Beaver Archipelago, Pt. 8: "Kee"

May, 2013.

RETURN to part 7

I dug out my map and studied it closely. Sure enough, I had to be on the far western side of Minis Gitigaan. This was probably Bomways Bay (MAP). Or worse yet, it could be Nineegoes Bay. It's hard to tell--there are so many of these damn bays, and they all look basically the same from the ground.

How the hell did I get so far off course? I hadn't passed any forks in the trail except the one I was supposed to. If I had indeed made it to the fork at the Schoolhouse Clearing and went left, I should have passed the turn for the Sugar Bush Trail and one for the Westside Trail. But it seems as though I somehow just *ended up* on the Westside Trail, which I remembered Ruchhoft describing as almost completely unfollowable back in 1988 since it is rarely if ever traveled.

That's the only way I could have ended up here. Oh well. Only one thing to do--start walking the beach in a clockwise direction until I get to a point where the water is to the north of me and the land is to the south. Then I'll know I'm actually on the north end of the island and should start finding some of the cabin ruins on my map. The first one I should come across would be the one marked "Shawboose Cabin."

My main worry now was not so much how I was going to get back, but how I was going to see everything I had wanted to investigate on the island and still make it back to Northcutt Bay by 10am tomorrow. Chances were I was going to have to skip something now. I decided to make note of the time and track my progress to gauge how long it would take. So far today I guessed I had gone about three or four miles, and it had taken me (I did some more quick calculations in my head)…about five hours. It looked unlikely that I would be able to make it back to the DNR camp by nightfall unless I left right now.

I sat pondering this angrily. No way was I going to go through all the hassle to come all the way out here just to turn around empty-handed. I decided that the best plan was to continue around the Northwest Point (hopefully it was nearby), and explore what I could on the way back to one of the two trails that led back inland, while finding a place to camp out in the bush.

Problem was, I was already pretty tired from the flogging that I had endured in the swamp so far, and chances were that I would still have the worst ahead of me. This was going to be a rough go. I was worrying in the back of my mind that I might spend my whole afternoon searching after another trail that either didn't exist, was totally destroyed with fallen trees, or would just peter out into nothing leaving me stranded in the deep woods again. I was beginning to wonder about Captain Bonadeo's statement that the trails on Minis Gitigaan were the easiest to follow. So far they were the hardest.

I saw a freighter in a distant mirage moving through the passage to the north of the archipelago, bound for the Mackinac can see by the white blotch in front of the ship that her bow is breaking through some pretty good waves, indicating that the seas were still fairly choppy out there:

After finishing up the rest of my well-deserved lunch break, I laced my boots back up and hit the beach with as much speed as I could pour on. I felt like I was making pretty damn good time, but with every arm of land passed, instead of finally seeing Northwest Point like I wanted, a new and different bay just like the last would present itself. I soon began to realize that I was not as far north as I had thought. I was probably closer to Nineegoes Bay, as opposed to Bomways Bay. How I had missed my target so widely I'll never know. The magic of Gitchii Manitou's island had somehow caused me to lose my way. Perhaps my offering was not received as well as I had hoped.

I humped as hard as I could over the loose, baseball-sized rocks and intermittent quicksand, clouds of midges swarming me so thickly that I often had to walk with my eyes shut and my hand over my nose and mouth. Some of them are even visible in this shot, which says something:

The sun blazed down, making me sweat. This was brutal. An hour and a half later, I finally came within sight of the Lansing Shoal Lighthouse, about ten miles out to the north in Lake Michigan, (with the mirage of the Yoopee shore behind it):

I believed this meant that I had finally passed Northwest Point. Not good. If I had indeed started from Bomways Bay, then it had taken me an hour and a half to go a mere half mile. The roughness of the beach terrain and jaggedness of the shoreline made it impossible to chart a straight-line path. I kept my head down and kept chugging as hard as I could, racing the sun. I was at least happy that I no longer had to deal with the endless jumble of fallen trees.

The cowl to an old automobile?

Suddenly I began to discern a clearing within the woods just behind the line of trees on shore. I hoped that it was the Boatbuilder's Clearing, but it was just a marsh:

I kept striding along as fast as I could. Another 15 minutes later I ducked into the woods randomly, and got a funny feeling. After some more walking, I slowly and cautiously approached an area that looked to be someone's domicile.

A cursory look around led me to believe that I had plausibly arrived at the residence of an Anishinaabe woman.

This was quite the establishment…it had to be Kee's place. I never did find the ruins of the "Shawboose Cabin"....

