Some would say Isle Royale isn’t wilderness. It lacks bears, it has too many signs of man, and you can’t escape the ringing buoy. But it is. We said so and made it law in 1976. Isle Royale is not the same as any other wilderness, but that’s the way it should be. Every wilderness is unique, with its own reasons to be set aside and never developed. Part of what makes her unique is that she is in Lake Superior. What could be more “wilderness” than being in Lake Superior?
As I pulled my canoe over the rocks, I felt it.
Four hours earlier there was an exhilarating pause as I worked my way along the shores of Isle Royale. To be alone in my canoe, on Lake Superior, stirred something deep inside. At first there was an apprehension of being there, on the big lake, …on Gitche Gumee. But apprehension gave way to confidence as I grew accustomed to the chop and gentle waves. Confidence that was unaware of what would soon test my resolve. The September sky was clear. It was a beautiful day to be paddling. There was a line of clouds, but it seemed too distant for concern as I worked my way into a steady breeze. It felt good to face the gentle challenge of Lake Superior as I watched the shore, measuring forward progress.
Three hours into the paddle I realized my confidence had paid little note of the changing waves and the weather advancing toward me. No longer a distant apparition, the clouds marched in unison, closing across open water, and ruffling the surface to whitecaps. My strokes responded as I pushed more aggressively towards camp. But too soon the clouds were overhead with darkening sky and a doubling of the wind and waves. Headway became difficult, even behind the shelter of a small point. There was no choice but to go ashore. It was time to beach where there was no beach, time to land where rocks were my only choice. It was time to jump into the water and, all alone, wrestle gear to shore.
Wet and cold, but safe on shore, I laughed at the feeling—the feeling of wilderness.
Wilderness colors us with special sounds, smells, thoughts, and memories. Wilderness is personal and important. Wilderness, given the chance, can color us the way it colored those that gave us the Wilderness Act in 1964.