Return to Minong
Updated: Oct 2
National Park Service Founders Day
“Many of our greatest American thinkers, men of the caliber of Thomas
Jefferson, Henry Thoreau, Mark Twain, William James, and John Muir, have
found the forest an effective stimulus to original thought.” ~ Bob Marshall
Before it was named Isle Royale, the Ojibwa called it Minong. In their language, Minong meant “A Good Place to Be,” or “The Place of Blue Berries.” Both are true.
For those unfamiliar with Isle Royale it is approximately a 45-mile long by 9-mile wide island located in the northwest portion of Lake Superior. Within it are some 42 inland lakes and the main island is surrounded by many smaller islands. Although it is Michigan’s only designated National Park, it is closer to Canada and Minnesota, and 99% of it is a designated wilderness. It is considered by many as the most remote National Park in the continental United States.
Once upon a time, I spent six consecutive summer seasons (May to October) at Isle Royale as a ranger. It was life-changing, a pilgrimage of sorts. There are different types of National Park Service (NPS) rangers and I served as a “protection ranger,” providing the services of law enforcement, emergency medical services, wildland firefighting, and search and rescue in the wilderness. In my fourteen seasons as an NPS ranger, I would serve at three different marine wilderness parks, but it was Isle Royale where I would cut my teeth. It is said your first love of something always holds a special place. For me, that’s Isle Royale.
Not long into my first season at Isle Royale, I felt enlightened; perhaps similar to the effect Walden’s Pond had on Henry Thoreau. I adapted the lyrics of John Denver’s song “Rocky Mountain High” to “Isle Royale High,” changing “Colorado” to “Lake Superior,” and “Summer of my 27th year” to “Summer of my 47th year.” Otherwise, the words pretty much remained intact and it became my anthem. As the lone Malone Bay Ranger, in my off-duty time, I would have to become creative to entertain myself as many such amenities were not available. It would be during this time that I would be inspired to become an author.
“The monotony and solitude of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind.”
~ Albert Einstein
Fifteen years have passed since I last was a ranger at Isle Royale and eight years since I last visited this special place. During my last trek there, I backpacked all the way from Malone Bay to Windigo. For me, that 22 miles is a personal record.
Time takes its toll. I had hoped to return to Isle Royale last summer but that plan was canceled by a back injury. It is not funny how past injuries resurface when you are a senior. With rehabilitation holding, I hope to again set foot on Isle Royale on August 25, 2023, which just happens to be “National Park Service Founders Day.” Now is that good planning or what? I will be in good company: Darlene, my significant other, and Gary and Marlene, our adventure friends. Leading up to this excursion, the four of us met weekly, hoisting our backpacks to tromp around on trails in hot flat Florida to prepare for our Minong trek. It will be my companions' maiden voyage to Isle Royale National Park. I hope we will not be haunted by the Windigo.
Windigo, an Ojibwa word, can be translated to bad luck. It first found me, or maybe it was the boat I was a passenger on (ironically named the Minong), during orientation at Isle Royale. It was a close call for all aboard and I tell the story in Chapter 14 of Protecting National Parks. Another example is when the Windigo settled over a group of eight Texans. They were split into three parties (3,3,2), all bound for Malone Bay. Chapter 36 of Protecting National Parks tells the story of how their canoe, with three aboard, capsized in a sudden wind event, and all nearly drown. It does not tell how the other parties encountered the Windigo. In the party of three hiking to Malone Bay, a hypoglycemic event caused them to abandon one hiker on the trail. Meanwhile, the party of two traveling from McCargoe Cove suffered a fractured arm while portaging a canoe.
Our itinerary has us backpacking from Chippewa Harbor to Rock Harbor. Some believe a vaccine for Windigo is preparation. I am reminded of a quote from Louis Pasteur, “Luck favors a prepared mind.” To that end, not only in conditioning but in packing. It is the novice backpacker that brings everything but the kitchen sink. Ounces add up to pounds which equals pain.
” Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing left to add,
but when there is nothing left to take away.”
~ Antoine deSaint
We do not plan to return from our six-week van trip until mid-September. Then, I hope to share the outcome of our trek in a similarly titled blog, “Return from Minong.” Until then, wishing you a happy “National Park Service Founders Day.”