A while ago, I waxed nostalgic for the woods, and specifically, for the evergreen swamps of the Upper Michigan, forests that made my hometowns – Daggett, Ironwood, and Hancock – into tiny islands in a sea of taiga.
Right next to those forests, and no more than a few miles away from any of my hometowns, is a real sea: Lake Superior. And it’s Lake Superior that really says “summer” to me. As long as I can remember, my family (such as it was) went to the lake for picnics, cookouts, even, once in a while, camping in a tent or in our cousins’ tiny cottage. For me, the defining image of my childhood’s summers is hanging out with those beloved cousins, the Mattsons, who came up from Ohio a couple times a year to stay in that cottage, which was near Little Girl’s Point, outside Ironwood and just a few miles from the Wisconsin border.
In this photo from summer 1981 (or so), my sister (age four or five) and I (about age eight) are sitting on our cousin Andy’s lap on the shoreline below their cottage. That’s my grandpa right behind Andy, wearing the wool cap, flannel shirt, wool pants, and undoubtedly the longjohns that were the unofficial attire of “Finlanders” like him. It takes sisu to wear longjohns in August.
Some “beach,” huh? We called it that because we didn’t know any better: I’d only been to a sandy beach a few times, so this rocky shoreline was far more familiar. All those wave-scoured stones were brilliant for rockskipping, a skill which Andy and his brothers practiced frequently. Sitting here, we were almost literally below the cottage. You had to use steep, slippery wooden steps to go up or down the sheer cliff between the cottage and this “beach.”
Here I am again, sometime that same summer (I think), dressed for swimming in the lake. The shirtless guy behind me is my dad, then about the same age I am now. My grandpa, his dad, is the enflanneled man between us. While you totally dig my swimsuit, keep in mind that Lake Superior’s average August temperature is around 55°F – not exactly bathwater. Note also the swimming goggles. Even back then, I loved the gear.
So did we swim? We did swim. Though the cousins would go some distance from shore, to some rocky outcrops, I stuck closer in – and enjoyed it a lot, as this shot (again, from sometime in the 1981-82 period) shows. Yes, my pecs now look exactly like my pecs then.
When the sun started to set, the real beauty of the lake emerged. The sunsets were so gripping that even little kids like my sister and I would pause to admire them:
Those were good times.