Today I thought I’d share an essay my father wrote about 25 years ago. Here it is.
My Search for the Great Spirit
Albert L. Lederer
A few summers ago, my wife, son, and I decided to visit Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, that vast body of land attached to Wisconsin, surrounded by Lakes Michigan, Huron, and Superior, and separated from the Lower Peninsula by the Straits of Mackinac. I don’t know exactly why such a journey appealed to Ann and Phil but for me it would be a magnificent opportunity to search for the Great Spirit in the pristine wilderness of America’s north woods. We were refugees from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, having arrived in Metro Detroit just three years before. Since our arrival, I had longed for such a chance.
The summer was an optimal time to take the journey. After all, the Tigers had been buried in sixth place for almost all season and now hovered only a few percentage points above the last place Indians. The Tigers had hopelessly chased the fourth and fifth place Red Sox and Yankees for weeks, rarely sustaining even the briefest winning streak, never getting closer than two games behind. Thus the Tigers could not benefit this summer from my ear, pinned to the radio, and the time to travel was now.
Nevertheless, I was worried. How would I handle the untamed wilderness? How would I react to the absence of the comforts that the decades had provided me with? How, for example, would I survive nine days without such delicacies as pizza and enchiladas? I did not have the answers to these questions but I was willing to risk finding out. As Leonardo da Vinci once said, “In constraint, strength is born” and perhaps in the harsh forest, I would summon the strength to endure and to find the Great Spirit.
Thus Ann made reservations at a number of moderately priced motels throughout the UP (the Michigander’s abbreviation for Upper Peninsula). Late on a Friday afternoon, Phil and I packed my 1986 All-Terrain-Vehicle (ATV) Toyota Tercel (purchased, or course, in Pittsburgh) with the clothing and food necessary to begin my quest – lots of Diet Coke and potato chips. I grabbed the book I had bought for the occasion – Michigan for Simple Folks. Phil and I waited until Ann returned home from work at about 6:30 PM and the three of us boarded the ATV Tercel. As I turned over the engine, I said a silent prayer, then gently depressed the accelerator, and lifted the clutch, backing the car out of the garage.
I quickly realized that in all of my excitement, I had neglected to raise the garage door. However, I did not hit it very violently. Furthermore, the ATV Tercel has rubber coated bumpers so that neither the garage door nor the vehicle were seriously damaged. Perhaps this small mistake was actually a boon, warning me to be circumspect as I sought the Great Spirit in the feral north woods.
So after examining the garage door and bumper, we began again. This time, I raised the garage door, powered the ATV Tercel onto our street, and headed north with enthusiasm.
We had traveled about two miles when it was necessary to stop for the first time. This is because we had not eaten dinner. We stopped at the Hungry Howie Pizzaria on Walton Boulevard where I purchased two large pizzas, one with extra cheese and the other with plenty of chopped vegetables, for us to eat in transit. (I strongly recommend Hungry Howie’s to you for your own search for the Great Spirit. It is both moderately priced and tasty – although, I think, not as tasty as Buddy’s Pizza. In fact, Hungry Howie’s can be eaten at times when you are NOT in search of the Great Spirit.) Minutes later, we were rolling along again, west on Walton, and then north at full tilt on Interstate 75.
We pressed ahead through the Lower Peninsula, listening to the Tigers until the radio faded into static and the night fell. We passed highway exits for Flint, Saginaw, and Bay City. We passed the 45 degree latitude sign, an extremely important marker in Michigan informing travelers that they are half way between the Equator and the North Pole. Many travellers, I’m sure, find this knowledge invaluable, although I know not for what purpose.
We passed highway exits for Grayling and Gaylord until at last we came to Mackinaw City. (By the way, please don’t be concerned if I spell it “Mackinac” in some places and “Mackinaw” in others. Native Michigan authors also vary the spelling randomly in order to keep their readers’ attention. Varying the spelling is almost as important as varying the pronunciation.)
Mackinaw City is the northern most point on the Lower Peninsula. Here we would spend our last night on the mainland. Along the highway I spotted Lester’s Bonanza Budget Inn where we would sleep. We pulled into the parking lot and despite the late hour, Lester met me in the motel office.
