Impermanence: Life and Loss on Superior's South Shore (Paperback)

Impermanence: Life and Loss on Superior's South Shore By Sue Leaf Cover Image
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A personal journey through the ever-changing natural and cultural history of Lake Superior’s South Shore

Lake Superior’s South Shore is as malleable as it is enduring, its red sandstone cliffs, clay bluffs, and golden sand beaches reshaped by winds and water from season to season—and sometimes from one hour to the next. Generations of people have inhabited the South Shore, harvesting the forests and fish, mining copper, altering the land for pleasure and profit, for better or worse. In Impermanence, author Sue Leaf explores the natural and human histories that make the South Shore what it is, from the gritty port city of Superior, Wisconsin, to the shipping locks at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. 


For Leaf, what began as a bicycling adventure on the coast of Lake Superior in 1977 turned into a lifelong connection with the area, and her experience, not least as owner of a rustic cabin on a rapidly eroding lakeside cliff, imbues these essays with a passionate sense of place and an abiding curiosity about its past and precarious future. As waves slowly consume the shoreline where her family has spent countless summers, Leaf is forced to confront the complexity of loving a place that all too quickly is being reclaimed by the great lake.


Impermanence is a journey through the South Shore’s story, from the early days of the Anishinaabe and fur traders through the heyday of commercial fishing, lumber camps, and copper mining on the Keweenaw Peninsula to the awakening of the Northland to the perils and consequences of plundering its natural splendor. Noting the geological, ecological, and cultural features of each stop on her tour along the South Shore, Leaf writes about the restoration of the heavily touristed Apostle Islands National Lakeshore to its pristine conditions, even as Lake Superior maintains its allure for ice fishers, kayakers, and long-distance swimmers. She describes efforts to protect the endangered piping plover and to preserve the diverse sand dunes on the Michigan coast, and she observes the slough that supports rare intact wild rice beds central to Anishinaabe culture.


Part memoir, part travelogue, part natural and cultural history, Leaf’s love letter to Lake Superior’s South Shore is an invitation to see this liminal world in all its seasons and guises, to appreciate its ageless, ever-changing wonders and intimate charms.

About the Author

Sue Leaf is author of The Bullhead Queen: A Year on Pioneer Lake; A Love Affair with Birds: The Life of Thomas Sadler Roberts; Portage: A Family, a Canoe, and the Search for the Good Life; and 2021 Minnesota Book Award winner Minnesota’s Geologist: The Life of Newton Horace Winchell, all published by Minnesota. Trained as a zoologist, she writes about environmental and natural history. Her family has owned a cabin outside Port Wing, Wisconsin, on Lake Superior’s South Shore for thirty-five years.

Praise For…

"Sue Leaf's Impermanence is a fascinating combination of personal memoir, natural history, and cultural history. She writes beautifully about Lake Superior's South Shore and its forests, wetlands, and peoples. Her reflections on her family cabin on Lake Superior, and her grief about its potential loss from bluff erosion due to climate change, are particularly evocative. Anyone who loves Lake Superior will find this book rewarding."—Nancy Langston, author of Sustaining Lake Superior and Climate Ghosts


"Sue Leaf has given us a gift: a vivid and meticulously researched portrait of one of the most remarkable freshwater coasts in the world. I thought I knew the place well, but I learned something new and fascinating on nearly every page."—Jerry Dennis, author of The Living Great Lakes: Searching for the Heart of the Inland Seas and The Windward Shore: A Winter on the Great Lakes


Product Details
ISBN: 9781517915254
ISBN-10: 1517915252
Publisher: Univ Of Minnesota Press
Publication Date: January 9th, 2024
Pages: 256
Language: English