Sunday, November 1, 2015

On the Day of the Dead, Wilbo Climbs Mt Arvon, the highest point in @PureMichigan. He meets a fired-up minister and a vigilant beaver.

I reached the top of Mt. Arvon without too much difficulty, the beaver dam on the left side of a curve a humorous obstacle. I was disappointed that the road reached a parking lot within view of the pinnacle. I had thought the road would quit at a parking lot and then I would scale nine hundred feet on switchbacks, breathing deeply to keep my body oxygenated. That was hardly the case. The slate covered parking lot had the summit in view.

When I reached the pinnacle marker, my cellphone exploded with messages, the first place I had had reception since leaving The Finns​ tavern at Eleven Saturday. My daughter had a message for me, and she wished me a belated Halloween. I reflected, and it hit me. I had arrived at the top for All Saint's Day, or as many called in Dia de Muertos. On a tree hung a memorial, an ofrenda to a loved one. The final approach to the mountain had been named in honor of Eugene Robert Ott, who I now discovered had lived his eighty years in the city of Grand Haven, perishing in a snowmobiling accident. He met this calamity the second month I had lived in the Grand Haven area, an irony. Don't ask for whom the bells toll. They toll for thee, thee meaning me.

The tree trunk supported a wreath, an American flag, a collage of him in all the ages of his life and a can of Old Milwaukee suspended from a wire. I imagined him mounting the summit with his friends, drinking the Old Mil, and toasting a good life. If I have my facts right, he had written a blog telling how to reach the highest mountain in each of the fifty states. I paused a moment to look for him, from a young man to a bearded gnome in winter garments, in all of the pictures. I had just heard his story the day before from Steven Koski, the owner of Indian Country Sports​ in downtown L'Anse. Koski has all the stories of outdoors Baraga county at his fingertips, the location of James Oliver Curwood's Cabin once on the Huron River to the location of White Water Five streams in the whitewater mecca of Michigan.

On the trail down mountain made me ride my brakes because I wanted to avoid crashing into the tree trunks towering on either side. I was awed when I saw a raptor fly above me in the direction of my travel, a bald eagle identified by white head and white tale. Out of the corner of my eye, a glimpse made me wish I had a GoPro on my car. An eagle had flown towards me behind my driver's side window, talons out, and then thought better of it. I wasn't speeding, just making my way out of the wilderness. I wonder what happened when three young men on dirt bikes passed their tree? They passed going up to the mountain five minutes after the eagle episode. The wilderness between L'Anse and Marquette has at least one ATV trail passing through it, used by snowmobiles in the winter.

A raptor was making tight gyres over the Zion Lutheran Skanee​ church at the corner of Skanee and Roland Lake Roads, and the lot held the cars of the sixty faithful congregants. A salvo of these entirely white, small birds whizzed by, splitting into two groups as the steeple was approached. The church marks the first landmark of the trail leading back to Mt. Arvon, and I decided to stop. One of the locals had delighted me with stories of the annual hunter's dinner held 92 times before today on November 14th. I had to experience a service in the halls of this church, long on the land. Pastor Judy Mattson​ delivered a fine sermon, thoughtful and yet full of fire. I was fatigued and yet I had no chance to grow drowsy in my back pew. The three bachelors in the back made sure I had a program and could find the song to sing in the hymnal. The entire congregation, even the choir, came to greet me during the "Peace Be With You Moment". Mattson has the passion of the backwoods minister. When we sang, "Shall We Gather at the River", she meant it literally.  The Slate, Silver and Ravine Rivers flow nearby, and she baptizes new congregants by immersion in the whitewater.

She recognized me as the new face and engaged me in conversation. We talked about the mountain and how she learned of a man who had gone up the mountain with his friends and family to celebrate his life, drawing to a peaceful end in a hospice. It hit us at the same time that if the mountain gave a way to access the sacred, the old Zion Lutheran had a mission to welcome pilgrims seeking the heights. The hunter's dinner might be soon followed by a dinner for hikers, climbers and highpointers. During the coffee hour, one of the bachelors singled me out for conversation. He had lumbered around the mountain top years ago and remembered when the trees were young. He recalled seeing all the way to Zion church from there. I loved hearing that fact because the trees had grown so tall, a bank of them had just been removed to give a view of Lake Superior and, close to the big lake, the church. I am certain all of the congregants could give testimony to the power of their local mountain. 

He insisted I grab a cup of coffee and a few cookies before the urn ran out. Later, I regretted not asking him about the existence of an Alpine pond a few hundred feet below the summit. I wanted to know if he had remembered seeing it years ago. Reminding me of a Mary Sundstrom​ painting, the pond set among pine trees and I stepped on boggy land as I walked to the shoreline. Trees had fallen into the mulch for hundreds of years, fresh trees resting upon rotten ones. By the way, the entire Upper Peninsula reminds me of Mary Sundstrom paintings, the purchase of one of her canvases by Bay College not a coincidence. As I studied the shallow water, submerged fallen trunks visible, a beaver swam out to inspect the new arrival. He perched on a trunk jutting above the water line, struck the water with his paddle, then swam around a few obstacles, not unlike a swimmer doing laps. He found a shallow at the far end, and stood up in the water not unlike a prairie dog and kept and eye on me. After five minutes of this standoff, I walked back to my car so he could get back to his day. I studied the far shore to see evidence of just one more beaver dam and could see little but cattails. If it were a beaver pond, it had to be an old beaver pond. 

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