A Search For The Essence of Summer
08/02/2010 80 °F
Summer is a special time around the Lake Superior region. Like many locations in the northern latitudes, the warm summer months turn Lake Superior into paradise.
I hadn’t seen Lake Superior since April, which is long before summer had settled over the region. It had been two years since I’ve seen the lake in summer, as I had been working in Alaska. After being away for so long, I began to notice the small things that I have missed almost immediately upon returning. The small capsules of summer that I didn’t even know I was missing until I was confronted with them. For example, I was driving through small towns in the evening, seeing kids outside strolling around with shorts on, eating ice cream, laughing with their friends. Seeing a public beach full of people swimming and tanning themselves under the hot sun. I saw people stopping at roadside farmer stalls to purchase fresh sweet corn, peppers, tomatoes, and other veggies. It’s the little things that I missed, and I realized many little things go into the making of a big summer.
I grew up on Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula, the finger of land jutting north into Lake Superior. This lake and region is a part of me, and it is good to revisit my old stomping grounds. I discovered that I had a newfound appreciation for the lake, my home, and summer in general. It became clear to me, that my newest mission was to enjoy the rest of the summer months; basking in all of the glory of the Lake Superior and the area around it. I want to take it all in; as a thirsty man savors that first drink of cool, clear water as it trickles down his parched throat. I want to take pleasure in all that I have missed these last two years, until my thirst for summer has been slaked.
There are a lot of mental images the go with the word “summer.” What do you picture? Hot sunny beaches, swimming, cook outs, bonfires, friends, sipping lemonade in the shade, ice cream cones, etc. I have a growing list in my head of summer time activities that I want to do. My goal is to recapture the essence of summer, and I am up for the challenge.
I have two months in which to accomplish my goal. I’m fortunate because I’m in between jobs. My next adventure begins in mid-October. I’ve been hired on as a deckhand on a cruise ship that will be sailing down to Baja Mexico for the winter. I’m quite excited by this, but there will be more on that to come in future posts. Knowing that I have a job coming up, takes all the pressure off trying to find work and making my savings last. I can give my full attention to leisure activities, which, if you’ve followed my travels at all, you might say I have a knack for…
I want to try to paint a literary picture of Lake Superior during these summer months. I hope that this will help you get an idea of what the Lake Superior Region has to offer, and the summery palette that I am in the process of highlighting.
First some Lake Facts (as documented by wikipedia):
It is the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area, and third largest by volume.
Its surface are is over 31,000 square miles or about the size of South Carolina.
Its deepest point is 1332 feet below the surface. Its average depth is 482 ft.
There is enough water to cover North and South American land mass with one foot of water.
Lake Superior has more going for it besides sheer size. The water (in most places) is crystal clear. It’s like liquid glass. To me, its remarkable clarity reinforces how pure this lake is. Depending on atmospheric and shoreline conditions, the lake can take on a wide spectrum of coloring. Its water is cold, pure and refreshing. The average summer temperature is 40 degrees Fahrenheit (don‘t let this fact scare you away from swimming. The surface water is much warmer than the lower water depths). Many municipalities in the region use it as their drinking water source (after filtering, of course). Lake Superior offers a wide variety of sport for those who wish to participate including Swimming, fishing, surfing, hunting, snorkeling, SCUBA diving, kayaking/canoeing, pleasure boating among many others.
Lake Superior was formed long ago by volcanic activity and a couple of good carvings from glaciers during the ice ages. After grinding out its shape, the glaciers melted filling in their handiwork- creating the biggest lake in the region. Evidence of the glaciers, are seen in the many striated rocks found in the ledge rock on the shoreline.
The shoreline of Lake Superior is roughly 2,726 miles long. As you might imagine, there is a wide variety of geology that makes up the lakeshore. There are miles of black basalt, sandstone, granite, boulders beaches of every size, white sand beaches, pebble beaches, and many more. As a boulderer, I tend to like the ledge rock shelves that drop directly into the lake. It’s great climbing, and a lot of fun to avoid falling in the lake. Not only are these ledges good for climbing, but they make great platforms for diving into the lake.
