The freighter looked like a building moving between two low hills. Its tower rose above trees, its steel hull stretched like a wall. I never saw one on Huron, not even in the distance, but here in the St. Mary’s River, where the water chokes together and drains from Superior to Huron, we pass within a few hundred yards.
I watch it slide by, wait for the gentle rise and fall of water displaced by the massive hull, then slip back into the channel and paddle toward Sault Ste. Marie.
Locks and rapids stretch from one side of the river to the other. Cities crowd around each bank, evolved from native villages and portage paths to European trading posts to the busiest canal in the world by tonnage.
I pass through the old Canadian lock, rising above the rapids in a few minutes, and slip by a freighter waiting to ease into the thousand-foot commercial locks on the American side.
I remember the first time I saw a ship that big. I was sitting near a lighthouse off Isle Royale. The freighter looked like a giant passing through the channel, a steel monster sliding by and blotting out the island. Then Lake Superior made it look like a toy boat thrown in a bathtub.
I stare off to where the St. Mary’s River curves away and disappears. I look at the giant buoys floating in the water to mark the shipping channel, to guide the freighters in from the open water.
“Superior’s out there,” I think. “Waiting.”