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Boreal Community Media

Discovering the gifts of Isle Royale

Nov 14, 2019 05:11AM ● By Editor
Photo:  Pure Michigan

By Barbara Christensen of the Pine City Pioneer - November 14, 2019

I have walked many times and many miles on the trails of Isle Royale National Park, a wilderness island 45 miles long and nine miles wide in Lake Superior. All I need for my journeys, I carry in a backpack. Sometimes I wander alone and sometimes with others.

Spring and fall are my favorite seasons when few people frequent the island. Spring can be cold and rainy. Fall can be cold and frosty. But spring also brings delicate, ephemeral wildflowers and gangly moose calves with watchful mothers. Fall brings golden aspen, red maple leaves and cantankerous papa moose.

Journeys on this small island are spirit renewing. Distractions disappear. Life passes in the present. In the following recollections I again feel the beauty, tranquility and comfort of all that surrounded me on this small island. I call them moments of perfection. They are gifts of Isle Royale.

It is summer. The dark night surrounds us. Wolves howl in the distance. Their howls rise, fall and harmonize. They sing of wildness. They tell us we are not alone.

It is spring. I walk the Coyote Ridge Trail, following the path through a bog. With its many moose prints, I no longer know if I am on a moose or hiking trail. Whichever it is, it leads me out of the bog. The next day I hike a crumbling wooden walk way across a mile wide bog. Sections collapse behind me. Leaps of faith bring me safely to the far shore.

It is fall. Alone, I hike down the trail. As I round a thimbleberry bush, a wolf comes down the trail toward me. She stops. I stop. Momentarily, I look into her intense golden eyes before she turns and trots off into the brush, disappearing as silently as she appeared. I feel no fear, only awe and amazement at encountering this rare island dweller.

It is spring. We are camping at Feldtmann Lake. We are alone except for a yearling moose. She camps with us. She lies on the beach while we prepare dinner. She sleeps next to our tent. She probably has been abandoned by her mother, replaced by a new calf. With us nearby, she is safe from wolves. She stays with us through breakfast, then leaves to join a young moose wandering down the shoreline. I wish her a long life.

It is fall. I hike from the Lake Superior shoreline to the top of the Greenstone Ridge, walking through tunnels of golden aspen leaves. I stop for lunch beside a beaver pond, its tranquil surface reflecting blue sky and white clouds. The two-note song of a white-throated sparrow drifts softly through the trees. The warmth of the sun, the peacefulness of the scene beckon me to linger.

It is spring. I am alone, sitting atop a large boulder. Lake Desor shimmers far below. A red-breasted grosbeak lands on my shoulder. Startled, I move. He flies off – then reappears. I sit motionless. He circles and lands on my shoulder. Quietly we share a moment in time and space.

It is fall. I watch the sunset at Moskey Basin. Pinks and reds glow beneath the gray clouds. Trees are silhouetted against the red horizon. The haunting wails of a loon echo across the water. Soon millions of stars glow in the night sky. The Milky Way appears as a curving rainbow of stars. A sliver of moon shines over the dark and distant Greenstone Ridge. I think what miracles exist on this island, this earth, this universe.

 It is spring. I arrive at my campsite for the night. It is cold. Darkness approaches. An enclosing fog calls in from Lake Superior. I feel isolated and alone. Within minutes, a red squirrel chatters and scolds from a nearby fir tree. I find comfort and companionship in the presence of this furry little ball of energy.

As each journey ends, my spirit is renewed. And that is why I will go back to wander the rocky trails of this wilderness island in Lake Superior, searching for these perfect and profound moments of peace and beauty. To find again the gifts of Island Royale.


Barbara Christensen grew up in the Pine City area and is an active member of the Pine County Historical Society and the Pine Writers group.

To read the original article and see related reporting, follow this link to the Pine City Pioneer website.

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