Grandpa D’s Last Trip-Black Harbor UP
Two Falls before my Dad passed away we had planned a trip to our Camp near Bruce Crossing in the Western Upper Peninsula of Michigan. We were planning on doing some partridge and rabbit hunting with our usual crew of family and lifelong friends.
My Dad and his brother (Uncle Dick) planned to leave three or four days in front of the crew and explore the waterfalls and harbors of the Western UP and then meet us in camp.
My Dad adored his little brother and to have the opportunity to spend time with him exploring like kids in the Fall colors of the UP wilderness was certainly one of the highlights of my Dads later years.
They rolled into camp late one evening and the entire crew stayed up into the wee hours of the morning sitting round the fire listening to the places they had seen and the adventures they’d had. One place that had made a serious impression on Dad was the Harbor where the Black River dumps into the frigid waters of Lake Superior. Wether it was the colors of the trees in the park like setting on the edge of wilderness, the beautiful river with the wooden bridge, the trail to the Big Lake, the Lake itself or just the end point of a treasured trip with his little brother, Black Harbor became a fabled place in my Dads memory. He would talk about it many times in the following years and even when parts of his brain were being ravaged with the cancer that took him way too early, he would recall the memory.
In the hours before he passed on to the Great Forest on the other side, he told me that he wanted his ashes spread into the Black River where the currents would take them into the cold waters of Lake Superior and on into the other Great Lakes. He said, “Uncle Dick will know where”.
My Dad passed in late October of 2008. In the summer of 2009 a group of treasured friends and family planned a week long fishing trip to Thousand Island Lake in the Western UP. As part of our itinerary on this trip I planned on carrying out my Dads last wishes.
On day two, my Uncle Dick pulled into the cabins with one of his custom made wooden canoes and we fished the long summer days away.
Canoes were a big part of my Dad and Uncle Dicks life and I had been lucky to be part of their many hunting and fishing excursions that ended up with lots of grub for the freezer and inevitably an over turned canoe! One of my earliest memories was drying out around a hastily built fire along a creek somewhere in the Michigan Northwoods after every one in the canoe leaned the same way, as a mallard flushed.
On this trip Uncle Dick kept the tradition going. Late one morning Joann, Bren, and I in our boat were fishing in a bay 50 yards from Uncle Dick in his canoe. I was taking a bluegill off Jo’s line when we heard a splash. Looking west we saw the canoe overturned with a tackle box floating and an Uncle thrashing in the water.
We raced over to aid him and as he pulled himself to shore we all laughed as I said, “I’m sure the old man had a hand in this”!
Towards the end of the week Tom McBain who had brought some of his homemade wine offered a toast to my Dads memory and we spent time drinking and telling “Dad” stories.
The next morning a procession of trucks left the cabins to explore the waterfalls along Lake Superior with the final destination of Black Harbor. Late in the afternoon we drove into the desolate parking area at Black Harbor. We spent time exploring the area and retracing Dads steps with a melancholy feel to the air. Finally it was time. As my dearest of family and friends looked on from the bridge overlooking the Black River I released his ashes to Ma Nature. Along with the ashes I dropped a knife that Uncle Dick had handmade and that my Sister Celeste had decorated with wild game artwork. Uncle Dick felt that any woodsman on his final journey should have a knife.
As we prepared to load up for the trip home my daughter Caryn, at the time an aspiring photographer, took pictures of a seeded out dandelion. We were later surprised with a picture book of the trip, now a family treasure.
On the long drive back to the cabins Uncle Dick told me a story I’d never heard.
His brother Paul, seven years older, was a record breaking track star at Benton Harbor HS. During those years their parents were going through a divorce and times were tough at home. As the track star, my Dad was a minor celebrity and was invited to a number of events around town. One of his conditions for attendance was that his little brother also got to come. “He took me with him everywhere”, Uncle Dick said.
I was honored to fulfill my Dads final request but I was equally honored to have dear members of my tribe of people follow me hours into the North Michigan woods to get it done.
Family, friends, and Nature- with that you can survive and thrive.
Til we see you in the Tall Trees again Pop, keep the fire going.