Malone Bay, Isle Royale National Park – July 31, 2012
Everything feels sluggish again. My arms are heavy, my torso is slow. I’m fighting through the water instead of gliding on top of it. Between weather, the Grand Portage, and traveling to South Bend, I’ve spent almost two weeks off the water and I feel it.
The sharpness is gone.
The world feels dull with me, as if I’m staring at it through a sheet of dirty glass. I count each mile as the rocky shore slips past, as I stare into tiny bays and inlets, as I chase a string of islands to a lighthouse.
I eat dinner on the lighthouse steps and watch waves crash against the narrow island. The building is locked and shuttered. Thick sheets of metal cover every window. A solar panel and an automatic electric light have replaced the keeper and his flame.
It’s interesting, it’s pretty, it could spark a thousand stories in my head, but it feels distant, like I’m not quite there, like I’m watching myself stare up at the tower.
Then I’m back in the boat, fighting waves for three miles to reach Malone Bay.
“It’s not even the right direction,” I think. “I should go further around the island, press on.”
But Malone Bay is close and the day is fading. It draws me in while I think about a thousand other things, like where I’ll camp tomorrow and the next night. How long it will take me to circle the rest of Isle Royale. When I will be back on the North Shore and moving south toward the Mississippi, the Gulf, and Key West.
I set up camp on autopilot while my mind counts miles and days like an accountant balancing books. Then I walk a quarter-mile to Siskiwit Lake just to say I’ve seen it.
The water’s warm so I wade up to my knees wondering if I’ll be able to swim in the ocean when I reach Florida.
Then I look up and the dull glass shatters.
The sun spills over the horizon, beautiful and bright, lines of light cutting through thin clouds. It does not ask, it demands my attention and I’m there, not a thousand miles away, not even a few steps, but right there with my feet in the water, my eyes staring, my mind still, and the world sharp.
I’m not here to circle Isle Royale. I’m not here to paddle the Mississippi. I’m not here to go to Key West. They’re just an excuse, a story I made up to tell myself. I’m here for one thing and it never changes.
I’m here for the moment.