Trevor's Trip, Continued
Our first feel of the lake’s cold, clear water comes at Michigan"s Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore near Munising. Our daylong kayaking tour will run along sandstone cliffs that rise nearly 200 feet overhead, often with seductive curves stained by minerals, producing something like Navajo rugs interpreted in rock. Carl Hansen of Northern Waters Adventures gives a quick lesson on the beach as we sit in the boats, churning sand with paddles to practice turns and backstrokes. Dad says he feels like a sea turtle burying eggs. Despite Dad’s joking, I see he’s a little tense on the brink of his first-ever kayaking trip. Thanks to all the tales of Superior’s big waves, deep water and appetite for ships, the lake has gotten inside his head.
As we slide our kayaks into the lake, Carl says, "Everyone you see today, whether they’re on the beach or on a tour boat, will wish they were in your boat. " And when we paddle to Miners Castle, we gaze up 100 feet at tourists standing near the stone turret like we’re celebrities watching paparazzi. We paddle close together as Carl explains that the legendary Father Marquette stood on the tower and preached to Ojibwa floating in canoes. It’s no surprise when Carl says he used to be a teacher. "I still teach every day. It’s just not the chalkboard dust kind, " he says.
I (a salty veteran of one prior kayaking trip) keep an eye on Dad. But after he pulls off a few smooth turns of his long yellow boat, I notice his shoulders relaxing and his head tilting back to gaze up at the high cliffs.
A few days later, along another cliff in Lake Superior Provincial Park, we see the Ojibwa version of Misshepezhieu. We pick our way along a trail squeezed so tightly between cliff and water that rangers leave ropes hanging from the rocks, giving anyone who washes off a way back up. Here we find the ancient Agawa Rock pictographs, red figures including a canoe-borne war party and the lake spirit. When Misshepezhieu"s tail starts swishing, I wouldn’t want to get caught standing on this spot exposed to the lake's fury.
It’s our next-to-last day when the lake’s spirit shows itself in the Slate Islands. Our guide is Doug Caldwell, a retired electrician who drinks straight from the lake, met his wife while he was playing hockey and worries over the Slates like they"re his children. Doug is telling us about caribou when we hear splashing. He says, "Here comes one. " I’m lucky enough to have my camera ready.
When I look now at the photo of Dad and the caribou locking gazes, I realize that we couldn’t really hope to know a 31,700-square-mile lake after just five days. But I think we at least know what it’s all about. And that’s something worth going full circle for.