Friday, August 12, 2011

With rocks in my pockets...

(A column originally published in August 2007)
Some might call me crazy for wading into Lake Superior with my jeans rolled up past my knees on a hunt for agates. Many say the water is too cold, and even my son howled when he ventured in.
Many hot summer days in my childhood were spent at a sandy Lake Superior beach. The south shore of the lake is home to some of my favorite places to visit when I’m in the Upper Peninsula - McLain State Park, the mouth of the Presque Isle River, Black River Harbor, Misery Bay, Saxon Harbor, and Little Girl’s Point. Each site has a magic of its own.
It was a Friday evening, and my son and I had driven out to the lake from my grandmother’s house to watch the sun set over Lake Superior at Little Girl’s Point, which is located over 20 miles north of Ironwood. The area is named for a Native American legend of a lost daughter of the Chippewa who disappeared in that area before her wedding.
The trip was made so I could fulfill a promise made when we were in the Upper Peninsula at the beginning of the month. My son wanted to go out to the lake, but with family coming in for my grandfather’s memorial Mass, and getting things ready, we had no time.
The road out to the lake winds through trees that reach out to each other over the asphalt, sheltering the road in a tunnel-like effect. Trips to Little Girl’s Point aren’t complete without a stop at a spring that is piped up along the roadway. Visitors fill bottles with some of the best water you’ll ever taste.
I was the first to spot the blue line on the horizon, and we were soon pulling into the parking lot of the beach at the county park. We made our way down the path to the lake, to a beach not suitable for bare feet. I didn’t want to mess up my favorite pair of sandals, so I slipped them off and gritted my teeth to walk across patches of rock to the lake. My son wore water shoes and had no trouble navigating his way to the water.
The first shock of cold water quickly fades away. I was bent over, peering through the water and reaching out for any rocks that caught my eye. The water lapping at the shore often distorts the view, but my pockets soon filled up. It is not possible for me to leave the lake without a few stones, I’ve been carrying rocks home from the lake since I was small.
My son, who changed into his swim trunks, was exploring the beach and having fun pushing a big piece of driftwood out into the lake, then watching the water effortlessly move the driftwood back to shore. We weren’t troubled by bugs, and the beach was almost empty, the only other people there was a family about 200-yards down the beach.
The lake was calm and mirror-smooth, ideal for skipping rocks. As the sun dipped lower towards the horizon, I began taking pictures. Lake Superior never fails to leave me in awe at the power of nature and humbled by the beauty of its shorelines. The stress of everyday life is stripped away and I was renewed by the magic of a summer night on the lake.
The sunset seemed to last forever, and I was enthralled by the way the light shifted, at the path of gold paving the way from me to where the sun was settling in for the night. My son and I decided to stay longer, gathering driftwood into a hastily prepared fire pit and borrowing matches from the family nearby to start a beach fire. We kept the fire going as the sun slipped away. There was not much of a moon that night, so we soon put the fire out and made our way back to the car before the last lingering traces of sunlight vanished.
It was a quarter to 10 when I started the car for the drive back. The open sky near the lake was soon replaced by a canopy of leaves, as the headlights traced our way back, winding through the trees and past the occasional field or yard. In the distance, the light caught a shadow along the edge of the forest, a bear that changed its mind about crossing the road and disappeared back into the dark. Our headlights did not deter an enormous porcupine we came across a mile later, fortunately he was in the other lane and we had the chance to slow down and admire him.
Street lights soon appeared and the road straightened out in the final stretch home. We pulled up in front of the house and I walked in the front door with rocks in my pockets and peace in my heart.

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