Although the Midwestern United States may have a reputation for being composed of featureless, landlocked, corn-dominated farmland, the more northern reaches are punctuated by beautiful forests, lakes, and beaches. The stunning area that I have been exploring this summer comes complete with the infinite horizons that accompany the finest ocean views, yet the frigid waters that intersect the sky remain clear and pure without the salt, pollution, and population that taint our vast oceans. In many ways this area offers the best of both worlds - seclusion and unparalleled pristine wilderness. These immaculate freshwater shorelines are a well-kept secret.
A healthy mix of sands, gravels, cobbles, and driftwood dot the shore, inviting rockhounds and beach bums alike to savor the splendor of a lazy August afternoon. With an eye to detail, some agates may even be uncovered hidden among the basalts and sandstones that are slowly eroded into dust by the incessant beating of wave action. These are not the stereotypical Lake Superior Agate that I have discussed and mapped in previous articles, but rather a yellow, green, and pink variety of 'moss agate'. They may not have fine laminations of white and red, but moss agates have a beauty unto themselves. They will require an article of their own, perhaps some time this winter...
This region of the big lake also serves as a playground for those who enjoy boats slightly larger than kayaks. Sailboats and fishing vessels hop from marina to marina, catching the wind and chasing the catches. The area is a National Lakeshore, so the National Park Service also has a presence at the many boat launches and island retreats. These must be some of the happiest park rangers in the country, able to watch a beautiful water sunset each night without having to deal with the masses of tourists that plague other National Parks.
There is a calming purity associated with the untouched islands that permeate the healing waters of Lake Superior. I have spent a lot of time hiking in forests and mountains around the world, but this place feels altogether different. Perhaps the effort and expense required to reach the islands serves to protect them from being explored and altered by less respectful adventurers. Maybe the lack of bridge and ferry service is their saving grace, ensuring that the people who venture beyond the mainland are conscientious of their impact on this delicate environment.
During the most recent full moon, a couple of dear colleagues and I paddled out after sunset to watch it rise. The patchwork of scattered clouds hindered the spectacle slightly, turning the bright orange sphere into a lunar burlesque dancer performing an enticing seduction for an audience of three. It was a magical experience that I will not soon forget - a fantastic way to close one of my last trips this summer. This weekend offers one final journey to the islands before I trade in my kayak for a canoe and head for slightly more anthropocenic waters. Slowly I prepare for the paddle of a lifetime!