Last week C. and I packed up our camping gear and headed for Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (a.k.a. “Yooper Country”) to throw our lot in with nature for a few days. The weather was (almost) perfect and the landscape was spectacular — quietly beautiful in parts, strangely eerie in others, and always breathtaking. As my ma would say, this trip definitely “cleared the breath of fresh air in the lung.”
Kitch-iti-kipi Springs, Palms Book State Park
This spring is crazy. 200 feet wide and 40 feet deep, it’s crystal clear, emerald green, and spits up 10,000 gallons of water a minute from fissures in its limestone bed. Huge trout swim slowly in circles, and when you maneuver the covered raft along a rope across the spring, you can see generations of trout corpses in various states of decay being nudged around by the kaleidoscope convections of the spring.
According to legend (most likely made up), Kitch-iti-kipi was the name of a young chieftain who was goaded by a girl he had a crush on to “prove” his love for her by steering his canoe to the darkest part of the swamp and catching her as she leaped from the trees. The girl went off to join her friends instead, presumably to laugh their asses off; meanwhile, Kitch-iti-kipi’s boat capsized and the poor guy drowned. For his sake, I really do hope that none of this ever happened (which would then mean he wouldn’t need my pity, but anyways).
We ended the night camping in Germfask, where we cobbled together a fire and listened to the frogs barking. (I’ve never heard them make that sound before.)
Right before we were going to retire to our tent, the campground owner’s adopted son stopped by on a security check, completely drunk. Over the next two hours, he proceeded to drink all our whiskey, annoyingly quote Walt Whitman (I love Walt, but not like that), make some startling confessions, and moan on and on about Buddhism and death. We endured. The next day, C. said, “In hindsight, I should have punched him. But once you punch someone, you kind of have to leave the scene. And that campground was really nice, and I was really tired.”
. . .
Seney National Wildlife Refuge
The next day, we crossed the street and entered Seney Wildlife Refuge. We went on a 20-mile bike ride, all gravel and sand paths, and didn’t see a single goddamn eagle. :) Instead, we got trumpeter swans in the distance, neon butterflies, the occasional bored toad, and a swarm of killer flies that clung to C. all 20 miles and wouldn’t let him go.
God knows he tried to escape.
. . .
Tahquamenon Lumberjack Festival and T. Falls State Park
And thus sailed my Hiawatha
Down the rushing Taquamenaw
- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “The Song of Hiawatha”
I’ll be honest. I planned the dates of our trip around the Tahquamenon Lumberjack Festival on July 28 and 29. How could I not? The festival happens at the end of the month during the summer and features local fiddlers and singers all day long on both days. Anyone is welcome to join in if they bring their own instrument, so C. brought his acoustic and even bought me a melodica for the occasion. We were ready.
Best of all, on both mornings at the cook shack behind the logging museum and music pavilion, an all-you-can-eat lumberjack breakfast (flapjacks, eggs, potatoes, bacon, OJ and coffee) is cooked over a roaring wood burning stove, old-style, and served for only $7.50. It’s the best friggin’ deal in the Eastern Upper Peninsula. Plus, you get to sit elbow-to-elbow with the entire town of Newberry and hear all the local gossip.
Unfortunately, we were pretty much the only ones (besides the billed musicians) who brought along our instruments. Almost everyone else was over 65 and just wanted to sit and watch. So we took off, went northeast for a bit, and dropped by Tahquamenon Falls State Park.
200 feet across with a 50 foot drop (no jumping allowed!), the Upper Falls of Tahquamenon are the third largest falls east of the Mississippi. Around 50,000 gallons of water cascade over the cliff every second. Contrary to what I first thought, the ruddy color is not an indication of nasty funk, but rather of tannins leached into the water from the surrounding cedar, spruce, and hemlock trees.
On the other side of the park are the Lower Falls. You can have a peek at them from the mainland, or you can be intrepid and take a rowboat across to the island and splash around in the falls there. C. and I, along with several adventurous babies, chose the latter route.
We almost got stranded on the island forever after someone stole our boat. Luckily, the friendly high school kids working at the dock saw us across the river and rescued us in their motorboat. We were very grateful.
To be continued…