Peace In A Tin Can

Peace In A Tin Can

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Bagwaji: Day 1

"Bagwaji" means "Into the Wild" in Ojibwe, a Native American Tribal language. I may not be quite in the wild, not like Alaska or Yellowstone, but this is still pretty remote. I am writing from what will be my home base during this trip into Michigan's Upper Peninsula, where I can get a weak cell phone signal and wireless internet if it's not too windy.

The trip up was uneventful. With each passing mile I daydreamed more and more of the adventure that lies ahead, and once I crossed the Mackinac bridge without plunging to an icy death, all anxiety melted away and I left it behind in the frigid yet unseasonably unfrozen waters of the great lake. This is my first time in the U.P where I will actually get out of the car. Not only will I get out of the car, I will leave it behind and explore most of the wilderness on foot. Or snowshoes, to be more precise. I am starting my journey on Drummond Island. When I reached DeTour Village, I had just missed the ferry to Drummond, so I stopped in a local bar for the best grilled cheese sandwich I have ever had and a cup of coffee. There were two older men in the bar having a heated discussion on whether the coyotes were mating early, a discussion which involved considerable debate over blood trails that I could have done without hearing over lunch. As I was leaving the bar, one of the men stopped me and proclaimed that I am not from around here. I asked him what gave me away and he replied that he knows everyone around here and doesn't know me. We discussed some of my plans, and it turns out he owns a lot of land on Drummond Island, not to mention a grocery store and restaurant, and he gave me some very good tips on hiking in the wilderness here. I mentioned not being able to find any good maps that designated private from state land, but he assured me no one will care if I wander onto their land. He said, "You're in the U.P. now, miss. People here are friendly". Good to know.

I thoroughly enjoyed my ferry passage, but was surprised by how short the trip over the open waters of Lake Huron is. I am also surprised by the number of uninhabited islands there are up here! If I were to come back in the summer, which I won't because of the snakes, I would kayak to as many of those islands as possible. You can do that. There are actual DNR water trails for kayakers to all the little islands where no one lives but adventurers are welcome to explore. Many of them have hidden inland lakes, rock formations on the shore, and all kinds of flora and fauna. And snakes.

But since I wisely traveled here in the middle of the winter, I have no worries. I also can't go kayaking. That's okay, there is so much to experience on this island just by hiking! Once I got here and settled into the little lodge, I drove around with satellite map in hand and found some snowed-over two-tracks where I can leave my car and proceed to get lost for days. I saw deer that at first I mistook for moose, because the deer here are huge compared to what I've seen in the land of trolls. (That's yooper talk for below the bridge.) I hiked around a deserted state park for a bit, got all excited when I heard a large dog barking, thinking it was a wolf but quickly figuring out it wasn't, and stopped at a little store for some local knowledge of where to hike. Locals really are the best source for everything.

I've yet to meet the owners of the lodge. When I got here, the key was in the door lock with a note that said Welcome. Not only are people friendly here, they are pretty unconcerned about security. I suppose the owners will want to catch up to me at some point, so I can pay them, but I don't plan to be here much. Maybe I'm just supposed to leave cash in the unlocked lodge when I leave.

Tonight I am going to enjoy the luxury of a hot shower and a good night's sleep. In the morning, Mass at the Catholic Church on the island so I can properly thank God for the husband who supports me in doing this, the family and friends who are excited for me, and for being in a place where the world moves a lot slower and people really do take the time to stop and smell the marshes...and notice the rivers that never stop flowing, and rocks that never stop changing, and great waters that mold and reshape the shoreline of an island daily. Then back to the lodge to grab my pack and start walking. Wish me luck in spotting that elusive wolf!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The more I research the U.P., and I research it every day, the more excited I am to go explore its beautiful wilderness. I leave in 2 1/2 weeks. Having discovered just how much there is to experience in Michigan's northernmost corners, I begged, argued, and pleaded my case to my husband to expand my trip a little bit to allow time to really immerse myself in all the hidden places I want to hike to. After several days of discussion, I finally convinced my husband to let me leave a bit early for the trip, tacking on a couple of days. One of his primary arguments against a longer trip is that my kids still need me; I checked our calendars and pointed out to him that they have time off from school over President's Day weekend and they won't be doing much but hanging out at home when I leave early. But you know how those best-laid plans go. My teenage daughter went to the dentist, and to make a long story short, she has to get her 4 wisdom teeth pulled on the day I had planned to leave. So I am back to my original plan. If you asked me where I'd rather be, I would answer without hesitation that I want to be with my girl and make sure she can handle pain and meds and doesn't develop any infections. The timing couldn't be worse, but this is the only time that fits her schedule. Ah well, I will still have a full week. On the bright side, I now have ammunition to argue for a return trip next winter!

