Wednesday, September 22, 2010

An American Exile: Going Off The Grid

We could only stay at our site in the Union Bay campground for two days as the busy Labor Day weekend was approaching and there were lots of reservations. We decided that we would pick up and head to the other end of Porcupine Mountains State Park to the more remote campgrounds near the Presque Isle waterfalls.

Overnight, the rain had started, was heavy at times and continued intermittently through the morning. Our tent was soaked and, once we ventured outside, we found that it was sitting in a gigantic puddle. I was surprised at how little this bout of weather was affecting my spirits. We had some coffee, some oatmeal, broke camp, and took hot showers before heading to our next location.

When we arrived at the Presque Isle campground there was only one sight that was available through the long weekend. We took it, staked out our site and set up our wet tent. By this time it had stopped raining but there was definitely more coming. We unloaded what we could out of the van and into the tent and set up a strategy for the weekend. It was Thursday and the weather seemed as though it was going to be iffy until Saturday. We would head into the nearest town to do laundry, re-stock our supplies and recharge our batteries–literally, we were running low on power and would be in our remote location for four days.

During our re-stock, we stopped in Walmart and decided on a new, larger tent. Our current tent was a little tight, especially with the two cots, three corgis and Pam’s new stool (her souvenir from North Dakota). We found a great tent that gave us lots of room….We could sleep without touching the sides, we could stand up to change our clothes, and we could get out of Quinn’s way when he decided to run amok. Our new purchase along with fresh supplies, clean clothes and recharged batteries for all of our devices put us in pretty good spirits as we headed back to the campsite. Our strategy would be to sleep in the van so that we wouldn’t have to deal with the weather…what a smart choice that turned out to be!

Through that night and the next day there was lots of rain and the wind was steadily picking up. We pretty much stayed in the van all day, having set it up like a lounge with pillows, blankets and our folding chairs. Hunkering down and blowing off the entire day like that was relaxing and gave me the chance to clear my mind by doing some NY Times crossword puzzles…an activity that I find soothing and stimulating all at once.

As the sun went down and the wind picked up, I noticed that the sunset was going to be fantastic. I grabbed my camera and headed to the beach to take advantage. When I got to the bottom of the long wooden staircase, I was floored to see Lake Superior take on the character of the ocean. The light was beautiful, the waves were big and angry and crashing on the rocks. This was awesome!

We had picked a spot where we were off the grid…no cell phone coverage, no Internet, no electricity…and it was beautiful here. I hardly noticed the rain in my excitement of the moment and felt an overwhelming sense of my surroundings. As I photographed, I worked my way down the beach to the mouth of the river, then, as the light faded, I worked my way up the path that ran next to the river. By the time I made it back to the campsite it was completely dark and my shoes were soaked but I didn’t care because I had such a great time chasing the light and taking pictures. I started to realize that maybe this was why I was in “exile.”

By the time the weather broke it was Saturday. I spent the rest of the weekend hiking through the many trails around the falls and taking pictures. I was feeling really great, getting lots of exercise and making lots of great photographs. Quinn and Kippie accompanied me on many of my various hikes and helped me to explore the area around the falls. It was great to have time to myself, to be able to think clearly and not feel stressed. Pam spent her time drawing at various locations and hanging out with Oonie.

I seemed to find some strength in the beauty and power of the many falls and cascades that dominated the landscape. The Ojibwa had called this area kaugabissing, "the place of the porcupines," and I remembered that the porcupine was seen as a symbol of gentle innocence and trust. I pictured myself as a porcupine, donning a fierce exterior complexion but possessing a soft underside…my enigma, as it were. This was my strategy for dealing with the world, for keeping people at arm’s length…my protection. The porcupine’s quills are stout protection from many predators except the kingfisher. Pam and I learned at Sullys Hill Nature Preserve in North Dakota, that the kingfisher was the one hunter who knew to attack the porcupine from its soft underbelly. The method of my recent demise started to make sense and I began to put it all in perspective. I had fallen victim to a clever predator. Perhaps I would have to re-evaluate my defenses.

Regardless of this rationalization, I was off the grid and feeling safe. This part of the Upper Peninsula was a great place in which to find distraction and sort things out in my head. The disappointment and peculiarity of the previous week…even the previous months…started to fade away and, though we didn’t make it to our planned destination, I felt that we had found a great place to hide.

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