A mile east of Magnet Point, Lake Superior – September 11, 2013
The line of land looked faint on the horizon against the silver water and white clouds, like it had been sketched in by pencil and erased. I stared at it with unsure eyes, not believing it wasn’t my imagination, wondering if I’d willed it into existence.
There are a thousand islands breaking off Superior’s shoreline. I thought the faint line might be one of them or maybe just a thin rock in the distance, but it looked too far, too hazy for that.
I blinked and stared and blinked again. The line disappeared for a moment, so faint, refusing to focus against the clouds and water on the horizon. Then I saw it again, there but like a wisp of smoke, a grey smudge in the distance.
Clouds rolled overhead, scattered across the blue sky, and marched east. Sunlight filtered down in glorious patches, blinding white and disappearing behind shadows that played over the water. I stared at the thin line and didn’t trust my eyes. I had to know for sure. I needed to be certain.
I wove through islands over emerald green water, hiding from the wind, my eyes always focused on the distance, watching the line thicken as I pressed forward. It rose in pieces off the water, each growing bigger and sliding together, drifting from imagination to reality until I couldn’t doubt it any longer.
That’s it, I thought, there is nothing else out there. It can be only one thing. Isle Royale. The other side of my loop. The first sign of the end.
I stared out, convinced, certain, and silent as tears clouded my eyes and my hands dropped the paddle to wipe them away.
I was there thirteen months ago. I remember looking out at the Canadian shore, at the mainland cliffs rising in the distance like grey shadows over the white-blue water. I remember wondering if all the stories were true, if it was as beautiful as people said. I remember promising myself that someday I would go there.
I saw myself from a year ago. I saw myself staring back from that thin line on the horizon, staring back and dreaming things too big to imagine, things I didn’t dare whisper until I’d followed that string of islands to the tip of Key West, until I flipped a coin in the air, heads I go back, tails I go home.
I never caught the coin. I let it fall into the sea. I went anyway.
On the worst days, in rainstorms, under flashes of lightning, when the tide shoved me back, or waves hit my chest, I imagined that coin sitting on the bottom, tails up, full of bad luck. But it came up heads a hundred times too, every beautiful moment and kind person, every sunset and star-filled night, every crescent beach and granite cliff.
Luck is fickle. The sea always shifts. The coin always flips. I don’t trust it. I didn’t want to hang my dreams on luck. I threw it away and decided to go back, heads or tails.
That’s why I cried. I was staring from the other end of the circle, staring out from those islands and cliffs I only dreamed of a year ago, staring out from a someday turned today.