Baldhead River, Lake Superior – August 28, 2013
The pictograph monster sits on a flat face of rock overlooking Lake Superior. Two horns rise off its blocky head, curving like sickles, each as tall as a man. Raised scales run down its spine like one would imagine on a dragon. The body looks stout, as long as the five-man canoe painted next to it and three times as thick, sprouting trunk-like legs and a tail that curves away into a long, thin point.
Kids splash in the water near the pictograph, parents take pictures, they all glance and point, they smile and laugh. It’s just red paint on rose-orange rock, hundreds of years old, and merits no more than a quick glance to say they’ve seen it.
But it peers out differently at me. Those giant round eyes seem turned to stare at me floating in the water. There’s something real in it and I stare back, finding it hard to look away.
I almost believe.
I see the horns in the spires of rock that rise from the deep blue water and sit just below the surface, waiting to spill open the belly of a birchbark canoe. The blocky head is in the giant boulders that loom underneath the water and the white rocks that glow like eyes staring up from the emerald depths. The raised scales along the spine curve like breaking waves rushing toward the shallows, each hanging over the next, white-capped and violent. Low, flat rocks are the monster’s stomach turned up to warm in the sun, fallen trees its feet and claws, its tail the fingers of rock that stretch from every point.
I smile at the sea monster and silently ask its permission to pass, afraid to talk aloud to a pictograph in front of so many people who would not understand.
The water is calm today. Rocks are rocks. Trees are trees. Waves nothing but ripples. But it wont last.
In a storm, in the wind, with water rising and falling over jagged reefs, as waves crash into unseen boulders, as fins of rock rise in the darkness of night, what then?
Then its good to believe in monsters.