MARATHON, Ontario — This is, at once, my lake and not my lake. I see this around every curve and over every rise in the road as we drive from Thunder Bay to our campsite just past Rossport, Ontario.
On Highway 61 up the North Shore of Minnesota, the road runs over gentle hills and there are a couple of bends that, while I wouldn’t want to take them in a logging truck in February, don’t cause any hassle. On this road, Highway 17, we climb small mountains and plunge into river valleys. In Minnesota, black basalt cliffs stretch on either side of the road.
Here, the road is flanked by enormously tall palisades layered with red and pink and white, like a birthday cake. At our campground on the lake, the cobblestone beach and birch are the same, but the mist-covered islands, scattered about like pieces of what I imagine Ireland to look like, are new. The loons are the same. The train running through the campsite — well …
We have guides and sentries on our drive. As a part of the Trans-Canadian Highway, the bluffs (sadly) serve as a billboard for people who are passing through, and many travelers have left their names painted on the bedrock. More happily, others have left inuksuit, and at almost every outcropping, my sharp-eyed children can find two or three as we drive by. We saw Aguasabon Falls and Gorge near Terrace Bay, a waterfall more than 100 feet high that carves through ancient rock to reach the lake. Its height and ferocity make Gooseberry Falls look a little tame, and we are pleased to see this wild face of the shoreline. After reaching our campsite at 11 p.m. in the rain last night, this day has been full of glory.
It is like speaking a foreign language, looking at Lake Superior from up here. It’s a subtly foreign language — like the “u” in labour and colour, every sign duplicated in instantly recognizable French — and it gives me what I had hoped for in this trip: a new look at the lake.