I signed in, careful to name my home city as Detroit rather than Rochester Hills. During my three years in Michigan, I had found that if I told people I’m from Detroit, I amazed them. I could even intimidate some enough to gain the upper hand in future dealings. But when I told them I was from Rochester Hills, they figured I was “just another yuppie” to rip off.
Lester apparently did not notice that I had written “Detroit” and so he asked, “Do you have any TOURISTY questions?” He said “touristy” with a twinge that sounded as though he wanted to be either sarcastic or condescending – I couldn’t tell which. However, it was clear that he had mistaken me for a tourist rather than seen me as the seeker of the Great Spirit that I was.
I thought quick and hard to come up with an answer to his question. Finally, I said calmly, “How is the exchange rate?”
“Huh?” he replied. I then raised my eyebrows as though to say, “You blithering idiot, you asked me for a question and when I gave you one, you didn’t know the answer,” grabbed the room key, and stomped out of the office with Lester standing behind in bewilderment.
I had great difficulty falling asleep that night. The next day we would cross the five mile wide Straits of Mackinac. I tossed and turned as I pondered the many centuries of travelers who had crossed the Straits and had perished in her turbulent waters.
Some had tried to swim and drowned.
Others had tried to sail in freighters, whalebacks, and carferries – the most famous of which was the Edmund Fitzgerald, the largest freighter of its day. The Fitz had sunk somewhat to the north of the Straits in a harsh November, 1975 storm as the captain listened to Gordon Lightfoot, his favorite American folk singer, warning that the gales of November had come early that year. (My Canadian friends may dispute the accuracy of my statement about Lightfoot’s nationality, but look, the United States, Canada, we’re all Americans, aren’t we? So what’s the big deal?) As I thought about the tragic fate of the Fitz, I committed not to swim across the straits, not to sail across, but rather to drive the ATV Tercel across the Mackinac Bridge. With the safety of the bridge clutched in my mind, I fell into a gentle sleep.
The next morning I awoke and stepped outside the motel room. From there, I could see the Straits, just beyond the Greater Mackinaw City Industrial Waste Transfer Depot that was adjacent Lester’s, a breath-taking view, if not at least breath-holding.
Ann, Phil, and I climbed into the ATV Tercel and said goodbye to Lester. We drove directly to the bridge. I paid the $1.50 toll (a moderate price for the safety and convenience of the bridge) and we bid adieu to the Lower Peninsula. Minutes later, we were at last in the UP.
(At this point, if you have never heard the abbreviation, UP, I want to be sure that you know how to pronounce it. Say “you pee.” Say it out loud. Say it right now. You need to do that to give yourself a better sense of the journey ahead and to avoid the embarrassment of saying it to yourself. Millions of Michiganders say “you pee” to each other every day and never blink an eye. Thank you.)
We left the bridge and arrived in the hamlet of St. Ignace. St. Ignace is a quaint and rustic place with one important claim, namely its celebration of the presence of Father Marquette, perhaps more widely known as Pere Marquette.
Pere Marquette was a French Jesuit priest who visited St. Ignace over 300 years ago. He left the comfort and luxury of Paris to come to baptize the American Indians. He did this because he was selfless and deeply devoted to his God and to his Church, and because he was probably a little nuts. I mean, the man left Paris for the rest of his life to go to the UP; you’re telling me that’s normal?
He baptized many Indians. Legend has it that the Indians permitted him to do this because they were generally nice people and when they saw the pleasure it gave him, they figured why not? Legend has it that the tribes did not understand what this strange sounding man, in his black robe and necklace, was doing and that as soon as he left one tribe to baptize another, the last one reverted to its ancient customs.
Nevertheless, St. Ignace today salutes Pere Marquette. It does so with its Pere Marquette Museum, Pere Marquette Monument, Pere Marquette Amphitheater, Pere Marquette State Park, Pere Marquette Straits Overlook, Pere Marquette Roadside Park, Pere Marquette Motor Inn, Pere Marquette Smoked Fish Market, Pere Marquette Video Rental Palace, and Pere Marquette Adult Book Store.
