By the shores of Gitche Gumee,
By the shining Big-Sea-Water,
Stood the wigwam of Nokomis ...
Dark behind it rose the forest ...
Bright before it beat the water...
— from The Song of Hiawatha, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
A WALK ON THE WILD SIDE
Adventurous boaters find a remote paradise on Isle Royale BY MARTY RICHARDSON
DURING OUR 2012 CIRCUMNAVIGATION of Lake Superior, whilewewereatanchor, wereadaloudfrom Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic 1855 poem, “Song of Hiawatha.” This set he stage for our two-week sojourn at Isle Royale, which proved to be a highlight of our Superior cruise. Longfellow’s Hiawatha lives, falls in love, and fights mythological beasts on the lake before sailing his dugout canoe off into the sunset. “Hiawatha” was an immediate hit when first printed, and while it lives today mainly in the memories of former eye-rolling schoolchil- dren, it does capture the romantic spirit of the era and of its setting.
We could picture the original inhabitants in their long canoes, or
cheemaun, journeying on the Gitche Gumee to Isle Royale more than
4,000 years ago. Its parallel rocky ridges shelter inland lakes, long
narrow channels, protected bays, and deep secure anchorages. Isle
Royale, about 15 miles from the Canadian and Minnesota shores,
is accessible only by boat or seaplane. Though it’s much closer to
Ontario and Minnesota, Isle Royale lies within Michigan’s borders.
The island has the distinction of being one of the least visited of all
the National Parks. Most days we saw fewer than a dozen people, and
enjoyed the solitude aboard Monarch, our 52-foot Halvorsen raised-pilothouse trawler.
Washington Harbor is the southwestern gateway to Isle Royale. A
large dock marks Windigo Ranger Station, named for the Anishinaabe
legend of the cannibalistic evil spirit that Hiawatha was exhorted
to fight — “Slay all the monsters and magicians, all the Wendigoes, the
giants…” — said to possess the native peoples during times of winter
starvation. At Windigo’s beautiful visitors’ center, we perused the displays, including the original second-order Fresnel lens from the Rock
of Ages Light marking the southwestern tip of the island.
With his magic deerskin moccasins, Hiawatha would’ve covered
Isle Royale in about 45 steps — “at each stride a mile he measured” —
but on this trip, our preference was for the convenient park docks and
TOP PHOTO: MART Y RICHARDSON
APRIL | MAY 2013