This morning our camp on the shores of Lake Superior was a whole different place from the night before. Now, not a wisp of breeze ruffled the forest understory and we could hear bird call from deep in the woods. Out on the lake the wind had died, and with it the lapping swell. A huge flat expanse of mirror lay between us and the boreal woods to the far north across the water – way beyond the horizon, and only in the sea bird’s imagination. The sandy shore was benign and welcoming, luring Diane down to water’s edge to stick her toes in to test the temperature. Yesterday it felt more like the north shore of Kauai, so we had kept our distance and huddled on a log in the dune grass.
There were floats of gulls just off shore, relaxing on the mill pond surface.
We’ve been driving since western Washington State beyond the fringe of population centers – spending most of our time on quiet two-lane roads passing through the small towns – mostly forgotten once the big interstates were completed. Now, we have no choice but to drive right through Sualt Ste Marie, a US and Canadian city straddling the St. Joseph Channel which connects Lake Superior with Lake Huron. As we approach the outskirts of town an eerie fog settled on the road – unlike anything we’d driven through so far. The road climbs up into the fog, and suddenly we are in a maze of bridges crossing the channel. There are bridges on top of bridges – old swing style draw bridges over the locks with the highway on a super bride spanning it all. The fog splits and we see a massive pulp mill at the side of the channel – yards full of cut logs – one half the length of the western milled timber style logs, but these cut more for material handling and pulping. From the plants stacks belch plumes of white smoke and steam from countless vents. I wonder if this plant is actually the source of the warm moist air contributing to the fog? As soon as we pass by the plant the fog disappears and we are in the clear sun again wandering through the many turns and one way streets which lead us on Route 17 through the growing metropolis. All the Canadian brand names appear at the roadside – Canadian Tire, Tim Hortons, BP and more. We twist and turn and drive past the trim mown grass front yards of the neat brick houses until at last, the yards grow in size, the trimming becomes not so trim and we are once again out in the country moving east past the corn farms and wood land along the north shore of Lake Huron.
The place names here are a mix of French and Indian, reflecting the settlement and taming of this fertile north land - Missisagi Indian reservation, Blind River, Serpent River, Iron Bridge, Whiskey Lake, Basswood lake, Sagmok Indian Reserve, and finally Espanola – where did THAT name come from?
The sun stays bright and clear over our right shoulder all day as we drive further east. We’ve given up on the dashboard compass which stubbornly insisted that we have been traveling north since we started looking at it leaving Oakland. The sun now is more reliable – as it stays in the southern sky all day long. The air is clear over the great lake, and clouds are now beginning to form just over our heads at water’s edge. The woods at the roadside are dense, but with mostly thin spindly trees a mix of conifer and deciduous. Our lunch spot today has a bright red maple – ahead of the curve. The speed limit has restricted us to 60 mph – so we have an easy time looking around and watching to eagle nests in the taller trees or pond views at the side of the road. There is really no passing to be done, so we spend the time joking and imagining ourselves in the bigger geography which surrounds us rather than just the thin asphalt ribbon on which we travel.