Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Spirit houses at the Pinery Indian Cemetery, L'Anse, Michigan. Though unmarked with names and dates, they serve the same purpose as stone monuments.
Yesterday, on another of my authorial research forays, the Lady Friend, our chum Tina, and I drove from the Writer's Lair 48 miles east to L'Anse, Michigan, at the foot of Lake Superior's Keweenaw Bay. There we paid a visit to the ancient Pinery Indian Cemetery, an Ojibwa site that has been a tribal burial ground for centuries.
It is still in use by the Zeba Indian Mission United Methodist Church, and since 1840 people buried there have been memorialized by conventional stone monuments as well as traditional spirit houses, unmarked knee-high wooden structures that give departed souls shelter from the elements.
Last May 20 a forest fire, fanned by gusts to 60 m.p.h., devastated the woods around the cemetery and destroyed 45 spirit houses, but spared the majority.
Already the mission is planning to replace the burned spirit houses, and on the day of our visit the graves they protected were marked by little red flags.
Naturally the sight suggests a chapter in the novel-in-progress in which Steve Martinez, born Lakota, chases a bad guy through the woods and stumbles upon an old graveyard of his tribe's ancestral enemies, the Ojibwa. This has a lot of possibilities.
An eloquent historical marker tells the story of the cemetery.
Many of the spirit houses that survived the fire are very old.
Some are returning to the earth, the names of their inhabitants presumably lost to history.
Red flags mark the sites of the spirit houses destroyed in the May 20, 2009, fire. They will soon be restored.