Despite my love of literature, I consented to forgo a visit to the book store and agreed to accompany Phil and Ann to the museum which was located in the park. (Incidentally, Michigan has a state park system, peerless in the U.S. with its magnificent camping, hiking, swimming, and such. Whatever money Michigan saves in its careful management of the public schools of Detroit, it wisely spends on its state parks.) There in the museum we found numerous paintings of Pere Marquette baptizing Indians. There was also a life-size diorama of Pere Marquette with an Indian guide paddling in a canoe in the air several feet above the heads of the museum visitors. As I twisted my head to scrutinize the flying Pere Marquette and his guide, I wondered if then, on my first day in the UP in the Pere Marquette Museum, I had found the Great Spirit. Perhaps Pere Marquette had come to St. Ignace, as I had, in search of the Great Spirit rather than to baptize the unappreciative Indians. Had I perhaps found the Great Spirit on my first stop? Maybe, I had but I just wasn’t sure.
After the museum, we climbed into the ATV Tercel and went westward on Route 2 along the northern shore of Lake Michigan. The lake glittered in the sunlight and the trees whispered a cool breeze. Eventually, we arrived at the base of the Garden Peninsula, a smaller peninsula jutting into Lake Michigan, a peninsula within a peninsula. We cut south, our next destination being the ghost town of Fayette.
Fayette was founded in the mid-1800s as a company town for the Jackson Mining Company. Here, iron could be carried from UP iron mines for smelting and eventual transport by ship to the Lower Peninsula. At its peak, the town had thousands of people and a number of houses, a company store, a hotel, an opera house, and many other buildings. In the late 1800s, however, the technology for converting iron ore changed, the Jackson Mining Company pulled out, and the populace departed.
Over the years, many of the buildings burned to the ground and many others rotted. Today, no one lives in Fayette. The only visitors nowadays are the tourists (and Great Spirit seekers such as me) and the guides who give talks about the remaining buildings and foundations. The thought that a boom town could become a ghost town and then an historical site almost overnight may at first sound peculiar but in fact, it gives us hope for the future of our beloved Detroit. (After moving to Michigan, I discovered to my surprise that most Detroit suburbanites actually do love Detroit. They simply don’t want to go there.)
As we prepared to leave Fayette, I wondered if the Great Spirit was there, if the births that had taken place over the years in this town had generated the joy to attract the Great Spirit. Maybe, I thought, but I wasn’t sure. (Fayette is the source of the Garden Peninsula’s famous motto, “If you seek an empty peninsula, look around you.”)
We left Fayette for the town of Escanaba where we spent the night in the moderately priced Black Fly Inn. The name of this fine establishment reminds me that I should tell you how the UP has managed to stay such an uncontaminated wilderness. Two great forces have protected it: the black fly and the mosquito.
The UP black fly is an unusual creature. Averaging a two inch wing span, it flies with great alacrity. As a result, Michigan state law mandates that every motel room in the UP have at least one fly swatter for each guest. It is not unusual to see a large family, each with a fly swatter in hand, chasing the beasts around their motel room. However, the UP black fly moves so fast that the chasers rarely hit one.
Why, then you ask, do the motel rooms even have the fly swatters in the first place? Because, you see, the act of the chase is more important than the act of the catch. Still, many potential visitors to the UP refrain from visiting it for fear of the black fly and in that way it protects the UP.
The mosquito also protects the wilderness. It is a more courageous beast although not nearly as fast as the black fly. It will give its life to protect the territory. It will land on you and bite you incessantly until you kill it. It is not very smart but nevertheless, it is courageous and has discouraged many tourists as it guards the UP.
While there is no defense against the black fly, there is one against the mosquito. No, it isn’t Off and it isn’t Skin-So-Soft as many novices have unhappily found. The defense – known to the native Yoopers (that’s what the inhabitants of the UP call themselves – and they pronounce it you-purr, not you-pee-ur as I initially did) is to take a very small amount of bear dung, mix it with water, and coat your body with it. For some unknown reason, the dung repels the mosquito. As you travel in the UP, you may see Yoopers with what appears to be faint perspiration on their faces. Instead, it is more likely a fine coating of this unusual protective concoction.
Anyhow, back to the journey. We left Escanaba and went north, into the vast and shadowy UP interior, its heart of darkness, with the road now completely surrounded and sheltered by towering trees. About an hour later, we emerged along the coast of Lake Superior. We had reached the frontier of the town of Marquette, named in honor of a fine university in Milwaukee.
