UP+and+Away


"Driftwood Warrior" photo © by Daniel Dwyer-Snyder
Essay  by Michael Somers

Miner's Beach.  Reached by walking down a one-mile trail with a steep descent into a wooded bliss that picked up the river and followed it to Lake Superior.  A beautiful beach with sand the texture of table salt.  Inlet and a small lagoon.  Kids from a Christian camp writing in their journals in the sand.

We had to climb to get up to Pictured Rocks from the beach.  My enduring vision from the climb: Standing ankle-deep on the orange rocks carved with lover’s initials, water swirling and crashing, breaking and retreating like warm satin, only better.  The sky a cloudless August blue, my face upturned.

Tourists rode by on the boats they paid thirty-one dollars each to ride, and there we were, Dan, Ron, and I, sitting on the rocks they paid just to look at, taking pictures of them as they took pictures of us waving at them.

I looked out over Superior, at the water with its brushed velvet texture and saturated blue, and thought, I'm finally back where I belong.

***

Along a superior shore,

a girl holds a plastic

grocery bag,

picking perhaps stones

or perhaps small blooms,

but as she stands,

she holds a discarded candy wrapper. 

Gently, as if careful

not to bruise a petal,

she places the trash

in her bag, moves

along a few feet,

bends down,

and picks more flowers

in her temporary garden. 

*** 

Superior is placid this morning, very much like Higgins Lake rather than the greatest of the Great Lakes.  Gulls caw.  The sun just rose above the tree line.

Dan and I were the first ones up in our area of the campground this morning, up even before Ron, Dan’s father.  They left to go find an electrical outlet so we can have coffee.  It’s quiet in their absence; they were loud, not softening their voices.  A morning like this calls for quiet.

I am alone on a log surrounded by sea grass.  All I hear is the whisper-soft breaking of tiny waves and the cars traveling along M-28.  A Coleman 15.5 canoe with a deflating beach ball crammed into the bow sits close by, half on the sand, half in the sea grass.  A power boat is moored in the near distance, not moving because the waves are so weak.  Grand Island is in front of me, a short distance across the water.  I sit slanted on this bleached log; I want to say it was a pine tree once, but I don’t know for certain.

A sensation of separateness fills me this morning.  I feel as if on an island, alone with my thoughts, near all this incredibly balancing beauty, alone until Dan and Ron return.  I want to enjoy this while I can, before others awaken and stir.  Not that they will ruin what I have now, but they will change the day into its next stage, its new rhythm.

I think I’ll walk along the beach again, and look for more sea glass.

***

The sun gleamed up from Marquette’s Lower Harbor, glaring through the Vierling’s dining room windows.  I had to squint to see Dan properly.  On my plate is the grilled Munster and roasted tomato sandwich on thick marbled rye I had craved for three years, when I last was there.  A glass of Peter White Peach Wheat washed it all down.

Outside, a thin man inched along the outside ledges of the window, a blue-collar Spider-Man casting his safety rope out like an expert fisherman to get more slack.  Once in position, his one hand circled the squeegee across the filthy panes, creating rivulets of grime that trickled downward, while his other hand circled a rag to dry the windows.  His hypnotic motions captivated more than just Dan and me; other diners talked at one another while squinting their eyes to watch the window washer work.

A small girl waved at him as he washed the window near her table.  He smiled and waved back, breaking his rhythm for only a moment but recapturing it quickly, the fastest of blips.

This visit UP was breaking my mindlessly habitual rhythm.  I had no desire to recapture it anytime soon.

***

Superior is gray and agitated this morning, mirroring the clouds’ and wind’s agitation, very much like parents after discovering some undesired fact about their child, but trying not to show it and failing miserably. The Big Iron River, which empties into Superior here, is red, like the rough rocks on the beach.  Minerals seem much more abundant here than people or jobs.  This part of Superior is so different from the part I know best, yet feels just as sustaining. 

***

The overcast gloom breaks as we reach an outcropping high above where the Little Carp River feeds into Lake of the Clouds.  We are alone on this part of the trail, about five miles from the beginning mark.  I find a rock that acts as Nature’s loveseat, and we sit.  Dan takes out his camera to review the pictures he has taken, then gets up to take more pictures from our new vantage point.

I close my eyes.  The sudden heat warms my head.  The breeze skims over me.  I imagine the wild daisies that surround me, growing white and happy through the red rocks, waving and swaying.  This moment feels like bathing in holy water, surrounded by burning tapers giving off a bright musky perfume.  It feels revelatory, luxuriant, reverential.

***

I am nothing. 

I am no one. 

I am nowhere. 

Yet, I’m as found

as I could ever hope to be.

***

Dan and I walked along the large, jagged chunks of red and gray rocks along Lake Superior.  Another cold wind blew steadily from the west, whipping our shorts and windbreakers against our legs and torsos.  Gray clouds scurried across the setting sun, obscuring the golden light.

"Do some yoga on that driftwood," Dan said, rearranging his camera strap, pointing at a mammoth bleached tree washed ashore, near the edge of the cold water.  This part of Superior seemed to be a driftwood graveyard.  Mama Driftwood, Papa Driftwood, Baby Driftwood all littered the shore up and down the beach.  This piece, though, clearly held the Grandpapa Driftwood title.  Washed smooth, knots and knobs where branches had been.  Once tall, now simply long.  Plenty of space to strike a pose.

"Are you serious?" I asked.

"Yes," he said.  "I want a picture of you doing yoga on that driftwood."

"No."

"Yes." 

We stared each other down, eyes never wavering.  A quiet battle, surely.  Nothing of gigantic proportions or importance.  More of a game, really.  I intended to win.  I was no monkey dancing on command.  The wind whipped around us and waves crashed against rock and stone.

Then, in true Dan fashion, he raised his right eyebrow.  He gave me The Eyebrow.  No one, least of all me, could resist The Eyebrow, especially when he lowered his head and turned his eyes up ever so slightly.

"Fine," I said, taking off my sandals and tossing them at his feet.

"Yay," he said, sliding the camera strap off his shoulder and turning on his camera. "Now get to posing."

As he busied himself checking angles and distance, I hopped up on the driftwood.  I wondered what kind of tree it had been.  Pine, I assumed, based on what I could tell of the pale grain under my feet.  The wood felt soft against my feet, a slippery velvet.  No jagged pieces, no danger of slivers.  Balancing would not be easy, especially with my back to the wind.

"Come on, already," he said, crouching down.  "I’m cold."

"Alright, fine!" I said. "Give me a second, okay?"

I spread my legs wide, about four feet apart or so, the arches of my feet needing to stretch and relax against the roundness of the wood before I entered my pose.  I instinctively knew which pose I would do: Proud Warrior.  Once I felt balanced and my arches felt stretched, I rotated my left foot straight out in line with my kneecap, then scooted it out a bit further.  I raised my arms shoulder height, making sure each arm was equally high.  A sudden wind gust hit my back and my concentration broke, making me wobbly.  I closed my eyes and felt the muscles go back to what I knew to be centeredness.  Then, I opened my eyes again, and bent my leg, knee over my ankle.  The driftwood angled down, making it difficult to maintain the right balance in the posture.  I wobbled again, and quickly righted myself.  I felt that familiar inner settling when I hit the pose's sweet spot.  I had hit it.  I had balance.

And Dan had the picture of me he wanted, which has become my picture of myself.

At home.

 

Michael Somers is an English instructor at Delta College.

© Michael Somers, 2009.