looking out over the tip of a kayak on Lake Superior

Lake Superior over the tip of my kayak.

As Laura recently pointed out, things have been busy around here. Not just at Mudminnow but with everything else the three of us do. Hence, the unintended hiatus of Musings from the Minnow.  But, work or not, I’ve had a new kayak sitting in my garage for the last three weeks and because the weather finally cooperated I took it out this past week – several times. I suppose I could have taken it out earlier but it would have involved hauling it over snow and then paddling through icebergs. And honestly? My love of kayaking does have its limits. I’d rather work than haul a kayak through snow.

But the first place I headed was a couple miles down the beach to check out the bald eagle nest. The nest is still there, but there were no signs or sounds of eaglets in there. On one visit there was an adult hopping around on the rocks nearby, and on another visit there was one soaring overhead. But neither was exhibiting territorial or protective behavior. And on the last visit, no adults were visible.

And that’s kind of the tell tale sign – the lack of adult eagles around the nest. If there are eggs or eaglets in a nest there’s usually at least one adult eagle very nearby. But this year the nest is just part of the northwoods scenery.

Which brings me to the title of this blog. In the years I’ve been watching that nest, there have always been eagles there. I didn’t think I did, but obviously I took it for granted that I would always paddle down there and see eagles tending their nest and young. And there are plenty of eagles around here – the other morning I stepped out on the beach and there were 6 soaring overhead. There was one sitting on the rocks this morning. There just aren’t eagles on “my” nest.

It’s easy to forget that it’s a rough world out there for so many of our fellow creatures. When a spring snowstorm dumps on us, we mutter “Damn! I have to plow the driveway again? Aren’t we done with winter?” But for nesting and migrating birds it’s not an inconvenience … it’s deadly.

I’m hoping I’m wrong, that the next time I paddle down there I’ll hear squawking and see adults around. But sad as that, apparently, empty nest is, it’s also good to be reminded: Things change, treasure your present moments.  

                                                                                               — Lesley

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Isle Royale beach with kayaks

The beach in front of the Rock Harbor Lighthouse, Ranger III on the horizon.

You might think that living in the middle of nowhere means I get my fill of wilderness and solitude. But, nope, that is not the case. In general, writers can never get enough solitude – a topic Laura ably covered last week. And then there’s the difference between the middle of nowhere and true wilderness solitude.

I live in the middle of nowhere. By ordinary standards I’m already living in a wilderness. Yet every year I can’t wait for my vacation in a real wilderness to roll around. And this past week, like Christmas, it arrived.

I’ve spent the past week kayaking at Isle Royale National Park, a designated wilderness area and an international biosphere reserve. It’s fabulous and it’s right here – a 50×9 mile island sitting in Lake Superior. The National Park Service runs a boat, the Ranger III, between Houghton, Michigan and the island and the trip takes six hours.

Once out there, the only way to get around is by walking or by boat. There are trails, but they’re rough and you need to pay attention to your footing at all times. There are safe harbors, but it IS Lake Superior so you need to watch the water at all times. Cell phones don’t work, but in an emergency you can pay $1.95 per minute and use the satellite phone in Rock Harbor – just hope you’re near Rock Harbor when the emergency arises.

I didn’t write while I was out there. I just kayaked, listened to the loons, and did some sketching. I’ve been going to Isle Royale since my dad dragged us out there as kids. And then in high school a girlfriend and I started going out there by ourselves – and we’re STILL going out there. We rarely miss a year.

Over the decades we have gone from back packing, to camping, to boating, and now, for the last 10 years, it’s been kayaking. We are kayaking fools, logging in about 12 miles a day. Enough to give us a workout, not enough to put us in the hard-core kayaking class. And every year, a week turns out to not be enough. We want more time out there.

When we arrived back in Houghton, after our wilderness sojourn, both of us commented on the traffic and the perils of being back in civilization. Even if you’ve never been here, you probably realize how ludicrous this is – Houghton is barely a dot on the map and its downtown is maybe five blocks long. But after a week on Isle Royale, we’re driving down the main street complaining about traffic and civilization. The irony does not escape us.

If I were Muir, Emerson, or Thoreau I’d have a brilliant conclusion about how wilderness matters, about how our national park system matters, about the need for everyone to experience the core centering that comes from spending time in the wilderness, or at least time outdoors.

But I’m not. So I’m just going to add – and perhaps you’ll just have to trust me on this – that there is a huge difference between the middle of nowhere and true wilderness. The difference is in yourself.

                                                                                                                       — Lesley

Newport Beach

Most people come to the great north woods and Lake Superior during the summer, but my own schedule often takes me away. This past week I’ve been in southern California, where I lived for eight years going to college and grad school. So a vacation, but with familiarity thrown in.

Sort of.

I say “sort of” because one of the houses I lived in was a spectacular redwood and glass structure that sat on a hill in the middle of a ten-acre eucalyptus grove. It had an infinity pool, a guest house, a stable, AND it overlooked the flower fields in Encinitas. Acres and acres of flowers, all waiting to be plucked and shipped to florists.

I lived in this amazing place for the princely sum of $525 a month and the United States government was my landlord. The place had been built by a drug lord (now in prison) and the government had repossessed the house. They just wanted someone in the house and I was the lucky one.

It was so off-the-charts spectacular it should’ve been immune from subdivision sprawl … but no. The house, the flower fields, everything was gone and the whole area was just one massive sprawl of houses and streets. So much for familiarity.

From there it was up to Newport Beach, where – amongst other things – I spent a couple days kayaking. Normally I kayak with eagles, the occasional otter, and other oddities. This summer a shipwreck from the 1800s has even materialized offshore, still in deep water but now uncovered by shifting sand.

But in Newport I got to kayak with yachts and cruise ships. Totally different than my normal kayaking – lots of traffic, lots of human and mechanical activity on the water. It was a blast! I used an ocean kayak, which was a bit like kayaking with a Fisher-Price kiddy toy but it maneuvered great.

So what about the cat with the Mohawk?

Well, that would be my own cat. During this trip our college age kids remained at home, working their summer jobs. In a fit of boredom, or creative inspiration, they gave our 15-year-old cat a Mohawk haircut, shaving off all his fur save for a spiky stripe along his spine. I walked into the house last night and he immediately glared at me and started yowling. Apparently, he was not amused. (Having known my kids all their lives I thought it was pretty funny.)

So there you have it … kayaking with yachts, and cats with Mohawks. Just another ordinary week.

–Lesley

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