Sunday, July 13, 2008

From Lake Superior

The photos making up my "post card" from Munising Bay were taken the morning after my story. As I’ve done for the past several years, I was in the UP this past week to help out on a Habitat for Humanity project and to do a big-feed for 53 hungry workers, many of whom were high school and college students. The church basement where they were staying was crowded and too many of them snored, so I decided to take the peaceful option and spend my nights there in the back of my pickup (yes, there’s a top over the bed). This is the experience of one of those nights… Enjoy. Looking across the bay, the town looks peaceful. Straight across from where I’m parked, maybe a mile away and on the other side of the bay, is a small paper mill. The town wraps itself around the south end of the bay between us. The glow of the lights, the flicker of fireflies and the hint of fog upon the water create an idyllic scene. Looking above, I notice the Scorpion in the sky, perched just above the ridge to the south. To his right is Libra, the scales and a little further to the west is the crescent moon. To the left of Scorpion is the archer, his arrow aimed at the bright red star in the heart of the giant insect, supposedly to avenge the death of his friend Orion, the Hunter (hence, Orion is noticeably absent from the night sky anytime the scorpion is present). High overhead are the dippers, with the North Star positioned over the spot where the bay opens into the deep waters of Lake Superior.

I crawl into the back of my truck. The air is cool and the wind brisk. I leave the windows open, enjoying the fresh air, but as soon as I strip into shorts, I slide into my bag and zip it up for warmth. The foam pad covering the truck’s bed makes a comfortable nest and I lay listening to the clanging of the riggings of sailboats just off shore. This was once a busy harbor for shipping of lumber and shingles. Today, only pleasure boats and tourist junkets offering a water level view of Pictured Rocks leave Munising Bay for the big waters.

Across the bay I can hear a train come into town. Railroads use to crisscross the Upper Peninsula, but today only one line crosses the eastern potion of the peninsula, running from Wisconsin to Sault Ste. Marie and on into Canada. Branching off this line are spurs, one running into Marquette and another running from Trout Lake to Munising, where I am tonight. The abandoned lines serve mainly as snowmobile routes in the winter. Just after the Great War, Hemingway took a train from his family cabin on Walloon Lake to the Mackinaw Straits, where he crossed on a ferry and then continued on the Duluth, South Shore and Atlantic Line, from St. Ignace, up through the swamps to Trout Lake, where it crossed the Minneapolis, St Paul & Sault Ste Marie Line, and on to right before Seney where he and friends departed and spent a week fishing the spreads on the East Fox River. As I’ve noted before, this trip would provide Hemingway with the material for his classic Nick Adams story, “The Big Two-Hearted River.” The line no longer runs all the way to St. Ignace, it stops at Trout Lake. It hasn’t been that long since the line continued on from Munising to Marquette, but now the track ends at the mill at the east end of town. I listen to what appears to be the shuffling of cars and before I fall asleep, I hear the train leave, its engineer whistling at each crossing as it pulls up the ridge and on into the night.

A few hours later, I wake up to a fine spray on my face. It’s raining and the wind drives the rain through the screens. I slide the windows almost closed, leaving only an inch open for ventilation. Lying here, I listen to patter of the rain on the truck cover. A few minutes later, I’m surprised to hear another train coming down into Munising, its lonesome whistle wailing at each crossing. I listen for a few minutes to more shuffling of cars, then fall back asleep and don’t wake again until the sun is up and a mosquito is buzzing around my head. I squash it before he does damage, pull on pants and a shirt, and crawl out of the truck. I walk over to the edge of the weeds around the lake and brush my teeth. The sun’s rays are streaming across the bay, melting the fog away. I then head into the kitchen where others are already mixing batter and frying pancakes.
A photo of the job site on Thursday (on Monday, only the foundation had been laid). A Lake Superior sunset (taken from the dunes at the mouth of the Au Train.


  1. I could do with a view like that. Not that the park outside my window is bad, but there's a jazz festival going on since this afternoon...

  2. Those are gorgeous.

    I need to make it to the UP one of these days.

  3. If we can ever get enough of the West, the UP is definitely on our "must see" list -- that and Boundary Waters and Quetico Provincial Park.


  4. Seawyf, Jazz is almost as nice as the nautical sounds of boats rocking in the breeze

    TC, Yes you do! I'm not sure why WI hasn't claimed the UP :)

    Sherman, the UP is like the West (with trees). If you get a chance, a backpacking trek on Isle Royale is well worth it--it's like 45 miles from one end of the island to another, with lots of places for side trips.

  5. What a beautiful setting for your Habitat for Humanity project.

    I never knew the story of those constellations. I could listen to them for hours!

  6. Reading this makes me want to go sleep in the back of my truck.

  7. I enjoyed reading your story. I brought up the UP on Map Quest so that I could see the area you were describing.

  8. Hollygl, I've always been interested in the stars and have known that story since I was a teenager. There is an excellent book on the sky myths (compiling stories from a number of cultures--Greek, Persian, Native American, African, Asian, etc) titled "The New Patterns in te Sky: Myths and Legends of the Stars" by Julius Stall.

    Kevin, sleeping in the back of the truck is okay if you're under 6' tall!

    Mother Hen, we only built one--but this group has built a house a year there for 25 years! They don't complete it, but it's ready for the plumbers, drywallers, etc when they leave.

    Dan, it's wonderful country up there!

    Claire, thanks for stopping bye.

  9. Glad to see you had screens for your topper. Hate to see the bugs carry you off in the night.

  10. I'm envious of how many constellations you can identify - I'm limited to Orion and the Big and Little Dipper!

    Good for you giving of your time to such a worthy cause.

  11. Off topic: Thanks for the recommendation on the Dalton Highway post. Great trip report!

    The Dalton is something I've always wanted to drive and I've always wanted to see the Brooks Range -- perhaps take a wilderness float in the Gates of the Arctic. Maybe when the kids finally leave the house.



  12. Gorgeous images.

    The photos are nice, too.

  13. It is so great when I find myself in an area worthy of stargazing. Hard pressed to find a spot these days. I look forward to having a house out of city central.

    Love the sunset pic!

  14. Love the UP; planning on Mackinaw Island one day soon.

  15. Have never been to the UP. Looks incredible

  16. The sound of rain, trains and mosquitos...and the smell of frying pancakes? You ARE a country boy! Beautiful photo of the sunset, btw. I'd like to see what the house will look like one day.

  17. Great photos! I like the way you do postcards. :)

  18. Ed, the bugs are bad this year!

    Diane, you need to get a star book and then get out of S. CA, so you can see the night sky!

    Sherman, take me along on that float trip!

    Bone, thanks

    Kontan, there are not too many spots in the east with good views of the night sky thanks to light pollution

    Karen, as many times as I've been in the UP, I've yet to go to Mackinaw Is.

    Pia, the UP is a "unique place" It's like the rural west, with trees

    Scarlet, the photo of the house was taken the day I left, they had finished the siding as well as the roof by the time they finished the project on Friday. Another crew will do the drywall and plumbing on the inside.

    Tim, thanks.