National Geographic : 1987 Jul
the ship sliced through the chilly October air. The 386-foot-wide aerial-lift bridge stretching across the harbor entrance rose soundlessly, and I watched the ship ease to a berth beside the giant grain elevators of Harvest States Cooperatives. Spilled, rot ting grain gave the air a whiskey smell. At my feet scattered kernels were sprouting. Linemen scrambled anxiously to make the ship fast as her captain barked com mands. Officials waited nearby. With them was Dick Pomeroy, a local reporter and sometime lineman: "It's still fascinating, no matter how long you've worked here." Part of my own fascination: realizing that oceangoing vessels sail here; for we were in the middle of America, an amazing 2,400 miles by water from the Atlantic Ocean. Although the ship stretched the length of two football fields, "She's not a big one," shipping agent Charles Hilleren said as we made our way across her deck, slippery with durum chaff. Wheat, already gushing out of a chute from one of the dockside elevators, formed a brown pyramid in one of the holds. "The hold will take 5,400 tons, and it's just one of six," Charles told me. "All the blood, sweat, and tears my uncle put into his 500-acre farm go into this ship in about 20 minutes." The Nea Tyhi had come to take American durum wheat across the Atlantic to Algeria. Algerians favor it for the couscous that is their dietary staple. Last year ships registered to 26 nations carried 4.5 million tons of cargo from Du luth and its sister port of Superior, Wiscon sin, to countries around the world. THE WATERWAY these vessels follow, across some of North America's old est rock, was gouged out largely by the thrusts of Ice Age glaciers, which retreated some 10,000 years ago. Ice more than a mile thick bulldozed the landscape and withdrew, leaving five gigantic basins. Today there are waves and surf more akin to oceans than lakes. On these huge expanses of water, even after a storm has passed, the waves continue to crash-hard enough to rattle Bob Rumes's dishes, to devour his yard. Erosion occurs every where. More than a few homeowners have paid a heavy (Continuedon page 14) Closed for the first time by flooding, Lake Shore Drive (below) is seen during the Februarystorm when northerlywinds barreleddown the length of Lake Michi gan, piling water up all along the southern end. Though years of high precipitation and unusual cold raisedlake levels, the Februaryflood was exacerbatedby an unseasonablywarm winter, depriving the lakefront of protective ice barriers. Twenty-foot waves jumped seawalls, making skating rinks of parkinglots (right)and streets for a block or two inland. Home to a tenth of the Great Lakes' population,Chicago is particularly vulnerable to rising lake levels because of its extensive lakeside development.