Today we climb in the car while Orion keeps watch over the wee morning hours. The girls and I doze while my husband drives west into the first hints of daybreak, then north into a sapphire sky. The roads are quiet and the miles between home and Cornucopia quickly fly by. We park near the snow-covered beach, don our ice cleats, grab our walking sticks, and begin the mile-long hike over Lake Superior’s frozen swells to the first of many ice caves.
It’s what my father-in-law would have called a “Chamber of Commerce day.” The cold wind that usually sweeps across the lake is evidently vacationing with the clouds that usually mottle the sky. Stoic sandstone cliffs stand sentinel over the seemingly endless frozen expanse. The forces of wind and wave and waterfall continually wear on their delicate layers of golden and rusty sand. The result… smooth-walled crevices, caves and caverns. And now winter has added its own artistry to the already stunning sight.
Icicle clusters, waterfalls suspended in frozen motion, hang from the cliffs where water tumbles over the top, or seeps through cracks in the cliff face. Most are clear as crystal, glistening in the sunlight. Some are rust-stained, holding bits of sediment from the cliff in their frozen grip. A few are glacier blue. Their aquamarine hue lends soft color to the stark winter landscape.
Inside the caves, the ceilings are frosted with small white tendrils, hoar frost morphed into arctic coral. Muddy stalactite-like icicles, thick and bumpy as elephant trunks, point earthward. Some cave walls are decorated with narrow, translucent white ice ribs – their parallel pattern reminiscent of white pinstripes on a beige suit. Each cave is unique. Each ice formation has its own beauty. Each is resplendent with winter’s touch.
I’ve seen these same caves from the seat of a kayak. Though they have a natural allure in the summer, they are far more stunning dressed in their winter best. All this is the byproduct of fierce winds, frigid water, and freezing temperatures. Each cave harbors crystalline treasures crafted by cold, harsh days and long, dark nights. I wonder… is this what it takes for God to transform me? I know it is. Gold must burn to be purified. Coal must endure untold pressure to be diamond-ized. Living things must die to be fossilized. I must endure hardship to be sanctified. Since I want to bear the beauty of my sweet Savior, the painful process is worth enduring.
No one understood this better than Job. That poor guy lost everything… his family, his home, his status, his health. Admittedly, he had some low days, but Job knew in the core of his being God’s sanctifying work had both temporal and eternal rewards. He confidently declared, “But He knows the way I take; When He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold. (Job 23:10) He allowed the pressurized life he was living to transform the coals in his character into diamonds. And Job understood his only hope of preserving his life was dying to himself. He had great hope for this life, and confident expectation for his eternal home.
I cringe as I recall some harsh days that are behind me. No doubt, there are many more to come. By God’s power I want to face them with Job’s grace and courage, knowing the painful purification process has eternal rewards. I want this confidence to drive me: “As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will take His stand on the earth. Even after my skin is destroyed, yet from my flesh I shall see God; whom I myself shall behold, and whom my eyes will see and not another. (Job 19:25-27)
*PLEASE NOTE: I wrote this several years ago, the last time the caves were open. They are not open at this time. For updates about when it is possible to see the ice caves, please visit the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore website or Facebook page.