At the edge of the town, we stopped at an unusual gift shop at the Marquette Branch of the Michigan State Prison. The shop sells primarily leather items, all manufactured by the inmates of the prison. The shop is on Lake Superior just outside the walls surrounding the prison. When an item is sold, the account of the inmate who produced it is credited; the inmate takes the money upon his release.
Because I had been wearing the same belt for 25 years and because it was now frayed, I found this an opportune time to acquire a moderately priced new one. I chose one from a large selection and went to pay for it. As I handed my money to the cashier, I began to wonder if the suffering of the hundreds of inmates behind the walls – or perhaps the suffering of the victims of the inmates – might have attracted the Great Spirit to this site. Maybe, I thought, but I wasn’t sure.
“If something goes wrong with the belt, you can bring it back. The con who made it will fix it,” said the cashier.
“Really,” I asked, “How long will he be here?”
“’till he dies,” he answered.
We drove into Marquette and visited a small park, Presque Isle, on Lake Superior. Here, when I needed to urinate, I achieved a major realization that I share with you now.
Michigan’s UP leads the nation in primitive commodes. In fact, in all of the parks and highway rest stops in the UP, there is not a single flush toilet. This is a little known fact among those who have never ventured here and in fact, native Yoopers tend to forget that flush toilets are possible in parks and along road sides.
So as the urge overtook me, I considered seeking a tree or bush. However, I asked myself, did I really wanted to risk a mosquito bite THERE? Because I did not, I found one of the UP’s great primitives. As I stood in the Presque Isle outhouse facing the deep, dark hole in the earth, daring not to inhale, I wondered if the Great Spirit could be found in its soupy pit. Maybe I thought, but I wasn’t sure.
When I emerged from the outhouse, I gave silent thanks and pledged that if I returned alive from this peninsular pilgrimage, I would return to the UP to photograph the primitive commodes and write a book about them, tentatively entitled, Thrones of the UP.
After the park, we registered at the Mosquito Net Inn and I asked the motel clerk to recommend an unusual restaurant, something indigenous to the UP. She asked what I meant by those strange words – unusual and indigenous – and I tried to explain. Then she suggested the Casa-something – I didn’t hear the full name because I was so excited when I heard the word Casa since it had been days since I’d eaten an authentic Mexican meal back in Detroit.
We sped off to the Casa-something. When we arrived, I realized that I should have listened more carefully to the full name. Nevertheless, Ann had the tortellini, Phil had the spaghetti, and I had the linguini with cheese sauce. You see, it wasn’t Casa-Mexican, it was Casa-Italian, reflective more of the great Italian influence in the UP which is discussed somewhat less than its other influences. I enjoyed the meal although I knew I might not gain the strength that a burrito would provide but I could continue to search for the Great Spirit regardless.
In Marquette, we obtained a copy of the local newspaper, the Bay Chill. Its headline told that for the first time in ten years, the summer temperature had not exceeded 80 degrees. More important, its front page story told how this year’s late spring had delayed the maturation of berries and caused the black bear population further to the north (exactly where we were headed) to
seek its dinner from restaurant dumpsters rather than from the woods. Might the UP black bear – known affectionately among Yoopers as “Boo-boo” – threaten me or obstruct my search? Might I face a new challenge? I didn’t know but I was prepared to find out.
From Marquette, we continued north the next day to the small village of Baraga. It was originally named for Bishop Baraga, the so-called “snowshoe priest,” who schussed through the UP baptizing Indians. He did this much in the spirit of Pere Marquette but you may recall that Pere Marquette preferred canoes to snowshoes.
When I checked into the motel, the innkeeper, Henry Jackson, said to his wife, “Look Mildred, here’s one from Detroit!” as though they thought no one was left in the great city. I had achieved my desired effect.
From Baraga, we set out in the ATV Tercel to Silver Mountain, one of the greatest peaks of the UP. We drove along miles of unpaved road until we reached the base of the mountain where we disembarked and began climbing its old, wooden steps. Up, up, up we went until we finally reached the summit. There, from a huge black rock, we could see miles and miles of untouched timberland.
