It is always good to go home especially when your home happens to be in the heart of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Somewhere along the southern shores of Lake Superior lies a hidden gem called Marquette where it resides amongst miles of untouched forest and the rivers feed into a big lake they call Githegumee. Lake Superior gives life to the region; she brings in consistent lake effect precipitation, leading to an abundance of wildlife and thick vegetation.
She keeps it protected, too — the winters will freeze an unprepared adventurer solid. The winter storms pummel the south shore from November to late April, sometimes longer and growing up through the storms taught me to expect multiple weeks in January below zero degrees fahrenheit. Many tourists arrive unprepared and leave days later with the cold still stuck to their bones. My fellow Yoopers might consider this treason for me to write or speak, but if you just hold out a little longer, wrap yourself up in wool and down, and put a little peppermint schnapps into your hot chocolate, you might realize why people choose to live here at all.
I arrived home at the tail end of color season. This is the autumn, when the leaves of all the maples and aspens burst yellow, orange, and red; it sets the hillsides peacefully ablaze. While my childhood friends chased the next pumpkin-spiced pint at the local taproom, I wanted to get back into the thick of it so I decided to spend a night in the northern woods.
I packed a Double-Nest hammock and ProFly from Eagle’s Nest Outfitters into my carry-on bag. I set out to the North Country Trail around dusk and pitched it between two sturdy trunks on the bank of the Dead River (given that name from its peaceful, glass-like surface). In hindsight I probably should have camped near a more ambitious river, as the Dead provides no white noise in which to drown one’s thoughts in the waning evenings. My sleep ended up being consistently interrupted by a few neighbors.
I didn’t bring food because I didn’t want to attract any unwanted attention; there are black bears, mountain lions, and an occasional moose in these woods. However that didn’t seem to help my cause. Somewhere around midnight I heard some rustling through the fresh fallen leaves not far from my hammock, maybe twenty to thirty yards. After listening for a short time, I told myself it was probably a raccoon and went back to sleep. The double-nest (big enough for two people) can be problematic for a single person as it cocoons around my entire body and blocks my vision therefore keeping any unwanted neighbors out of sight.
Not many people get to experience exactly how in-tune one gets with their senses in this environment. The hammock allows the smallest boundary between me and the wild. I woke up again to more rustling around three a.m. Once again, it was too small of a creature to be worried about. The skunks are the only thing of that size which scare me, and I can smell them coming. I went back to sleep.
By five a.m. I was too cold to stretch out in the hammock anymore. It only dropped to thirty-eight degrees that night, but even tucked into a down sleeping bag my feet were losing feeling. I slipped my boots back on, wrapped the sleeping bag around my shoulders, sat upright and waited for the best part — a lakeside sunrise.
Just before dawn the woods are eerily quiet. The nocturnal residents have all gone to bed and the birds, squirrels, chipmunks have yet to wake. I get to sit there and watch the forest come alive, almost as though I were a spy. If a tree fell and didn’t make a sound, I would be there to not hear it.
By the time the sun rises over the big lake, I am packed up, listening to the birds catcall each other and the fur-ridden rodents gather food for the long winter. Fish jump from the Dead River in search of insects that have long since gone dormant. It is a short trek back to my parent’s house, where I will have breakfast and prepare myself for the evening. My friend was getting married that day, and afterwards he would fly back to Utah, myself to Texas. Those woods allow me, at least for a little while, an escape from the bustling city that is Austin, Texas. Deep in the evergreen and autumn woods, I am able to find the peace we struggle to grasp amidst our busy, adult lives. It is always good to go home.
-Adam Wagner @ ACK