This photo was taken the morning after a day and night of heavy rain and wind. My husband told me the boat rocked and listed all night long (despite the fact that we were tethered to the dock at the marina.) I had slept through the night, hearing nothing, and missed the whole spectacle.
The featured image shows the marina headwall from the beach at Siskiwit Bay. The orange ladder and blue bench atop the marina wall caught my eye. The waves had a purplish cast, perhaps from the sediment disrupted from the lake bottom in the storm.
Earlier in the week, we motored to the sea caves and returned just as the sun was setting, the “blue hour.” The lake was so calm and still it magnified the reflection of the sunset. I took the photo above of Barker’s Point from the bow of our boat. At the time it was hard to imagine this same body of water turning into the mighty waves the happened a day later.
Yesterday, we drove along the South Shore of Lake Superior, heading home after a short week on our sailboat in Cornucopia, Wisconsin. In the midst of vast fields of silky grasses and on the edge of the forest bordering the Lake stood an abandoned schoolhouse. I persuaded my husband to stop and explore it. The King School, per the sign, dates back to 1916 and was last used in 1948. The Cloverland Community Club operated in the building for some time after that but also was eventually left behind.
Walking up to the building, I was surprised to find its doors open. The three room interior appeared rotting and unstable. Some of the furnishings remain from its days as a schoolhouse. The glass windows are broken and milky white in places but flooded the rooms with light. The wooden floors were both soft and tilted in different directions. I felt like they would give out at any time. The Hammond piano sat silent, casting a shadow on the chalkboard. I loved the handwriting on the wall and chalkboard for its reflection of families who visited the school over the years. But even on a bright and sunny afternoon, the schoolhouse felt eerie and forgotten
Classroom with Stove
In the photo taken outside of the school house, you can see a woman in the window on the right, with a flash of sunlight on her face. I did not know she was there or even in the building at the time I took this photo. It was only today when I uploaded and reviewed the photo that I saw her. I do not know who she was or what she was doing there. There was another family at the schoolhouse just checking out the premises when we arrived, but they left soon after and I never saw this woman. While I doubt that I captured a ghost, the woman in the window looking out at me is a mystery.
Abandoned School and Community Center, South Shore Lake Superior
In late August, 2015, we were on our sailboat, sheltered in the harbor of Grand Marais as gale-force winds swept over western Lake Superior for several days. The storm erupted against sunny, clear skies, and its winds drove the Lake’s waters into the sea wall. The Pie Place Café provided us a warm refuge on the quiet side of the sea wall. The dock reached to infinity while bounding the Lake waters.
Sunset Above Fog Bank, Sailing to Grace Harbor from Chippewa Harbor, Isle Royale
Isle Royale and its waters are wilderness and offer a spectacular and solitary experience. Whether we were anchored in the coves or sailing its coast, we crossed paths with no other boats. Considering that there is no WI-FI, e-mail, or TV, contact with the outside world is limited. I would like to say that this beautiful nature experience leads me to great self-insights, bouts of creativity, internal peace and remembrance of past lives, but not really.
But, sailing and hiking in Isle Royale require a self-awareness and focus on one’s surroundings that I never practice at home in a city. Isle Royale means that I watch the weather forecast closely so we don’t sail into thunderstorms or gale force winds, I hang tightly to the boat’s ladder when climbing into our tippy dinghy (which I hate by the way) because I really don’t want to fall into 48 degree water. And I’m careful about how I step on the rocky, overgrown hiking trails because I don’t want a twisted ankle especially when medical help is days away. All this makes me really enjoy the boat’s evening cocktail hour, also something I never do at home.
At the ranger station in Windigo Harbor, we heard the sad story of a hiker who broke her ankle out on a trail. The hiker had to continue walking on the broken ankle for miles in order to find a campsite with other hikers. To reach help, those hikers had to walk for two days to reach the ranger station, and then the rangers were going need another part of a day to reach her by boat. Even after being rescued, this poor lady was still facing hours of travel by boat or maybe a plane to reach a hospital.
This is not to say that Isle Royale’s wilderness is not worth the effort. Few are so privileged as to be able to go here, and this is why I write about it. In fact, I am encouraging my friends to make this trip, whether with us by sailboat or through the large ferries which transport hikers and kayakers. Just go! Be prepared for new experiences!
On September 1, we sailed west in the late afternoon under sunny blue skies from Chippewa Harbor on the south side of Isle Royale to Grace Harbor on its western-most end. A dense fog bank descended on us a couple hours into the sail, covering the sun. We sailed blindly through this for hours, relying on GPS to navigate. We were not far from the Rock of Ages Lighthouse, where skeletons of past shipwrecks litter the bottom of the Lake. I could see the peril of these waters in fog and storms before modern navigational equipment came into use. We finally arrived at Grace Harbor just as the fog cleared and the sun was setting
Fine Dining Aboard San Francisco, Chippewa Harbor, Isle Royale
Howard Making Whipped Cream by Hand
On August 30 and 31, we anchored in Chippewa Harbor on the south shore of Isle Royale, We navigated into the Harbor with me standing on the bow to look out for the shallow reefs that pockmark the channel. Our warning system consists of me shouting at Howard to steer clear of obstacles. This usually works if he follows my directions.
We motored the dinghy to a nearby hiking trail, where we walked through thick forest and swamp. We visited a one room log cabin, in a very dilapidated state, which was once a school house for the island’s children in a bygone era. And we found this little guy sitting in a little nook above the door. I never knew bats had such cute little eyes.
After hiking, we swam in the severely cold water. And then cocktail hour arrived followed by a steak dinner. To top his just-made apple pie, Howard whipped cream by shaking it (I never knew cream could whip by just shaking). A very quiet day for us.
On our third day in the storm, we rented a car and drove north with no destination. A few miles north of Grand Marais, on the banks of Lake Superior, we came upon the Naniboujou Lodge and walked in. Definitely a psychedelic experience. The Lodge, completed in 1929, remains true to its history with no modernization in sight.
Naniboujou began as a private lodge for the rich, with charter members who included Babe Ruth, Jack Dempsey and Ring Lardner. The main dining room displays Cree Indian designs (allegedly) over the walls and the 20 foot high domed ceiling is said to resemble a canoe. A French artist named Antoine Goufee did the painting, of course. Naniboujou has been called the “North Wood’s answer to the Sistine Chapel.” The Lodge fell on hard times in the Great Depression that immediately followed its opening. Fortunately, it was saved and currently operates as a lodge during the warmer months of the year.
Naniboujou’s dining room left me feeling hallucinogenic, and its silent ghostly worker in the corner reminded me of “The Shining” so we didn’t stay for lunch. But I did buy $32 worth of a bright blue hand-made bar soap from the gift shop because it was advertised as made from Lake Superior ice.
We also stopped for a few minutes at a solitary overlook on a cliff from which Lake Superior’s islands and shoreline could be seen.
Postscript: When we drove home in early September, the Naniboujou soap started melting in the heat of the car (because it was made from Lake Superior ice!) So I put it in our freezer at home to solidify it again. I had planned to give away the soap to the pet sitters and friends but as I write this I realize that I forgot about it in the freezer where it remains frozen.