I can still smell the breeze blowing off Lake Superior, mingling with the memorable fragrance of white pines and the musty scent of reindeer lichens. And I can still hear the waves rolling in on a long sandy beach; punctuated by a screeching blue jay and wind hissing through waving conifer branches. October in Michigan's Upper Peninsula--can any time and place transcend this sensory experience?

But this day had been frustrating for photography, with steady rain and low, dark clouds. I saw scarlet blueberry bushes brilliant under the jack pines, but most were past peak color and I couldn't find a composition that satisfied. After several hours exploring the shores and forests between Munising and Marquette, I changed plans and decided to explore the site of an old ghost town.

Tyoga isn't shown on the state highway maps, or even in the Delorme Michigan Atlas. In fact, there really isn't much there any more to mark this old lumbering village, once a whistle stop on the now-abandoned route of the Duluth South Shore & Atlantic Railroad. There is an interpretive trail, however, and I decided that a hike was just what I needed.

When I pulled up to the trailhead, there was one other car parked there, a ten year old Oldsmobile as I recall. As I got out to read the signs at the trailhead, I noticed an old Chippewa Indian woman laboring up the trail toward me. She was heavy set and walked with the difficulty that age and joint pain bring on.

She appeared upset. After I said hello, she asked if I had seen her daughter and sister. I told her I had just gotten there and that she was the first person I had seen. Then she said she was worried about them, as they had been on the short trail for a very long time. It was still mid-afternoon, but darkness comes early in October on a dark, rainy day, and it is easy to become disoriented in the deep woods.

I told the woman that I would walk the trail and try to find her sister and daughter. I quickly set off on the mile-and-a-half trail, thinking what I would do if I couldn't find them. The woodland path was completely covered with fallen maple and oak leaves, making the route difficult to follow. It would be easy for someone to get lost here, especially if they weren't used to the woods.

I walked along quickly, then heard the strangest call I've ever heard a human make. It was the Indian woman at the trailhead, calling in a tremulous, long plaint for her daughter. Over and over she called, and to me it sounded like a coyote wailing in the distance. I picked up my pace as the sound made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.

Except for the woman's plaintive call, the forest possessed the silence of November. I crossed an inky river on a footbridge, and saw scores of beaver-gnawed stumps. Half a dozen times I was startled by a ruffed grouse exploding from the leaf-covered forest floor as I huffed along. Four pileated woodpeckers emerged from a pine grove, surprised by my sudden appearance.

By now I was far enough from the trailhead that I couldn't hear the woman anymore--if indeed she was still calling.

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Lake Superior shore at the end of this magical October day
Story and photographs copyright © 2001 by Lee Rentz
Blueberries blend with reindeer lichens and pines along the Lake Superior shore
Phone & fax: 360-427-5310 E-mail: lee@leerentz.com
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