There’s a soul-quenching silence that greets me in the forest at the edge of Lake Superior. Once I adjust, I start to hear the chirps of birds flitting from birch to pine, the roll of the surf from the pebble beach below the ridge, the muffled padding of my footsteps. At that moment — I realize the silence is not a lack of sound but rather a wealth of calm. Walking the trail, I feel at peace. I find a path that veers off the main walking trail and climb to the top of the ridge of eon’s worth of blown and packed sand. Surveying Lady Lake Superior below, I see her waves are fully agitated and yet the sky stretches cloudless. It’s a hot summer day for the Keweenaw and I’ve come to ride its rollercoaster.
Life of late has provided its own thrill ride. The news cycle has become as nauseating as the spinning teacups I remember from the carnivals that often followed the rodeo circuit. Even trying to keep up on important topics leaves me up and down, around and around. Somebody get me off this carousel. I feel like the grumpy old-timer who wants to find a sturdy bench in the shade and eat cotton candy in peace. Pandemic times might be a wild ride from the norm, but I’m seeking a different escape from it all. Without a kayak, I’m here to ride the waves.
From the ridge, I consider my descent. I can plunge down the thick steps of sand, leaving my own bowls of footprints, or I can follow the ridge to a lower slope. Each year, the lake gnaws away her shoreline in fits and furries like a teething monster, devouring birch and scattering their bones. Previous trees get sucked out into the lake to bob until washed ashore in pieces as driftwood. This cycle changes the landscape, buries or removes trails, and dares me to find a new path. I feel like I’m sneaking off to a hidden amusement park, seeking secret passage. Not far away, the waves roar.
I choose the bold sandy route, the direct path. Sand gives way to encroaching pebbles that range in size from stepping stones to corn kernels. Some are flat and worn but most are rounded or oval-shaped, smooth, and dull unless wet. Water enlivens the mineral make-up, a dragon’s hoard of variety — basalts with gas bubbles, basalt with veins of quartz, basalt omars, quartzite, calcite, granite, plagioclase (pink and white), hornblende, copper, pyrite, mica, chalcedony, chert, prehnite, sandstone, and the always sought-after agates. You can find a variety of mixes like creativity without end.
It’s been a hot summer, unusual for the Keweenaw and I want the relief of Superior’s cold water. She has a secret, though. Her waters are pleasant on a wave-crashing day because sun-warmed surface water rolls to shore. I step into the first wave I reach and feel a luxuriant warmth. Rarely do I get to say that the lake is perfect in temperature. It is a rare day and no one is here to share the wonder of this natural phenomenon. I scan the horizon and see the big thrill-seekers are further down the shore, tucked safely near the entrance to the canal. One is kite surfing and others riding sail-boards.
And it wasn’t just the people who showed up. I watch as loons follow the cresting waves northeast only to fly past again to catch the rollers and ride.
Those who know how to ride the Keweenaw rollercoaster go as far as they can out against the waves and then turn around and ride them in. How amazing that must be! I’m less daring, willing to wade out waist-deep and let the water crash into me. Overheard a seagull casts a shadow, but I can’t hear its raucous cry, so loud is the surf.
Another shadow arrives, and I turn to see my friend Cynthia coming down the beach, lit up with a smile to be in nature’s playground. We were starting to do things together as “double bubbles” until Covid-19 officially arrived at Copper Country where an influx of escaping tourists met with mask aversion of locals. Now we keep our distance. Even though we’re outside, recent exposure makes it too risky to get close enough to hear one another over the waves.
We kept physically distant but shared the ride without ever talking. We are present.
Watching for riptides (which can be strong about 30 to 40 yards out), I find a good place to stand against the waves. Is it my imagination, or are they growing? One massive wave strikes me and I go down like the Edmonds Fitzgerald. Well, not exactly. I don’t break in two. Instead, I land firmly on my behind, then the next wave hits me in the chest and drives me back and at an angle to the shore. I catch sight of Cynthia and she’s in the water, too. Lady Lake has us both, dragging us across the pebbles to about three-feet off the shore. We are positioned to ride.
For the next two hours, we ride the Keweenaw Rollercoaster. Waves pull out into the next one and if they meet at the right spot, the water empties all around us. We watch as incoming walls of water rise eight to ten feet high, looking to swallow us whole but then cresting and diminishing, smacking us playfully in the belly, chest, or face. When the water rises the sun shines through like light inside a priceless jewel. Each facet reveals a mirror to the bottom of the lake, explaining why the loons repeatedly hunt the coast like fishing surfers. Each loon sighting makes me think there’s a portal to waters in Vermont. Each wave that hits causes us to laugh. We roll and reset, howl and squeal.
I understand why people want to escape Covid woes at amusement parks. We all could use a break and two hours of deep tummy laughing. Sure, there’s laughing yoga, but sometimes we need a ride to sweep us away. In Japan, you can ride the rollercoaster with a mask, but you have to “scream inside your heart.” What restraint! To me, the point of the ride, waves or coasters, is to let go. I don’t think I can sit in these waves, roll with the water or watch the loons nearby without expressing delight. Without giving up my tension to the experience. Without screaming out loud.
Yet, it is an intriguing idea, one we will explore. For now, I’ll squeal a little while longer, riding the Keweenaw rollercoaster.
July 16, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that expresses the phrase, “scream inside your heart.” Who is involved and why is the scream contained? Go where the prompt leads!
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Nap Time by Charli Mills
Two nurses checked Esther’s vitals when the twitching began. Every nap, the 99-year-old woman slept fitfully in her lift-chair.
Esther leaned back, listening to the clicks before she felt her body plummeted then jerked left and then right, up again, down again, rattling over a series of swells before coming to a jolting stop.
“Esther must be having puppy dreams is all.” The other nurse nodded.
Locked inside her head and sleep, Esther screamed in her heart, a carefree teenager once again at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk in 1924. When the Big Dipper ended, she woke up and grinned.