As you drive deeper and deeper into Northwoods Wisconsin, time seems to slow, and then with a lazy lurch, creep backwards again.
At first, trees are thin and far between. They are a two hand span around, and their leaves are delicate, gasping toward the sun. Every few miles, a field opens up, and a middle-aged man grins from high up on the spring seat of his John Deer. Towns are medium-sized, offering the standard Subway McDonald’s Two Gas Stations IGA and a Pamida-turning-Shopko.
Soon, though, the trees grow wide and thick. Pines are numerous, and deer stand beneath them, counting flashing lights on the highway. Every so often, one will bound forward, perhaps to the telltale dull thump and angry squeal; the fate of many a Wisconsin deer since a path was cut for this road a hundred years ago.
Towns are smaller now. There are no baseball diamonds visible from the main drag; no littered camp grounds bragging water slides and All You Can Eat steak dinners. Cable, one sign reads. Population 93. How funny that the town’s oldest resident’s age could match the number on the sign. And when he dies, the mayor might send some knobbly teenager out to the highway, to tick the figure down to 92. How funny that no one driving through the town would likely notice such a change, nor care if they did.
As the lake nears, crafty shops appear more and more frequently, selling scrapbooking supplies or baby quilts or wooly yarn for thirty dollars a skein. They cater to the tourists, who come up in the summer for Apple Fest and to marvel at Superior. She’ll show off for them, lifting her glimmering waters up for closer inspection, and then flipping them down impishly.
We belong here, though, I think, lugging my big orange duffel down the dock. Ruby is at the end of the leash I hold in my left hand. She tugs, gasping a little as her collar strains against her neck. No amount of ‘heel’ will slow her. I keep my toes centered on the nails that run down the center of the dock, remembering a time when I was told not to stray from them. Superior is deep and cold, and I know, as surely anyone who’s spent their life upon her does, that she can be as unflinchingly cruel beneath the surface as she is glittering above.
I arrange my sleeping bag on the lower bunk, listening to the water slap against the hull of the boat.