northern friends

At the end of September, Erin and Alina and Andrew came to town and we drove up to Gooseberry Falls State Park for the wedding of Melissa and Pete. Erin and Alina bring out this sharper sense of humor in me that I didn’t even know I had, before I met them, and Andrew has always made me feel completely free to be my goofiest self. Bundled into my Subaru with the three of them, it felt like a reunion with family. We were all ourselves, in warm clothing and thick socks, buying beers at the liquor store on a quiet Monday morning, setting up and taking down our backpacking tents, reversing down leaf-slicked wet pavement, blasting pop music under the wind-crazed trees. Everyone was laughing, most of the time, or speaking in caricatured voices, or making fun of someone, or cutting someone a thick slice of good cheese.

The wedding was on the shore of Lake Superior. It was gray and cold and the lake was in an uproar. The grass was still starkly green, and the leaves were changing their colors. Melissa came up the grass along a trail of red and golden leaves on her father’s arm, the lake rushing and crashing behind her, and she and Pete were grinning broadly at one another as buoyant as the waves.

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I worked with all of them on Isle Royale. My island coworkers are friends in a deep and solid way. On that remote, basalt-slabbed, lichened island, we spent our days working together, playing together, hiking together. On an island surrounded by a tumultuous, icy lake, they have always made me feel like the world is a warm, and solid, and beautiful place.

After the wedding, after a team replacement of my burnt-out headlamp in a parking lot, after hugging Erin goodbye on her return to California, and having been joined by my roommate Kate, we returned to the island. Rode the Voyageur II for the first time across the waves from Grand Portage. The island was sodden with rain, drenched in brilliant fallen leaves that plastered themselves to every surface. It smelled exactly the same, whatever that smell is – soil, moss, spruce needles, lake water. Rock Harbor looked the same, exactly the same, which was a relief and a reassurance and made me miss Levi even more, with a tight, painful lurch.

I wrote tributes to him in the three-sided shelters as we traveled the island. We walked its entire spine, and at night it rained, and during the days a light fog rolled in, into the trees. We talked about our friend Levi. We talked about food. We discussed politics, yoga, careers, children. We slept in our snug sleeping bags with the rain falling lightly above us and wind tossing the fir needles, the remaining aspen leaves. My feet were wet almost the entire time, but I felt like I was home.

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