Rock Harbor, Isle Royale National Park – August 2, 2012.
A few steps from the top of Mt. Ojibway, I ran into a little girl hiking up with her father. They’d just seen a big bull moose and her face was full with the brightest smile.
“I’ll keep my eyes open!” I said, leaving them the fire tower on top of the mountain.
Across the bay, I wandered into the Wolf-Moose research station along with two families on a trip together. We stared at the boneyard of antlers and skulls, we asked a thousand questions, and listened to Candy Peterson tell us a dozen stories about Isle Royale’s wolves and moose.
Afterwards, I walked to the old Rock Harbor lighthouse. It doesn’t have Rock of Ages’ location in the middle of the water or Isle Royale’s weathered brick, but it’s the only one open for climbing. I went up the spiral staircase to very top where I watched motor boats zipping through the harbor.
Back at the Edison fishery, I almost got in my boat when a man asked me where I was going then handed me his card and told me to call him when I got to the Everglades. He and his wife volunteer there in winter.
“We’ve got a houseboat and we’ll put you up,” he said. “Just ask the rangers, they’ll know how to find us.”
Then the families I met at the Wolf-Moose tour invited me to lunch. How could I say no to cheese, fresh veggies, and “Grandma’s Special Gingersnaps.”
“Are you going to the lighthouse?” I asked the kids. “It’s really cool and you can climb all the way up!”
“Yes!” they said, with big smiles.
I saw them waving at me from the top as I paddled away.
In Rock Harbor, I went to the Ranger program because I still remember going to them with my parents when I was a kid and I still leave each one excited about the world around me.
Ranger Alina could neither confirm or deny the Canadian’s tale about Ben Franklin and the phantom islands.
“But that’s a very good story,” she said with a smile.
Afterwards, I sat on a bench writing in my journal, trying to figure out how to capture today. That’s where I met Zack and his mom from Kalamazoo. He showed me a cool rock he found that was split in half and fit back together like a puzzle. I told him he shouldn’t scare his mom by throwing sticks into the bushes next to her on the trail even though that was one of my favorite tricks.
Back in the campground, I brushed my teeth and read the graffiti carved into the shelter walls. There were the usual boasts about how many miles people hiked or how many moose they saw. There were a few classic “so-and-so was heres” and “someone loves someones.” Reading them feels like getting tiny glimpses into a hundred different trips. Sometimes there’s even some pretty nice art or a fun poem.
Then I lay down and my headlamp flashed across the ceiling. Someone had burnt a black swastika and “KKK” into the wood. It sat there next to older notes about hiking the Greenstone Ridge and strings of initials with dates.
I stared at it and thought about the day, about all the people I met, all the laughter and smiles I saw. I thought about the little girl on Mt. Ojibway and Zack with his magic rock. I thought about eating Grandma’s Special Gingersnaps and houseboats in the Everglades. I thought about Ranger Alina’s smile at the Canadian’s tale and climbing lighthouses to stare out at the big, beautiful world from the top.
Then I felt so sad, so very, very sad, for someone else, someone I’d never met, someone who’d lain in this same spot, on these same wooden boards, surrounded by this same beautiful place, and thought about hate.