Train Bridge at Manayunk
A VISIT TO ISLE ROYALE
Janet Ruth Heller
Out of the Lake Superior fog looms a small group of rocky but forested islands. Our boat, the Queen, zooms expertly toward the dock at Rock Harbor. After a four-and-a-half-hour boat ride plagued by flies and smoking passengers, setting foot on dry land at the national park off Michigan's Upper Peninsula is a welcome relief.
Mike and I take many trails around the island. All challenge hikers: the paths often narrow, cross swamps on two long boards, and feature massive rocks, tree roots, and steep hills. We see squirrels, woodpeckers, mergansers, and zillions of wildflowers. We hear the operatic arias of the shy white-throated sparrow.
Tourists have a pecking order on Isle Royale. Everyone asks everyone else, “Have you seen a moose?” If you have, you are an aristocrat. If you have not, you are a mere peon. We get lucky: we discover a cooperative female moose while we explore the area in a canoe. She even seems to smile condescendingly for our camera. We are aristocrats, and we can prove it.
The closest we get to moose the other days of our trip is seeing cloven-hoofed tracks and small, round turds. The animals imprint their hoof marks on a muddy mass in the middle of a trail where people have been careful not to step. Apparently, moose mothers do not teach their children to stay out of the mud. We feel frustrated because we know that the hidden moose are nearby but choose to avoid us.
We do get to see some loons, but not for long. They dive and swim underwater to escape human observers. Their call, ahh-ooo-ahh, echoes like a banshee’s yell across the lakes and rivers of the North Woods. One loon takes pity on us and lets us canoe close enough to see his beautiful dark head and white neckband clearly before he dives.
The friend who told us about Isle Royale forgot to mention the flies. Hordes of black flies follow us when we canoe, and armies of mosquitoes follow us when we hike. They sting right through our socks.
I find myself resenting the mechanical noises on the islands: the roar of motorboats, the zoom of seaplanes, the buzz of the electric generator that supplies the islands’ power. Otherwise, Isle Royale is very quiet, especially at night, when we can hear crickets and the calls of loons and foxes. The peaceful sounds of animals and insects soothe us and help us get in touch with our inner core and our longings. Yet I feel like a hypocrite: I came to the islands on the motor-powered Queen and use a cabin dependent on electricity for its refrigerator, stove, lighting, and hot water. I both need and resent modern civilization.
Janet Ruth Heller
Janet Ruth Heller is the president of the Michigan College English Association. She has a Ph.D. in English Language and Literature from the University of Chicago. She is a past president of the Society for the Study of Midwestern Literature. She has published three poetry books: Exodus (WordTech Editions, 2014), Folk Concert: Changing Times (Anaphora Literary Press, 2012), and Traffic Stop (Finishing Line Press, 2011); a scholarly book, Coleridge, Lamb, Hazlitt, and the Reader of Drama (University of Missouri Press, 1990); a middle-grade fiction chapter book for children, The Passover Surprise (Fictive Press, 2015, 2016); and a fiction picture book for children about bullying, How the Moon Regained Her Shape (Arbordale, 2006; 6th edition 2018), that has won four national awards, including a Children’s Choices award. Her website is www.janetruthheller.com.
Paul Knox is a restless soul who put down the bottle and picked up a camera. He wanders and wonders, seeking beauty both fleeting and timeless.