Part 1: The Calm
I was stationed at the Sand Island Quarters within the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore by myself. It was my last day substituting for volunteers that usually stay on the island. It was a pleasant stay for the most part, I was able to take in the aspects of the wilderness. When seeking the embrace of sleep during the night, I could lie down and listen to the waves of Lake Superior hit the shoreline. During the day I could look for raspberries on the trail to the lighthouse and view the sea caves and imagine what kayakers must see as they traverse through its expanses. At the lighthouse itself, I was able to provide tours to visitors and envision what it may have been like for people to stay there, to man the lighthouses and keep them lit. I worked as hard as I could to be as knowledgeable as Dave and Betsy Pasley, the volunteers I succeeded. But, unlike Dave (who could write a 500-page book on the subject), I still found myself running out of things to say and just guiding the visitors take it in for themselves.
These volunteers that sacrifice their time at the Apostle Island National Lakeshore are nothing short of incredible. Upon arrival to the island, Dave and Betsy made sure to go through everything I needed to know, from privy clean-up to the intricate details of the lighthouse history. They even typed up a Sand Island volunteer guide that I followed religiously. Their love for the island is plain to see. Perhaps you can see in the left side of the picture [above], a patch of orange flowers. These volunteers purposefully leave patches of these flowers in order to exemplify the beauty of the lighthouse, particularly when it opens up upon exiting the canopy covered trail. The first thing one sees is the burgundy color of the lighthouse, shades of blue from the sky and the lake, combined with the green and orange of the grass and flowers. Even da Vinci would have a hard time capturing the view. Betsy, in particular, also has a keen fondness for Pink Lady Slippers (or Cypripedium acaule for you plant experts out there)
which she points out along the trail by making scrapes in the dirt with her boot so visitors can also spot the flower. Seeing this level of dedication from inspiring individuals is nothing short of heartwarming.
Part 2: The Storm
I have seen many storms in my life. Most storms have caught me by surprise, so I had to learn very quickly to look further and understand that I am not capable of controlling the weather, to exercise the art of patience and to respect the fury of nature.
On July 11th, 2016 a storm came through northern Wisconsin, and I had no idea how severe it would turn out to be. By 8:00 pm radio chatter began, and a search and rescue ensued. Throughout the next four hours, The Coast Guard and Park Rangers set out to recover a group of kayakers stranded on Sand Island. Four foot waves had knocked the kayakers out into the freezing in-land sea, forcing them to take refuge on the rocky shore. As I listened to the search and rescue, I put on my rain gear in case they needed my assistance, it was all happening on the island I was stationed on after all.
“Three National Park Service vessels with seven personnel and one Coast Guard vessel with four aboard responded. The stormy seas and darkness combined to complicate the rescue. The two agencies worked hand in hand to access the beach and remove the group, several of whom were juveniles.”
As the search and rescue ensued, roaring thunder pierced the night like gun-shots, and lightning flashed across the expanse of the lake. Surely, it was a night the kayakers would remember.
Although the conditions were unfavorable, I did not fully appreciate the wide-spread effects of the storm until I departed the Island in the morning. I began my trek back home in Shell Lake, Wisconsin, just two hours south of Bayfield, WI. I soon found that this two-hour drive would turn into a three-hour one. Highway 63 was shut down, forcing me to go west towards Superior, WI onto Highway 53 and south from there. Upon arriving home, I began questioning my family on the matter, thinking it was just road construction. They responded by hearing reports about Hayward, WI essentially being split in half by the flooding. On my way to Trego, WI the destruction brought upon by the storm became apparent. Houses were submerged in water, and the Namekagon River closed down. Entire sections of roads broke apart, as seen here. Even still, 9 days after the storm, Highway 2, east of Ashland remains closed as well.
The moral of the story wraps up right where the quote by Paulo Coelho began. The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is not an area to take lightly, it requires careful consideration of the weather, and an understanding of its implications. There is a common phrase around here, “The Lake is the Boss,” and it is no joke, the Lake will dictate the conditions, and it is the visitor’s responsibility to heed its warnings, or reap its repercussions.