Thursday, February 2, 2012

Uncommon Perspective

For many of us, life in contemporary America is defined largely by our immense technological reach. Distracted by the complexity of modern construct, increasingly alienated from our neighbors and adrift in community freshly unbound, we forget that most of America remains wide open landscape: sparsely populated and lacking ready access to what the rest of us take for granted. For some, a trip to the Superior Basin is at least in part a means to reconnect with the real world and reclaim healthy perspective.

Of all the memories I savor from the northwoods, the most revealing turns out not to be a tall tale at all, but rather a single phrase uttered by a child in a moment of youthful wonder.

Black River Harbor

Black River Harbor once was a thriving fishing village and is now a park complete with marina, the town having long since been moved lock stock and barrel away from the lake and into the woods where there’s no fish at all, which is a story for another time.

Across the bridge and east from the harbor is a long stretch of sandy beach backed by steep red cliffs where miles of forest abruptly end at the shifting boundary of the big lake. An easy drive from Bessemer, in high season it’s a favorite place for families and tourists alike. Then as the sun sets on warm summer nights, young folk gather in groups to make beach fires in hope of burning lasting memory by doing what young folk do when under cover of darkness and left to their own devices.

On the hottest days even the forest sweats. When the sun climbs high there’s no better remedy for it than immersion in the chill waters of Superior.


Heather and I were at the beach and the day was fine. Seagulls lent staccato accompaniment to a soft wash of gentle waves over sand. A man walked past toward the glistening water, his nearly adolescent son in tow. Together they stood silently at the edge of the world and peered off into the gauzy horizon, each dreaming private dreams.

Suddenly the boy pointed to the bottomless blue of the summer sky, arm stretched straight, finger fairly quivering in extended excitement.

 “Look Dad, a jet!”

And sure enough, across that shimmering sky, riding so far above and beyond mighty Superior that the roaring engines weren’t even so much as a whisper, there was indeed a contrail wavering through the upper winds. And for the young boy, in that moment all the forest and lake and marvels of the real world that surrounded him fell away. You could see it. Like a serpent wriggling free of its skin, all at once.

Born to the wonders of wilderness, the siren song of human construct flung across the heavens caught this boy’s imagination and the glittering promise of contemporary America must have seemed very real to him indeed.

While certainly possible, it’s unlikely that any temporary job scabbing metals from the hard earth will keep him long from its embrace…

No comments:

Post a Comment