I sat down, caught my breath, and then inspected some beautiful carvings in the rock. Indeed, there were many. This is because an unwritten law in the UP dictates that every natural and every manmade attraction must bear at least one personal inscription by someone who has visited it. For this purpose, experienced UP travelers wear fancy pocket knives on their belts.
Suddenly, I spied a very unusual and obscure carving. It read:
I trembled in awe. Could it be that Paul had visited this very spot? And if so, had he been accompanied by John, George, and Ringo? Had THEY come in search of the Great Spirit? Had they found the Great Spirit here, atop Silver Mountain?
In my youth, I had been one of their ardent followers. So, maybe, I thought, they had found the Great Spirit here, but I just wasn’t sure. When we descended the mountain, I pondered the carving as perhaps the most significant indication of the Great Spirit that I’d seen so far.
We reached the car and then drove several more miles to the Sturgeon River Gorge parking area. We walked a quarter mile or so to the gorge and found a magnificent 400 foot, 90 degree drop into the meandering stream below. The view was so touching and so pristine that I was all the more flabbergasted to see a cigarette butt lying in the sand at the edge of the precipice. However, I realized that it is a widely known fact in the UP that without the cigarette butts, abandoned Coke cans, and empty Frito bags, it might appear than human life had never discovered this vast wilderness.
Was the Great Spirit hiding in the cigarette butt? Maybe, but I wasn’t sure.
We left the gorge and headed for dinner. I had discovered that the Ojibwa Indians ran a small restaurant outside Baraga called the Tepee. Native American Indian food? It wouldn’t be my staple of burritos but perhaps it would be close.
We arrived at the restaurant and found it behind a casino. The U.S. government, you see, permits American Indians to run casinos in the UP for tourists. Not being a tourist, I led my family past the casino and headed straight to the Tepee. And indeed, we found a pleasant, moderately priced diner, specializing, however, in burgers, hot dogs, and fries. OK, it wasn’t native Ojibwa food or even Mexican but I resolved to persist nevertheless in my search.
We left Baraga the next morning and continued toward the northernmost part of the UP, passing through the once prosperous town of Calumet and into the Keweenaw Peninsula, again a peninsula within the peninsula. We followed the Lake Superior shore and the Brockway Mountain Drive, with its spectacular view of the valley below it, until we reached our destination, Copper Harbor, a tiny, isolated village on the lake.
I registered at our motel, Boo-boo’s Cabins, and met Bob Johnson, its owner, at the desk. I asked Bob if I could get a copy of the Detroit Free Press and Bob said, “No, of course not. Don’t you know where you are? Don’t you know your 238,000 miles from Detroit?” I didn’t think we had traveled that far but apparently Bob felt we had.
A number of activities are possible at Copper Harbor. You can go down to the dock and wait for the boat to Isle Royale, a rugged island four and a half hours away. While waiting, you can read the available copies of the book, Famous Lake Superior Shipwrecks, that explains how difficult it is for even the most experienced ship’s navigator to get from Copper Harbor to Isle Royale without scraping bottom on the unusual rock formations that invisibly dot the course. In fact, deep sea divers find the area a treasure trove because of the numerous shipwrecks to explore.
We chose not to visit Isle Royale or the dock but instead headed for Fort Wilkens, a reconstructed fort from the early 1800s. Fort Wilkens was built not to protect early settlers from the Indians but rather to protect them from themselves. You see, when copper was discovered in the area, the U.S. government expected a rush of unruly miners who would rob, maim, or murder each other. Hence, it built the fort to protect these fortune hunters from their comrades.
The fort was built and the copper rush began but surprisingly, it ended abruptly. In just two or three years, the copper was mined out and the miners departed. The fort was closed but only temporarily – only until the late-20th century when it reopened as a tourist attraction. Criticize government planning all you want but frankly, I’m proud that our elected officials had the prescience to build Fort Wilkens in anticipation of those who visit it today.
After our visit to the fort, we strolled through the Copper Harbor woods to an agate beach on Lake Superior. Here, along the wilderness path, I realized that for my personal edification, I could count the extinguished cigarette butts on the forest floor. As I did so, I began to wonder that if the Great Spirit could inhabit just one cigarette butt such as the one at the Sturgeon River Gorge, then why couldn’t it live in all cigarette butts?
