Past Brûlé Narrows, Rainy Lake – October 12, 2013
I stared at Isle Royale last month. I looked across at the south shore of Lac la Croix two days ago. I saw the line. It drew close–twelve miles then two–but I never crossed it. I shied away from it. I fled. I felt scared, like something would snap as soon as I touched it.
But I knew that one day I’d cross my old path. International Falls, I thought, but the wind said no. The wind said it would be today in the American Channel on the south shore of Rainy Lake.
“North shore’s closed,” the wind said. “You gotta go south.”
And I know to listen to the wind now, even if it forces me across a line I want to avoid, even if it shoves me one step closer to the end.
I thought I’d have vivid memories. I thought I’d recognize trees and see every boulder as the face of an old friend. But I paddled for miles along the line until I recognized a giant block of granite and the cliffs of Anderson Bay. The past rushed back at me, vivid and sharp, echoing across the water.
The trees were different sixteen months ago. They glowed green and raced toward the sun. I remember climbing up the cliffs and staring out at the green on grey granite, the endless blue of the water, the world filled with life. I remember the sun’s heat on my skin and watching my boat drift away. I remember leaping after it and falling, falling, falling into the water, cupping my hands and swimming to the surface, laughing, full of joy, floating in the heart of summer.
The water was high. The days were long. And thousands of miles waited between me and Key West.
Now naked branches claw upward. The last flecks of yellow cling to their fingers. The sky is grey and dark. Wind howls. To swim would be to freeze, to be cut by the cold air and shiver into hypothermia. Winter kicks at fall’s doorstep. The days are more dark than light. Less than two-hundred miles remain. Two weeks, maybe less. Then it’s over.
It’s the same water. The same rocks. Pieces feel familiar. I recognize parts. Then I don’t. So much is different. So much has changed, grown, died, shifted, disappeared, emerged. Old and new spin together before my eyes.
The wind picks up and drives waves from the west. Big waves, waves I would have run from once. I turn into them, rise up and over them, shake them off and laugh them away.
“Everything has changed,” I think. “Even as it remains the same.”