The Water Image

People have asked me about certain elements in the novels, especially the descriptions of water, which serve as a connecting factor between the three books.  Being from Michigan, I have always loved the lakes and streams; one is never far from fresh water, which gives us life, recreation, and natural beauty.  Our family is fortunate to have a cabin, a real cabin built of pine logs, on a lake in the northern part of the lower peninsula.  It was there that I wrote most of my trilogy.

Front the front porch of my cabin, where I did most of the writing, I could see my lake, an inland lake large enough to give the impression of an expanse of water.  As I wrote, that lake changed and became many things for me.

In the first novel, ‘In Clouds of Fire,’ the lake became Lake Erie, on which many of the early Mormons journeyed on their way from New York State to the settlement at Kirtland, Ohio.  They would land at Fairport Harbor and then travel to Kirtland.

In ‘The Way to the Shining City,’ the main body of water was the Mississippi River, and as I looked out over my lake, for me it became that mighty river.  I had seen enough of the real Mississippi to know that there were forests of lily pads hugging the shores, and flocks of wild birds, so I just added them to the description of the river.

‘Children of a Northern Kingdom’ has Lake Michigan as its main body of water.  Beaver Island is located twenty-five miles from the mainland, and the lake is always close at hand.  It is not a gentle inland sea.  There are fierce storms and wind, and these natural disturbances play a part in the novel.  From the first turbulent trip to Beaver Island from the Wisconsin shore, to the final violent leave-taking, the lake is ever-present with its moods and shifting colors.  If you have spent any time near water, you know how the color of the water changes with the light, the sky, and the time of day.  Also the seasons.  From what I have read, winters seem to have been colder and fiercer back in the nineteenth century, and the temperature was frigid enough so that there was an ice bridge between Beaver Island and the mainland.  That was in the 1850’s.  In recent years, it has not been that cold.

The water seems to have had an influence on people, at least in the novels.  Those who lived close to the lake or river, deriving their living from the water, seemed to have had a special strength and perseverance.  The two ‘river rats,’ Crazy Charley and Adriel, are able at last to wrest a living from the water, as crew on a steamer.  They spoke of such an attraction for the lakes, especially the northern waters of Lake Michigan, that they did not want to live anywhere else.

Again, my Lake Skegemog, on a smaller scale, became the waters of Lake Michigan as I wrote and looked out my front window.  I was once told that the water image was a freeing one, something that comforts and liberates the spirit, so I like to think that the sight of water was a reassuring one for those early people, who in the trials and persecutions had to bear incredible hardships.

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Elaine Stienon

Elaine Stienon