For dinner, we purchased some smoked lake trout and brought it back to our cabin. We ate it at the picnic table beside the cabin, tossed its bones into the garbage can a dozen feet away, and retreated into the cabin. A little later, Ann went out to the car to retrieve a bag of clothing.
No sooner had she left the cabin than she returned, excited and breathless, yelling, “HE’S THERE … AT THE GARBAGE CAN.”
Phil and I ran to the window, slammed it and bolted it tightly. I extinguished the lights and from the darkness of the cabin, I believe I could see Boo-boo, himself, his head in the garbage can grabbing at our fish bones. Two thoughts quickly entered my mind.
First, I wasn’t completely certain that I’d seen Boo-boo. The night was black and Boo-boo, himself, was so dark that I may have seen only his contour. In fact, he looked very much like the image you see of Nessie, the Loch Ness monster, in those movies purporting to prove her existence, and not so much like an actual, touchable beast.
Second, and more important, I wondered that if Boo-boo was so obscure, was it possible that he, Boo-boo, was the Great Spirit? Perhaps, but how could I tell?
We left Copper Harbor the next morning and turned south. We stopped at the Delaware Copper Mine, active from 1847 through 1887 but now abandoned and open only to tourists. Although definitely not a tourist, I agreed to accompany Ann and Phil into it.
A guide led us, along with 20 or so others down an earthen staircase, a 100 foot gadarene plunge into the bowels of the planet. We negotiated a narrow tunnel as she explained how copper miners had dug, drilled, and blasted for their precious ore. Bats flew by and taunted us as we marched cautiously along. Finally, at the dark and damp end of the tunnel, she concluded with an eloquent monologue.
“Every mine,” she said, “has a ghost. This mine is no different. Its ghost is a friendly ghost named Freddie. Freddie appears only very briefly when all of the lights are out. I’m going to turn out the lights and you’ll see Freddie.”
She then abruptly extinguished all of the lights and suddenly, briefly in the pitch black, a faint glow appeared. She quickly turned the lights on and asked, “Did you see him?”
Of course I saw him, but would I, a scientist and skeptic, admit it? Perhaps she had a tiny hidden light that she had flashed or perhaps Freddie was merely an optical illusion. Or could Freddie possibly have been the Great Spirit?
We left the mine and drove to a park on Lake Superior, J.F. McLain State Park. We spent the day at its beach and I spent most of it pondering the previous days and wondering if I would ever find the Great Spirit. Only a few days of our expedition remained and I was becoming increasingly concerned that my search might fail.
That afternoon, we drove to Silver City on the western edge of Lake Superior. Silver City is named for the silver mines that existed in the UP although they were mined much more briefly than the copper mines. We checked into the Silver Penny Inn where I spent a few minutes studying the yellow pages of the local phone directory.
I looked up “restaurants” and, lo and behold!, I found one called Tiajuana! Alas, my beloved burrito! However, I observed that the restaurant was in Land O’ Lakes, Wisconsin. I grabbed a map and discovered quite happily that this town was only 8 miles from a major UP highway and thus not so distant from us. We climbed into the ATV Tercel for Land O’ Lakes.
When we pulled into town, I stopped at the local gas station and asked the cashier, “Where’s that Mexican restaurant I’ve been reading so much about?”
“What Mexican restaurant?” she replied.
“Tiajuana, of course. I read about it in the Silver City phone book,” I informed her.
“The only thing Mexican about that joint is its name. They don’t have any Mexican food there. But they do have succulent burgers, hot dogs, and fries,” she added.
I was dejected.
We ate at a local lodge and drove back to Silver City in silence. Could the Great Spirit possibly have been in Land O’ Lakes trying to tell me something? I wasn’t sure but I doubted it.
The next morning, we continued west. We drove to the Black River which spills into Lake Superior after flowing over five waterfalls, each a half mile or so apart. We visited each falls. At each one, we descended a series of stairs to view the river’s waters cascading over its unusual red and brown conglomerate rock formations.
The final falls was more than 200 stairs below the roadway, an easy descent. Although it may not have been the most magnificent, the climb back up was the most rigorous.
