On a clear June morning, with the Sun barely cracking a smile, I pushed my canoe into the frigid waters of Gitchi Gummi. Accompanying me were an ax, knife, coffee, percolator, bacon fat in Folgers can, flour, Stella guitar, paper & pen, fishing pole, dip net, small canvas Army tent, and my mummy fart sack. Everything that I needed for an extended stay.
I paddled through Sand Bay out into the open water of the Greatest of the Great Lakes. Hawks swirled above, occasionally diving at lightening speed to snatch an unsuspecting fish. There were no sounds of man. No engines. No honking horns. No buzzing of lawnmowers. Only the whisper of a gentle breeze, the sploosh of my paddle as it entered the water, and occasional squawks from bird above. Nature and me!
The rising tide carried me to the shores of the outermost Apostle Isle. I beached my canoe and removed its contents. Flipping the canoe over I wedged each end into the crooks of nearby inland trees that were old friends. I had painted the canoe to match the surroundings on a previous trip. It blended perfectly with the birch, pine, poplar and fauna. I was invisible to any passerby.
As noon approached, I finished the third of three fish traps constructed of branches lashed together by fishing line. Minnows caught by the dip net were used for bait as the traps were set. I cast a line into the water and anchored my pole. It was time to setup the rest of the camp.
I spread the tent out on the ground, but did not raise it. The sky was clear with no threat of rain. I could sleep under trillions of stars in the night theater. Peace embraced me. I leaned poplar poles against the canoe as a contingency.
Back at waters edge, I noticed several walleye sunning themselves in the summer sun. I returned to the woods to cut poplar to fashion into a spear. Three sharpened limbs fastened around a long staff with fishing line makes an effective fishing tool. Back to the water I focused upon one, quickly thrust my spear, and brushed his back. All 3 swam away quickly. I stood motionless for a minute or three and sure enough, they returned. I took better aim and pinned one against the mucky bottom. Grabbing him behind the head, I wrestled him to the shore and quickly lopped off his head, which continued to gasp. Pretty creepy to say the least.
Guts and head were dispersed to the traps as more enticing bait. Scales were sent to the ground near a tree as fertilizer.
It was time to build a fire to cook the fish and provide warmth for the night. Even in the summer, temperatures on Lake Superior drop into the 40’s at night. The lake never rises above 38 degrees at the heart of August. I gathered dry felled logs and dead branches for my fire. I wish I could claim that I used a bow drill or flint and knife to start the fire, alas, I pulled the Zippo that my father gifted me years before, clicked it once and fire happened.
More sticks were added, then a tripod of dry logs and soon the blaze was scorching my face. This was all done underneath the suspended canoe. From a crossbar the fish hung over the fire, but not too close. Slowly the walleye that gave his life so that I could eat roasted to a crispy delight.
After eating, I returned to my traps to find two bewildered perch swimming in circles. To this day I don’t know why fish don’t swim out the hole they came in through. The third of three traps was made too big. A snapping turtle had entered and was munching my bait. Tales abound in the Land Beyond Reality about fingers and body parts removed by snapping turtles. I wasn’t about to challenge this guy.
I wrote in my composition book well into the pleasant evening.
The first flash of lightening came as the waning Moon disappeared. Within 15 minutes, rain fell in torrents, wind gusted across the island producing a mournful howl.
Devil’s Island was about to live up to its name.
The island sits 50 feet above Lake Superior at its highest point. The northern end of the island consists of a series of caves caused by erosion over thousands of centuries. The wind whipping through like breath over a pop bottle causes a resonance that shakes the island, ears, and soul.
Ojibwa ancestors told that this was the voice of Matchi Manitou, the evil brother of Gitchi Manitou, the Great Spirit – The Creator. Matchi Manitou’s song proclaims that He is as powerful as His brother.
I scrambled to throw canvas over the lodge poles leaning against the canoe to protect my fire as my father had taught long before. Sunshine Blackwater taught me how to live with Nature and to love and respect its undeniable control of my fate.
I sang Doors songs back to Matchi Manitou; wasn’t going to be intimidated this time.
The storm dissipated as quickly as it started. Within minutes I was staring up at a clear dark sky. Sparkling stars, so plentiful, filled me with a terrifying awe as I contemplated the enormity of the Universe.
Fire stoked, I laid in my fart sack watching meteors streak briefly across the sky. Sleep came at some point.
Birds alerted me that dawn was approaching. I rose and walked the short distance to the shore. From the east came the first rays. In minutes, the red glow of the Sun heated my face. I stood and shouted, “Hoka Hey. It is a good day to die.”