My other favorite shoreline feature are the miles and miles of soft powdery white sand beaches. To walk on the soft sand is to hear your feet say, “Ahhhhh, that’s nice.”
The sand beaches make great places to swim as well. Lake Superior’s waves can get pretty big with the right wind direction. One life’s little summer pleasures is to body surf these marvelous curlers. I’ve gotten rides averaging 40 feet from these waves. It takes a bit of a knack. You need to know what waves will be strong enough to ride, when to time your dive, and how to keep your body rigid to lengthen the ride. I’ve been body surfing in the lake for 20 years, and I never get tired of the thrill of catching the perfect wave. The big waves aren’t predictable, and don’t happen very often. It takes sustained winds from the right direction to make them. However, if you are in the right place at the right time, life will indeed be good.
Along the shore, a wide variety of plant life has once again returned from its winter slumber; carpeting the shoreline in an eclectic mix of natural grasses, wildflowers, shrubs, berries, weeds, trees, and other botanicals. The trees have thick, luxurious green canopies that offer a loafer a variety of options of shade cover in which to set up his hammock.
Eye Sight Test: Can you Spot the Hummingbird in the following photo?
Rolling through the forests and rocky bluffs of the watershed are hundreds of root beer colored rivers, creeks and streams. The root beer color comes from tannin- an acid formed from decomposing tree fodder. When the lake is too cold, these tumbling streams make for good swimming as well. All of my best massages have come from the small waterfalls of these rivers. I like to soak in a waist deep pool of blackish water, allowing a barrage of steady water to work wonders on the back, neck and shoulders. It eases any tension. It’s relaxing, and it makes soft putty out of your muscles. I think I just wrote myself into a visit to a set of waterfalls that I haven’t been to in a long time.
I’ve been swimming every day. I’ve missed swimming a lot, and I feel like I have to make up for lost time. The water is at optimal swimming temperature in July and August. I have been swimming in April (though only when falling in while climbing, or desperately needing a bath) all the way into September. Hardier folks will swim all year round, and I know there are a few “Polar Bear Clubs” who chop a hole in the snow and ice and jump in during the winter. “To each their own…” that’s what I say.
My summer activities have gotten off to a good start in the week that I’ve been here by the “big lake”-as it is known. I will continue to chase my muses, but I do have some bigger regional trips planned for August. I’m going to spend a four-day weekend in the city of Marquette. I’ve visited Marquette many times, and have always wanted to stay longer. I plan on investigating, its beaches, parks, restaurants, people, and anything else that piques my curiosity. I’m also going to revisit Isle Royale National Park. I love hiking on Isle Royale, it’s definitely one of Lake Superior’s natural wonders, and I want to rekindle my appreciation for the first national park I’ve ever visited. Lastly, in September, I plan to make the Lake Superior Circle Tour. This is a trip I’ve been dreaming about for years, and finally I have the time to do it right. I’m planning on a comprehensive trip, and it’s hard to determine how long that will take. So, I’ve decided not to give it a time frame, I’m going to take it one day at a time, and revel in Lake Superior’s splendor.
I decided to end with a recap of my first week’s activities that I can check off my summer list (though I plan to partake in the following more than once). Maybe this will inspire you to chase summer around with the same reckless abandon that I am.
Summer Accomplishments to date: Swimming everyday. Eating several pasties (pasties are a regional specialty here in the UP), sitting through a thunderstorm from beginning to end, getting a tan (Alaska had turned me a glowing ghostly white), long boarding down to the beach, sitting on the front porch in the shade of the afternoon reading a good book (Roads to Quoz by William Least-Heat Moon), picking wild blue berries, enjoying a Mackinac Island Fudge Ice Cream Cone, eating fresh corn on the cob, wearing sandals or going bare feet all day, buying watermelon, seeing a lot of family and friends, and feeding the ducks.
It’s been a good week.