After viewing it, we trudged upward. Every step, however, hid the remaining steps above it so that I could only see one step at a time. I became quickly exhausted and panted, breathless, as I ascended, step by step, wondering alas if at the top of these final stairs, the Great Spirit would finally appear. When I reached the pinnacle, I collapsed, my head falling to the earth, my eyes peering straight into the opening of an empty Coke can. In exhaustion, I wondered, could the Great Spirit be within that Coke can? And if it were, how would I know?
Only one more stop at Lake Superior remained on our trek. A few miles from the Black River, it is called Little Girl’s Point and it is located on a sacred Indian burial ground. We drove to it and stopped in a parking area facing an agate beach on Lake Superior adjacent two newly refurbished, primitive commodes.
Little Girl’s Point gets its name from an ancient Indian legend about a princess named Leelanau who was engaged to marry a young brave. The girl loved to walk through the ancient burial grounds to Lake Superior – known to her people as Gitchee-Goomie – to view the deep blue waters. Her parents, however, warned her that evil fairies lurked in the burial grounds and that she must discontinue her visits to Gitchee-Goomie. But Leelanau disobeyed her parents and continued her walks.
According to the legend, one day, the evil fairies transformed themselves into a tree that appeared to Leelanau as her beloved fiancé. When she went to embrace it, the fairies devoured her and she was never seen again.
Today, it is still told that sailors and other travelers may believe they see Leelanau at the edge of Gitchee-Goomie but when they reach out to touch her, she disappears into the lake mist.
We left the ATV Tercel and saw that across the highway from Gitchee-Goomie was a faded old sign saying “Sacred Indian ***ial Grounds,” the “Bur” having blurred with time. Below the words an arrow pointed into the woods.
We began to walk along the narrow path but it was much different than the other paths we’d crossed in the UP. This one was covered with fresh green grass, showing it to be a rare path in the UP, a path less traveled than the many others we had coursed. After we’d strolled a few hundred feet, we arrived at a totem pole, perhaps 10 feet tall, with colored birds and animals carved in it. Beside the totem pole, was a tree with a fence of unhewn wood around it and two dilapidated park benches nearby. The sky above was completely hidden by a canopy of birch trees and the woodland was cool and completely silent.
For some reason, whether the Great Spirit was here or not suddenly was irrelevant. What mattered was that I was sure that before our expedition would end, I would find the Great Spirit.
We walked back to the ATV Tercel and said goodbye to Gitchee-Goomie for the last time. We had one more town to visit and we proceeded to it.
Ironwood, Michigan sits in the most western corner of the UP in the Porcupine Mountains. The town is a busy ski resort in the winter but almost deserted in the summer. It is known for one attraction to which we continued.
Ironwood is the site of tallest Indian in the world. A statue of Hiawatha stands 52 feet tall and is painted in earthy browns, yellows, and greens. The statue is in a small park with a gift shop behind it.
I stopped the ATV Tercel, got out, and observed the statue. I was amazed at its size and its human likeness. I fell prostrate on the lawn before it and gazed upon it and the firmament beyond. The sun was setting and our trip was ending. An old man rested peacefully on a bench behind me reading a newspaper. Two teenage girls in shorts and pin-striped blouses tossed a baseball a few feet further away.
I watched the two girls for a few moments.
And then an uncontrollable urge overpowered me. I knew exactly what I needed.
I walked to the old man and asked to see his newspaper. There, in the sports pages, I discovered that the Tigers had gotten hot. They had won several games in a row while the Yankees and Red Sox had been losing. Indeed, the Tigers had taken sole possession of fourth place and they had accomplished this in my absence.
Suddenly, I realized that all along, the Great Spirit had been at the corner of Trumbull and Michigan Avenues in Tiger Stadium and that I had not needed to leave my home to search for it. I realized too that the Great Spirit had been alive in Pere Marquette’s flying canoe, in the deserted houses of Fayette, in the Marquette Prison Gift Shop, in the handmade carvings, in Freddie, in Boo-boo, in the primitive commodes, and in all the cigarette butts and discarded Coke cans in the UP.
As we drove the 600 miles home, I realized that I had never needed to leave my home to search for the Great Spirit.
And when I arrived home, I gave thanks for my successful journey to the UP and for my new found knowledge as I wrapped a burrito cover around some soft, spicy pinto beans and popped them into the microwave oven.