Travel Writing

Big Bay State Park, Madeline Island

I first visited Big Bay State Park on Madeline Island in early June 23 years ago while pregnant with my daughter. My husband and I slept in a powder-blue mountain tent.

Last fall, because a sailing trip fell through at the last minute, I slept alone in the cab of my Ford Ranger, having left all my camping equipment behind. I read "The Oxford Book of the Sea" by flashlight and planned the next day's hikes.

When I reached the Boardwalk Trail near the shore of Lake Superior the next morning, I watched a gray-haired father follow his 2-year-old son along the wooden planks. The boy, dressed in white T-shirt and training pants, raced ahead on the trail, then jumped off and cut through the scrub to a sand spit. His 4-year-old sister was playing in the sand at the shoreline. 

When I said, "Mom must be sleeping," the father nodded and said, "Magellan here's exploring, and Picasso's down there painting a rock."

The recently developed Boardwalk Trail is a wonderful place to approach with the curiosity and playfulness of a child. The trail is a flat, well-marked, well-maintained and handicap-accessible boardwalk with wooden benches at several strategic points along its half-mile course and open views of the greatest of the Great Lakes. 

Alone, I followed the trail through a boreal forest lowland on the left and the Big Bay Sand Spit on the right. I found myself slowing down to appreciate the red and white pines that lined the way. Their waxy evergreen needles retain water, as do the leaves of the bearberry and wintergreen below them.

A woodpecker was hammering away in the trees. I kneeled to examine reindeer moss, a delicate structure of tiny silver-green hairs 3 to 6 inches high. A sign nearby said that reindeer moss is a lichen, not a moss, and that it's "a pioneer" that "breaks down leaves, trees, sand and rock."

A woman in sweatband and Lycra approached on the run, less interested in the terrain than firm ground for her morning workout. After she passed, I followed the boardwalk inland to view the lagoon from the wildlife observation deck.

Red-winged blackbirds swaying on cattails hollered out their familiar O-ka-LEEEE on my approach.

When I reached the end of the boardwalk, I turned lakeward and waded into the shallow water. Within a few seconds, my feet and legs tingled with the familiar icy bite of Lake Superior. I returned to the shore, where the wind dried my skin quickly.

The sailing trip might have fallen through, but I didn't miss the boat.

Minneapolis Star Tribune

©Kate Hallett Dayton

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