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  • Saturday, September 13, 2008

    Isle Royale and My Pilgrimage to See a Moose, Part Five
    - Numbers 75 and 42 on my life list.

    Part Five: Naturalist's High
    Click Here for Part 1


    The morning was chilly but no jacket needed. I ate breakfast, read, and again listened to the loons and other birds. I packed up camp slowly, paying attention to the quality of my actions. I cleaned every piece of gear unhurriedly before carefully packing it away. I accomplished another one of my intended goals. Life was moving at a snail’s pace.

    I decided to go back to Rock Harbor, where my trip started, for my final night. This would put me just a couple hundred yards from where I could rent a kayak for Monday morning. Heading out of Lane Cove, back over balance beams and through clouds of bees, I hiked along with my head down staring at the trail in front of me. 

    I stopped suddenly when I saw two enormous moose in front of me grazing. I don’t know what a safe distance is to be away from a moose, but I was certain this wasn’t it. I, of course, grabbed my camera and snapped about a dozen pictures of the closer and slightly smaller moose to my left. It crossed the trail a few yards in front of me. I could see sores on its hind legs that looked like bite wounds, fresh bite wounds. Did he escape from certain death nearby? Where wolves still close? I really didn’t think about that much. I was too excited about the photos I was getting and mesmerized by its size and closeness.

    I moved towards the larger moose further up the trail. He wasn’t facing me and didn’t know I was there. I creeped forward but still spooked him when he heard something behind him. He darted about 10 feet then must have realized I wasn’t a threat and went back to eating. The commotion however startled the first moose, which had now turned to face me and seemed to move slightly forward. This may have just been my imagination. His faced seemed to have a concerned fearful look. Fear can lead to anger, anger can lead to violence. The kind of violence that makes you just want to headbutt an idiot with a camera. I backed away slowly but continued taking photos like those tourists in Godzilla movies moments before their death.

    I learned later that moose can be more problematic than bears, and very aggressive during mating season, but that doesn’t start until late September. This was early September so clearly nothing to worry about. Again, my naivety will one day be the death of me.

    With such a wonderful night and being right in the middle of the moose’s world I was on a naturalist’s high. I don’t even know what that means. I just know it doesn’t get any better than this, at least not so far.

    Since I was in a hurry the day before, I walked back up to Mt. Franklin to sit and enjoy the view from 1,080 feet, without feeling rushed. Several people came to check out the view, take a photo, and left quickly. I remained. I knew once I headed back down it might be the last I’d get to see it. As a result, it was hard to leave.

    At Rock Harbor campground, I expected to see it crowded and full of activity, especially since it was Labor Day weekend. Other than the side with the restaurant and lodge, it was the opposite. I pretty much had the pick of whichever site I wanted. I choose to stay in one of the shelters. An empty 10 x 15 foot space, with one wall made entirely of screen, facing the forest and a picnic table out front.

    Writings and drawings covered the walls and ceiling inside. There were signatures, poems, short reports about experiences, testimonies, and commentary. One thing was clear, even those who wrote about bad experiences from weather or failed gear, they all enjoyed their stay and wanted to come back.

    I left my gear behind and went to check out the slightly more civilized part of the island. I felt out of place. I was a guy from the woods who has been drinking water from the lake and lying on the ground. They were drinking wine on a patio. It’s a very small section but where most people congregate. I thought about getting a meal at the restaurant but turned down the $35 cost. Instead, I walked down a trail and discovered a deck with benches angled towards both the sunrise and sunset. I hung out for at least a couple of hours. A few other people where there too, but all had left before the sun completely set. I stayed, happy to be alone.

    Daylight faded like a retractable roof revealing the cosmos. The smell of campfires started to waft over in the breeze. The first point of light to emerge was Jupiter, then Vega, the Big Dipper constellation, the Northern Cross, Cassiopeia, and a small handful of other stars light years away. Soon thousands of others followed. The sky was full of them and yet I can still only see a fraction of all that exist with the naked eye. 

    There are hundreds of billions in our galaxy alone, which is one of hundreds of billions of galaxies. There are more stars in our universe than grains of sand on all the beaches on earth. Nobody ever believes me when I say this but it is true; ask any astronomer or statistician (if you can find one). I cannot help but wonder how many of those stars hold planets in their gravitational grasp. How many of those planets support life? What color are the plants where their entomological dramas unfold?

    Light emitted from these stars takes years to reach my eyes. In fact, the stream of light from each star left at different times, so every twinkle that I see represents a different moment in history. The light from Vega, which I can see now, left its source in about 1983. That’s before the Cosby Show and the creation of Alf. Think about it.

    The ancient light from Mu Cephei started its voyage towards earth while humans were entering the Bronze Age, fighting wars with copper and bronze weapons, constructing Stonehenge, and for the first time using ploughs, pottery wheels, and interestingly astronomy itself. It is a journey so long that when it finally passes by, I am not using copper for weapons anymore, but in the circuitry making it possible for me to later Google this information about the 4th century B.C.E.

    The Andromeda galaxy is just a pale white point of light to the naked eye. That beam’s voyage is so old that pre-human hominids were tramping over the same planet, which I now lay, with the first primitive stone tools ever created. Now here it is colliding with my retinas and registering in my brain not as just another pale light from far away, but conjuring up feelings about my life of both insignificance and precious rarity. Whenever I am taking my life too seriously and need brought back down to earth, I once again, simply have to look up.

    I wish I could hold onto these moments always. Permanently slow things down. A rushed life finally unhurried. Regrettably, I know it will not last forever; but thanks to a love of the natural world, I will forever know that at any time I can get it back. Even in the realm of the known, without making up fantastical and magical stories, the world can be seen as fascinating, miraculous, and enchanting; and should above all, never be seen as repetitive and boring.

    I had to put on my headlamp to see the trail for my hike back. When I was near the resort’s lights, I temporarily turned the lamp off and strolled with my head still pointed towards the sky, which caused me to veer off the trail and nearly trip. I just couldn’t keep my eyes off it. This was my last night; I had to take it all in.

    < Part Four | Part Six >