As with the cemetery, I have struggled with the question of whether it is respectful to publish this part of the story publicly, but by including it I hope that it will help broaden knowledge and understanding of Michigan's first people and their culture, without cheapening it into an "X-treme" tourist attraction or mere photo opportunity. Therefore I have obscured the details of its location and how I found it. If you do happen to find yourself here as I did, I would hope that you treat it with reverence and respect. Native Americans are not some mythical extinct race, they are still here among us, practicing their culture.

The sign on the corner of the shelter reads, "Love is the Language we all long to hear…SPEAK LOVE."

This sign inside reads, "The Blood of the Ancients flows in our veins, and the forms change, but the Circle of Life remains":

Something about this was magical…the giant huddled cedars wreathed the entire area like a barrier, and everything in sight was artfully hand-hewn from natural materials. Something was askew here however; there was a palpable feeling of occupation, like someone was here, or would be back momentarily…yet an equally palpable appearance of disaster and abandonment--everywhere trees lay broken and crushed, draped over structures and across the well-worn paths.

It was hard to tell what exactly was going on…if someone lived here, one would think that they would have repaired storm damage from six months ago by now, so most likely the resident was only here in the summer and had probably not yet come to the island. I was intrigued, and moved gingerly and respectfully in case I did meet with the owner. I had to remind myself that Kee was supposedly no longer living, that I had seen her grave earlier today, but it was very hard to reconcile that truth with this picture of vibrance and life and warmth.

Despite the grotesqueness of the destruction at hand, there was an overriding feeling of sanctuary and peacefulness here, almost like entering a church.

As I looked around I noticed more and more of the curious items and signs that were strewn about the sprawling area.

But before I got too nosey I decided it would be best to go up to the house and knock to see if anyone was home.

A bundle of giizhik (white cedar medicine) sat tied to the door, and a driftwood plank above it was inscribed in that same, by now familiar handwriting:
"This is my heart's home. If you are shipwrecked, or starving to death, you are welcome to share whatever I have. If you are just out for fun, PLEASE leave equipment and supplies as you find them. I need them to save my life. Miigwetch (thank you)."  --Keewaydinoquay
Next to the door, a rusty thermometer was nailed to the bleached wood of the dwelling. The numerals were hand-painted on it. Apparently it was exactly 70F today.

I knocked again, and waited. No answer. I noticed the screen door was fastened from the inside with a rope, meaning that someone could still be within...?

I slowly kept moving around, taking in as much of this visual feast as I could; it seemed everywhere I looked there was something interesting to examine.

I figured maybe someone would eventually appear from the house so I lingered in the area, but all the signs I was seeing indicated that probably no one had been here in months. Nonetheless, there was that kayak stowed in the rafters of the pavilion, so maybe someone was here?

I was extremely tired and in need of a short break from hiking, so I decided to unshoulder my pack under the pavilion and sit for a while just soaking all this beauty in.

Under the fallen goliath that covered half of the table:

I let the cool breezes dry my aching feet and back, and sing me a song in the whispering aromatic cedar boughs. The enchanting scent of cedar was as pungent as potpourri. Suddenly I forgot the stress of being lost on my journey and let my spirit be at ease. A Zen-like smile hung on my face.

I imagined all the big gatherings that might've taken place here. What a pleasant place to enjoy life. How many feasts and fires must've been held here?

Equally, how many tranquil solitary evenings had Kee spent here deep in the bosom of Mother Nature, singing while reclining under the boughs of her idyllic grove after a long day of work on her many projects, drinking tea? She was beginning to seem like something of a female Tom Bombadil, as I wove my mental picture of her based on the clues around me.

It looked like some of these handmade structures could have either served as greenhouses, or bunkhouses for when such guests needed a place to lay…it was hard to tell which:

Mortars for grinding herbs?

As you can tell I was painting a very detailed portrait of this person in my head based on the copious evidences of her existence that remained behind…if indeed she had departed this world. It still seemed hard to believe that this was not currently a woman's home.

The closest thing I could figure was that her place was still kept up in her honor by close family or friends who might use the place as a retreat.

An old boat, rotting into the ground:

I wandered off again to explore, once my need for rest no longer overshadowed my curiosity.

Wreckage of another early automobile:

A hundred yards or so from the house, I found another small storage cabin.

On the wall hung fishing nets, and it was completely jam-packed on the inside with equipment and buckets and things.

I thought more about the fact that the front door of Kee's house was tied shut from the inside, and yet no one answered when I knocked.

The possibility that someone may be in there frozen to death from winter crossed my mind, so I wandered back and went around to the back door to see if it was open. After all, Captain Bonadeo had said I was the first hiker of the year, so I guess I have to check.

It was secured from the outside with a rope this time. I noticed more driftwood signs, two of them saying "Welcome Back Home Grandmother"....

