Billy here. Traveling west through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, we explored Pictured Rocks National Park on Lake Superior (in Ojibwe gichigami or Great Lake). We traveled the entire shore from the tiny fishing town of Grand Marais down to Marquette, finding huge ravens, wild raspberries, eagles, waterfalls and hidden lakes. Our first glimpse of the lake was a calm glassy morning in Grand Marais, where old, tiny fishing shacks lined the streets. I thought of the incredible cold in winter time and smoked fish. I thought of the terrible winter storms that could whip up waves as high as 26 feet. This lake contains a spirit so great that many lives and generations have lived with it. The Anishnaabe word for spirit is manitou, but it could also be understood as “The Force” that binds all living things together, the gichi manitou, the Great Spirit. Small animals are called manidoowish and insects are called manidoons, both meaning little spirit. When I visit a place, it is helpful for me to familiarize myself with the language of the original peoples that lived there, because I feel that this language is a part of that place and in fact the initial human relationship with that place. I feel a great longing to visit Northern Europe and understand how it feels to be with the land there, to hear the languages in the remote villages, because this is where my ancestors were buried before coming here to escape the Second Reich of Germany. Some of my ancestors, of course, were buried here on the Great Lakes too. Each place we visit is a part of us, its stones the bones of our grandmothers, its streams the blood of our future children.
The heavens and the earth are my heart. The rising sun is my mouth. My lips dare not lie to you. My friend, I ask the same from you. Do not deceive us. Be strong and preserve your word inviolate. I am old, but I shall never die. I shall always live in my children, and my children’s children.
– New Corn, Potawatomi
The nitrates in Lake Superior are rising each year. This is slowly changing the ecology of the lake. Being the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area, Lake Superior alone contains 10% of the world’s surface freshwater.
We obtained a backpacking permit and hiked into Beaver Lake, which we used as a base camp to hike along the beautiful shores of Lake Superior via the North Country Trail and circumnavigate Beaver Lake. A forest ecosystem grew up over sand dunes along the lake. Streams tumbled into waterfalls. Loons and the wind on the lake filled the air.
Spencer here: Lake Superior–grand, glassy, chilling and alive. When it shimmers, my mother always says, “makes you want to jump right in!” Often I agree, but on this trip, I thought better of it. At times the lake can look and feel like the Atlantic Ocean–crashing waves and stiff wind. So cold, it feels like November, not the middle of August. The morning we spent in Grand Marais, walking along the break wall, it was flat, calm and sober–the water temperature 35 degrees. Maybe I was reading into it, but I thought the lake also felt watchful. On our trip we have seen so many people with kayaks, canoes, jet skis, boats, atvs and even water jet boots! As I said, it is good people can get out there and experience the out-of-doors, I can’t help but wonder, however, if people are still missing the point of wilderness. When I see Lake Superior, I feel the wildness. It lures you and entices you and breaks your heart–but it teaches you if you listen. It teaches, yet it is a mutual learning: slowing down to a glacial pace and letting go, things I need to work on honoring myself.
The problem is that the people who go there [to wilderness] don’t care about the wildness; they care about the other human values of our culture: money, gear, family, friends, having fun. Most people who do go into the natural world are going for recreation, not contemplation.
-Jack Turner, Author and Teacher
I too, get caught up in backpacking gear talk, thinking about what cool canoe to buy, finishing a long-distance trail, getting to the top of Mt. Whitney. I also think about the stuff falling out of our Jeep, organizing, driving and cramming in the fun. Billy and I often make reference to this behavior as “Peak Bagging”, which is an awful term that lends reference to the hordes of people every year who try to conquer wilderness. Really all we need is to take a long hike through the woods. Walk until our legs ache to stop and our minds actually do. Then we become nature and in turn natural. The fun comes without effort.
With the ice in Lake Superior only just melting at the end of June, it would be a long winter for us if we stayed in a small town like Grand Marais, however, I can’t help but to daydream about it. Perhaps I am in the mood for it, as I have been desiring a more isolated existence these days. That might seem funny since we just came from rural New Mexico. My experience there was brilliant, although very different from what I had originally thought it would be. I am grateful for the time I had to write, play music and paint, however, we were busy bees there, just like anywhere else–helping neighbors, attending gatherings and working customer service jobs. I learned part of what I need to do is choose not to be busy because it will find you anywhere! Carrying all this forward, across the country to where we will eventually land will be a challenge. Most of my friends work extraordinary hours in the city to keep up with skyrocketing rent, mortgages and new family members. While on occasion I envy their stability, I wonder how I will fare when I get back and take up the slack of my responsibilities. Eventually, it is our goal to not have to “get back” to the city. Sustain ourselves in nature, perhaps near a small town, as artists. How? How? How? Staring down over the cliffs at Pictured Rocks helped me to be worried about something else for a change–Billy getting ever closer to the edge to take photos and get a good look! We really stretched our legs on this segment of the trip. I tried to stretch my ideas of what “home” might look like as well. The town of Marquette started winning me over at the end with a fantastic food co-op and Dead River Roasters coffee shop.