This summer has been jam-packed with vacation time. The most recent was the week Jon and I spent in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. This region offers pristine beauty with hundreds of waterfalls all different and unique. Small pockets of population, vast acres of national forests, mountain views, rock formations and shoreline along three of the Great Lakes are just some of the reasons travelers of all ages visit this region. In recent decades, both the state and federal governments have created access to some of the more spectacular sites for people of all physical abilities. And what bonds all visitors, with vehicles laden with suitcase and backpacks, boats, kayaks, canoes, campers and even the family pet, is the enjoyment of being outside.
As for Jon and I, our trip contained many hikes down board walks and stairways to see a few of the many rivers and waterfalls found in the U.P. We also took time to do some kayaking through the Hiawatha National Forest on the Au Train River. From our point of departure down the river, high sandy banks greeted us with blankets of ferns, mosses, and wild blueberries shaded by majestic red pines. Where sunlight rarely reached the forest floor, tree limbs provided a home to brittle green fungus. Cedar swamps also lined the river, with once vital aromatic green foliage, now silvery skeletons looming out over the water. Sections of the river formed cul-de-sacs that harbored a green mosaic surface of lily pads with their adornment of water lilies.
The landscape provided a safe haven for wildlife. Blue herons and kingfishers stayed ahead of us throughout the trip, coming to rest in secluded tall grasses and reeds looking for tasty frogs or fish. The songs from unseen birds high up in the trees provided the background music as we quietly glided through their sacred domain. Occasional families of ducks dabbled along the river banks or rested all lined up on fallen logs in the water.
Dragonflies, with their wings of rainbow cellophane, found our kayaks a good place to light for a moment’s repose. Shy turtles, mounted on the tip of submerged logs like maiden heads on the bows of ships, soaked up the warm rays of the sun, but quickly disappeared as soon as we approached them.
The Au Train provided just enough current to lazily float along with it, only dipping our paddles to avoid overhanging branches, trees reaching far out over the river, and to navigate the tight river bends.
The trip’s last hour brought us near its end at Lake Superior. The river’s current all but died and continuous paddling became a must. Trees were replaced with grasses, cattails, and shrubs. The river snaked through this area, often dividing and going in more than one direction to confuse our mortal passage. Duck nesting boxes peeked out of the marshy, grassy, lake-like area. Cottages, new and old began to crop up along the water edge with their docks, screen houses, and civilized yards. Sounds of the highway, not far away dominated the previous quiet of the wilderness of the upper river. An abandon bridge, no longer safe to travel over, crossed the river, providing a steely echo as we passed beneath. Tall white pines dotted both river banks. An occasional bald eagle can be seen in these trees, but not this trip. All too quickly, our river trip ended at my brother’s lot.
Back in the city and all unpacked; I pause and reflect how this great out-of-doors, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, is a gift. A gift, that God has so graciously and lovingly created for us to protect and enjoy. It is a source of renewal, meditation, and inspiration, a place that whispers for us to return soon, with each new season.