Where have I been? In a different time and climate far, far away from 100+ degrees days. I’m with my family in the big north of Minnesota, along Lake Superior (named by the Ojibwe “the Gitche Gumee,” which means big water), and the water is big. In fact, this lake contains 10% of all the fresh water in the world, and according to our guide at the nearby Split Rock Lighthouse, if you were to put all the other great lakes into this one, you would still have room to spare. Another way to envision the size: 350 miles miles across and about 160 miles tall. So what we have is something not quite lake, not quite ocean, but to all of us who watch it, more a changeable and amazing animal of water.
The changes are startling and beautiful. From the blue, calm lake feathered with pink highlights late afternoon our first day, or the greenish-gray crashing waves yesterday after the storm, the lake is never and always the same place. We sit on the deck of our very-small (slightly bigger than a RV, Ken tells me) cabin, where five of us roam, eat and sleep, and watch the water. Although the black rocks, stippled with orange lichen, are about 2 billion years old, they receive the waves and slower ebbs of the water, only about 10,000 years ago, as if they’re old friends. Meanwhile, the seagull family, to whom we are famous for our stale bread, come calling, some of them standing on our roof and yelling down, “What the hell, people? Where’s the friggin’ bread?”
Other moments aren’t so predictable. A few days ago, we saw three black heads swimming north. “Snake?” Ken wondered. I envisioned giant black inland sea snakes, but no, this was a far more amusing and whimsical species: otters. We raced up the shore as the otters got closer, watching them swim and play, mostly fixated on going upstream but also leaping a little higher at times out of the water so I could see some of their long shining bodies.
The neighbors are also friendly, so much so that we shared a double-grill feast last night with them, our friends Joe and Susan (in another cabin) and a large herd of roaming kids. We talked the economy, books, what strength of poison is necessary to spray on us to keep our skin from total mosquito immersion (and with 200% of the usual rainfall, the mosquitoes are fierce), God, the discovery of a fundamental particle that determines why objects have gravity, and whether Tom Cruise had it coming. We also ate a lot of hot dogs, silver dollars (grilled foil packets of potatoes, onions and other vegetables), corn, potato chips, burgers, watermelon, s’mores and other outdoor vittles.
Today it’s off to hike along waterfalls, tiring our legs to match the good-ache we feel in our arms today from yesterday’s canoeing at full-speed to escape an approaching thunderstorm. Mostly, though, it’s watching this water watch us, at this moment golden and black in the clear sky’s sheen, and later, whatever it will turn into next.