I wish my daughter had not gone to see the movie "Grey". Now she doesn't want me to go because she's afraid I'll get eaten by wolves. She got my husband pretty worked up about it too. I went online and showed them several articles about how rare it actually is to even see a wolf, and even rarer still are attacks on humans. The articles gave good advice for what to do if you do see an aggressive wolf. Wolves really prefer not to be near people. I am not worried. My daughter still is. I think it would be fun to take a blurry picture of myself petting a sled dog, then send it home and tell the family I made friends with a wolf.

The other day I was discussing my trip with a friend who is excited for me and anxious to hear about it when I return. Another woman there was appalled by my desire to walk in the wilderness alone in the middle of winter, worried for my safety. I told her that the danger is minimal, the bear and snakes are hibernating, the wolves avoid humans, and the people I might encounter will be like me, with no interest in harming anyone. But she wouldn't be convinced until I finally shared with her some more personal thoughts. I told her that there is no need to be afraid if you have Faith. There is no easier place to strengthen your faith than in the wilderness. When you immerse yourself in God's world, away from crime and technology and schedules and responsibilities, you can feel God standing right next to you. So in the unlikely event that I encounter a threat to my safety, God will still be standing right next to me, giving me strength. I have no desire to be hurt, or worse, but if you have Faith, you have no fear of dying. I don't seek danger and possible death, but my Faith allows me to know that I am never alone. My Father is always with me.

She isn't quite there, which is why I don't see her joining me anytime soon. I won't give up on sharing my Faith with her though. Maybe she won't ever disappear alone in the wilderness ever in her lifetime, but if I can share with her the comfort my Faith gives me, maybe she can learn to live with the same comfort wherever she goes. Despite what people think, this trip isn't about me. It's about experiencing something far greater, something so awesome and powerful that it makes me feel like I am nothing and everything all at the same time. It's about being in a place that He created to sustain life, and if His purpose in creating it is to spread love and touch the hearts of other people, to share your faith and give others the same peace, then I have a responsibility to show my gratitude for this opportunity to open myself up to the beauty and wonder that He made, and bring the feeling back with me to share with others. Most people will just want to see my pictures, but a few will want to honestly hear about the experience. I'm looking forward to telling them.

In the meantime, I have many things to take care of at home before I leave. It's nice to keep busy, the time passes quickly and when I leave I will know that all my responsibilities here are taken care of. This weekend I am driving to Kentucky to pick my grandma up from her sister's and bring her home. Grandma is 93 years old, and still likes to vacation at her sister's for a few months each year. She will keep me laughing all the way home with stories of her crazy hillbilly relatives. I really hope that when I am 93, I can still travel and do the things I want to, like Gran. She is an amazing lady and I'm excited to bring her home.

I am not excited, however, for my girl to get her wisdom teeth pulled. She is a great kid, strong and uncomplaining, she will be an easy patient. But no matter how routine it is to get your wisdom teeth out, she's MY daughter and I don't want to see her in pain. I think it actually will make it worse that she won't complain. I won't even get to the point where I'm ready to leave her be, because she will be sweet and brave and break my heart. At least I will finally be able to make her eat soup. She doesn't really like soup.

I like working through my days knowing this trip is still ahead of me. It's nice to have something to daydream about and look forward to while I pay bills and prepare our taxes and grocery shop and tackle endless laundry. When I return, I will have my memories, and most likely will begin planning another trip for October to look forward to. Life is good!