...which only bolstered my fanciful mental image of this place being inhabited by the quasi-living spirit of an old medicine woman.

On the door itself was another hand-written note on another repurposed piece of scrap cardboard (not too many places to buy paper around here), which reiterated, "STRANDED TRAVELERS: You are welcome to use this cabin for shelter. Please make sure the door is securely closed before leaving the area."

I gingerly untied the cord holding the door shut, a slight nervous feeling about it definitely on my conscience, since I still felt like I was invading someone's privacy. As the ancient cabin door squeaked open it revealed an eye-popping array of…stuff….to look at….

Whoa… There was an entire life crammed into this little cabin. A pungent and intoxicating potpourri of incense, lamp oil, ancient wood, and old paper hit me...I was spellbound.

Happily, no petrified corpses were to be found here.

There was something everywhere I looked…and it wasn't like it was the work of a hoarder, because it was all useful, important stuff, all meticulously organized. And not only that but everything had more hand-written notes on it telling what it was, or how to use it.

I was almost afraid to go in, but my curiosity was insurmountable. I was drawn in as if by a tractor beam.

I stood in the middle of the creaky floor of this cramped, bewitching little shack, and slowly pivoted around, looking at all the tiny little things that were on display here, reading some of the things that had been written on them.

Some of the containers read, "Birthday Celebration Supplies," "Insect Repellant," "Impatience Tincture" (huh?), and another piece of driftwood inscribed with the poem,
There is a pleasure in the pathless woods / There is a rapture on the lonely shore / There is a silence where none intrudes / By the Great Lakes, and music in its Roar / I Love people not less, but nature more.

Dewe'igan (drums), and of course another giizhik bundle hung from the center of the ceiling, whose open rafters held even more stored items. I was absolutely enthralled with this place. I was even more impressed with my ability to remember some Ojibwe words from college.

Then something unexpected caught my eye--the glow of an electric light! I looked over to see a small control panel of some type lit up with blinking colored lights--there was electricity in here!?  And the main switch was in the on position.

I quickly figured out that this must mean there is a solar panel on the roof. I didn't see any electric appliances anywhere however. And of course the usual hand-written notes covered everything, denoting instructions for use. Which I now began to ponder the meaning of--who writes these kinds of notes to themselves? Surely this must mean that the place is used by more than one party, because the average person doesn't need to give themselves instructions on how or when to use their own possessions.

On the table next to the small wooden bed sat another switch of giizhik, which obviously had not been here long since it was still fairly green, and three old envelopes from Northeastern Illinois University with a label on them reading "JOURNEY OF THE SEVENTH FIRE, An International Fire for Peace," and a note imploring me to "TAKE ONE!"

I thought about opening one and reading the material inside, but I didn't want to tarry too much longer in here being that I had to get going, so I don't know what it was really about.

It occurred to me though that the presence of a note encouraging me to "TAKE ONE" implies that the resident (or residents) of this abode really did welcome strangers, and that I needn't feel so much like an interloper. Or they knew that strangers would invite themselves in regardless, heh.

A couple framed photos adorned areas of the cabin, particularly featuring old ladies, one of which looked to be Kee herself. As outside, there was also an abundance of aggregated "found" materials, such as twine, feathers, lengths of wood, sets of similar stones; anything that might serve a future use in some project.

This was the exact kind of place that I had dreamed of living in back when I was in my teens, were I to escape to the woods and live the life of sylvan solitude and introspection that I often fantasized about back then.

As much as I wanted to stay here and continue to unravel the considerable mystery that lay before me, the urgency of moving on took precedence. The sun would not remain in the sky for too many more hours, and I had a lot of ground that I absolutely had to cover. I carefully tied the door shut again, and on tiptoe took my silent leave of this magical place.

I could not help meandering a little more before getting back on the trail, to examine more of the things around me.

A Ford engine and transmission, probably 100 years old:

This and the other old things found in the area made me wonder if Kee had merely moved into an existing homestead originated by one of the Danish settlers and restored it instead of building something new.

Upon further research, I found that this homestead had actually been built by her grandmother's older brother, in 1847. The cabin definitely seemed very old.

A storage hut, or an animal pen of some kind?

…Or was it another place to conduct biological experiments with groups of plants?

It was full of clutter now. Oh well, I guess I better be on my way. As I stepped back out onto the beach and out from the enclosing boughs of the cedar trees, it was as if a spell was broken and I was returning to the real world.

CLICK for part 9

Exploring North Manitou, South Manitou, High and Garden Islands of the Lake Michigan Archipelago, by R.H. Ruchhoft
The Michigan Alumnus, May 1978, p. 11

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