If leeches ate peaches instead of my blood, then I would be free to drink tea in the mud!Emilie Autumn
I’m up early as the sky begins to lighten. I eat as I pack and wonder if maybe going forward in my backpacking ‘career,’ I forego a stove altogether. I really don’t need it and it adds bulk and weight.
Stuffing the kitchen in Blueberry (my new Granite Gear pack) I realize I left my pot, filter and water bottle down on the rocks by the dock. The foxes are such thieves, I hope they’re still there.
I’m awake before anyone and it’s dead quiet, even on the dive boat. I see a bit of bright blue tucked into the rocks, and the kit is right where I left it. And what a gift to come down here since I see the magical sunrise at the end of the long cove, perfect reflections of the boreal forest in still water turning orangey-yellow.
It’s a green tunnel for several miles, in and out of swampy, mosquito-infested, brackish wetlands. Frogs leap out of my way, so even if mucky, this place is teaming with life. A swan lets out a car-horn honk that would make Gershwin proud. A rabbit jumps through the path. How on earth did a rabbit get here?
The single planks nailed to posts are rickety and worn down, leaning over in places. I will myself not to fall into the murk, but later slip on wet rock. A pile of new boards is stacked, ready to be put into action, but not this season.
I walk along Chickenbone Lake, on its west side. Long and L-shaped, obviously not named by the natives. The sites are lovely right on water, but I continue, passing portages on steep, rocky grade. I walk some of that taking me deeper into forest, mud and mosquitos.
I see water ahead and come to Lake Ritchie, a sign giving warnings about an algae bloom so not to drink or wash here. It’s a shame since beautiful campsites line the shore with large exposed Canadian Shield rock. I meet three people, one who tells me she has my exact same buff. Another asks if I’ve seen moose yet.
Two women laze on the rock and I take their picture. One asks me if I’ll send it to her and promises me Moskey is gorgeous. It’s not far, mostly out of mud now and on a ridge. Again, I tell myself to relax into whatever is on offer. Three more hikers pass, one asking if this is the way to Rock Harbor. “Oh, dad! He’s just joking.”
Surprise again, Moskey Basin is totally deserted and the best shelter – number two – is available. Next door are bottles and drying clothes, but the occupants are gone. I filter water, set up my bed, have a shallow skinny dip and eat lunch.
Moskey is at the end Rock Harbor Bay ad part of Superior but the water is a teensy bit warmer. The shelters sit on exposed rock right at the water’s edge. A brown toad lies next to me in the sun, then hops towards the cooler moss. Brown and green crickets crawl into the grass, then hop with a loud click. Butterflies land in my drying socks, their long tongues uncoiling to suck out the salt. The heat is intense now, so clean and fed, I crawl in for a nap.
Only to be awaked by the ranger. Like the other, he is a police officer and carries a weapon. I ask him why someone should need to be arrested and he tells me that it’s pretty rare since it’s hard to get to the island. But if it happens, it’s at least a two-day ordeal taking the criminal by boat to Marquette, Michigan.
I assure him I haven’t broken any laws. He tells me this is the best year to be here since there are so few people. I take advantage of no one being here by skinny dipping full in this time. I slowly wade in, placing my bottom on the sloping algae covered rock with one foot in a crack holding me steady so I don’t slide all the way down before I’m good and ready. Finally I dunk under with a scream and scratch my scalp clean with my nails.
I was tentative at first to go in, but glad I did feeling so refreshed. But what’s this on my legs? Pine needles? Pine needles that are moving. Oh my god, leeches! Hundreds of tiny, wriggling strips of mucus suctioned tightly to my legs.
I try to pull one off and he suctions directly to my fingers. Argh! I try to scrape them off with my nails, then try to remove them on the rock. I can feel their little bite as they dig in. It’s a nightmare of African Queen proportions, even if they’re only the size of rice.
I remember my mini Swiss Army knife has a tweezers and I run in to get it. It’s a two step operation: pulling each one off as they stretch out still suctioned to me, then taking a small piece of wood to remove them from the tweezers.
I think I have them all off my legs and they don’t seem to have gotten any higher on my body. Then I check between my toes. Did I mention these little nasties are green? Not when they’re full of blood. It’s a war zone between my pinkie and fourth toe, a whole pile of bloated leaches working hard. Each one bursts with my fresh blood as I pick them off one by one.
After the ordeal (sorry, no pictures in my panic) I head inside with my books. I did bring the best this time, ones sorely needed. Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko and Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. You don’t need to be a Navajo war veteran managing PTSD or a professional writer to benefit from the exceptional life affirming writing by these two masters. I sorely need a ceremony to usher me into the next phase of my life – as well as a good hearty laugh to keep from taking myself so seriously plus an ounce of compassion for the woman trying to move forward.
The two guys in shelter three return and take their swim. I warn them about the leech swarm, but they jump in fast and not one leech latches on. They warn me about tomorrow’s destination of Lane Cove where I’ll walk over a beaver dam and next to a bee hive. But they promise me the views make it worth it.
Another four arrive, loudly slamming doors. I say hello and also warn them about leeches – and ask if they’d mind not letting the door slam. I do sound a bit persnickety, but how else do you ask people to be considerate?
In spite of my nightmare, I simply have to go in the water again. This time, I’ll go fast, not my style in the least. The scream is louder this time, but it feels extraordinary and the two guys applaud my fearlessness. I dry off and explore the other sites noticing shelter eight has its own private rock porch. Just as I return, another four arrive and I happily share my discovery with them, much to their delight.
And it also keeps them far away from me since the other four are still pretty loud. But rather than complain, I’m forced to get up and change the scenery I walk to the dock and discover it’s actually a much better view down the bay with rock outcroppings on three sides. It reminds me of the wonderful summers we spent with my step-father’s parents near Sault Saint Marie.
The dock is made of concrete with a picnic table near the end. The end is damaged and is blocked off by orange netting. I walk out for the view and see something black beyond the net. An otter!
He’s a fat fellow, his fur slick and oily. He’s busily cleaning himself – of leeches? – biting, scratching, rubbing his blubbery belly on the concrete. He doesn’t seem to mind my sitting here watching, looking up every so often out of squinty eyes in a silver, be-whiskered face.
A jumbo bright green dragonfly comes close to me, then him as if to introduce us. A loon tremolos, her mate flying across to meet her. A huge silver fish launches out of the water and another otter swims quickly towards the dock.
Now, exactly how does he get up here? Well, he just flops all that body right up in one motion. The two shimmy into a cuddle, then get right to cleaning, the new one’s fur wet and spiky.
I don’t know if he sees me, but the new arrival flops right back in the water and swims fast to shore, dunking under every so often, his butt in the air momentarily. Then my otter leaves too, a bit slower and spending more time underwater.
The beaver swim in this bay too, slower and louder, slapping their tails. But I have never seen an otter this close before. I’m entranced. Funny that the foursome’s noise sent me off, but rather than get angry, I explored.
I walk up to the rocks above the dock and startle a snake who slithers directly towards me. My view is three-sided of a magenta sunset, afterglow and a waxing gibbous moon reflected in the ripples. A pileated laughs, sandhills clack and wolves yip far in distance.
The magic of this place is that it’s a living world where we just visit. In fact, the park is the only one that closes in the winter and I imagine the residents are just fine with that. I have never seen such abundance and feel privileged and humbled to be a guest here as I tuck in, loons’ calls echoing over the water and someone swimming nearby.