the world you’re part of. It’s amazing what people see when they stop.
“If you step off the trail or go beyond that first overlook, you’ll find that quiet place.’’
Fischer said Artist Point near the Grand Marais harbor is special, partly because arctic-alpine plants called “disjuncts’’ grow there, hundreds of miles from their normal habitats.
“They are the remnants of pioneering plants that came after the glaciers,’’ Fischer said. “They are amazing. They’re able to persist there because conditions are favorable.’’
Human activity, though, threatens the fragile plants.
“To me it brings together the great richness of the place, as well as what some of the issues are,’’ Fischer said. “Hopefully, we can educate people to be more careful when they go there.’’
The authors hope examining the North Shore will cause readers to consider the many environmental challenges facing the region — and beyond.
“Whether we are residents or visitors, sustaining the living splendor of this place for generations to come requires a change in our way of responding to these environmental challenges,’’ they write.