At the end of May we went to the island to unpack camp for the season in preparation for this summer’s artists, the first of whom arrived on June 7th. We put the boat in at the public launch at Big Traverse Bay, about 8 miles north of the island. The air was around 65 degrees and the water was cold–about 36 degrees. Having never been on the lake under such conditions we were cautious and wore wetsuits, booties, life jackets, gloves and heavy shells. About a mile east of the harbor, as we were rounding Louis Point, we saw a thin white line stretching across the horizon. Veering east we ran the boat closer and were amazed and delighted to find a field of icebergs stretching for more than a half mile. Some were larger than trucks and extended deep into the water, turning light green and then medium blue as you peered down through the clear lake. Some were the size of barrels. Others could be lifted by hand. “Do you want to get on one?” “Yeah.” So we did–and took an abundance of pictures in our excitement. The small ripples on the lake lapped against each berg making a unique sound from all around. It was likely a once in a lifetime experience. At least on May 27th.

For the next three days as we did chores around camp we watched various sized bergs flow back and fourth. Some days they would blow north, other days south. The large ones would worry us a bit as they gradually approached the boat attached to the mooring, as they were many times the mass of the boat. Luckily, as we learned, each time they got within a few stone’s throws of collision their undersides would hang up on the bottom in water much deeper than our anchorage. The tip of the iceberg adage came to mind, and we were thankful to benefit from this fact, especially in the middle of the night as we slept. 

The consistency of the surface of each berg was composed of long geometric crystals, about 4 inches by ½ inch, which were loosely associated above the waterline, close to the berg’s surface. If you picked up a handful they would clink like glass rods and if you stepped on them your feet wound sink in to the ankles. They were very different from regular snow. Deeper in the more central berg the ice was compressed, like that of an ice rink, and iridescent. Occasionally a berg in the distance would calve and then turn over sideways. The sound would carry for hundreds of yards and through the trees to the campfire, or the deck of the shelter. 

Around camp we cleaned up and removed many items that had been brought out without clear purpose over the past year or two. We dried out a few books which had gotten wet, presumably by snow that had blown into the shelter over the winter, and then melted in the spring. We ate smoked trout, fresh fruit until it ran out, fiddlehead ferns which we foraged, pasta, rice, eggs and various dried beans. We listened to the birds and noted the buds of the trees, which were just coming out, several weeks after their counterparts on the mainland. The heartier of the two of us went for a swim, albeit brief. We accidentally caught a small bat that was sleeping in a bin of screws at the work site. We enjoyed one beer a day each–a total of 6–which we had in the evenings after working, and after chilling them in the lake. We didn’t catch any fish, unfortunately, though we only trolled for a few hours on one afternoon. It was a surreal experience on Lake Superior. 

Rob Gorski and Emilie Lee

+ Additional photos on Flickr 

July 9, 2014