Munuscong Gunkalong

~~~ Adaptation

Originally published in Small Craft Advisor, Jan/Feb 2010, issue no. 61

The Great Lakes are unique, unmatched. For ten thousand years, plus or minus, humans have been floating through the Lakes' crossroads --- the Straits of Mackinac and the St Marys River.

Last August, 2009, Ron Sell and Kay Stremler invited a few couples and my dad to their place for a 'Munuscong Gunkalong.' Munuscong Lake (or Bay) is a gunkholer's moist musing, a twelve by three mile bulge on the St Marys River connecting Lake Superior to Lake Huron. Ron's and Kay's bedrock point aims north across the St Marys at Canada. Rocky Point's southwest side cups a boat sized gunkhole, a beach, and a few yards of marsh, rejuvenating with rising lake levels.

Coming and going were an O'Day 20, a Flying Junior dinghy, four sailing canoes, two open canoes, a decked solo canoe, and two sea kayaks.

Sammy, Sammy, our eighty five pound pensive pooch, had been out with Kayann paddling. Back ashore he was ecstatic squirming out of his PFD. The part doberman eunuch shook enough to flog his ears and straighten his tightly curled tail. Two species of little frogs startled him, jumping up under him like grasshoppers.

Three hundred years before, Voyageurs' birchbark canoes to thirty five feet, loaded with four or more tons of cargo and sometimes setting a square sail, were here. In the millennia before them, vegetation rafts, smaller dugouts, skin boats, and bark canoes floated by. Maybe their occupants, too, saw the tiny, green Gray Treefrogs and bigger Northern Leopard frogs.

Sammy on the St Marys Nine hundred foot freighters now rumble through this 'north country' of conifer treeline over dark-shadowed shore. At this water level, rock shoals haven't changed much. But howling winds and the implacability of two thousand cubic meters of fresh water per second have formed and scoured banks and bars, while still leaving lovely beaches of gravel and fine sand.

On the water, Dody and Jack Wyman grinned and gesticulated happily from either the O'Day sloop or the FJ. They came late to sailing, their avocation for nearly thirty years having been soaring in gliders. Although learning to sail in their mid sixties on 'youth sailing' Optimist prams, and put off by them, you'd not know it from their giddy affair with the thirteen plus foot FJ.

By 2005 they'd begun building a Bolger Birdwatcher. They bought a too used Tartan 27 for Lake Erie, then a well found Bristol 27. This year they started paddling and recently, with Cedar Key in mind, launched a Bolger sharpie, a revised Martha Jane.

Higgins, pet owl Dody had long been a federally permitted raptor rescuer and educator, and brought Higgins to the Gunkalong --- Higgins being a rescuee and teaching aid. She's a four year old, nearly blind, six ounce Eastern screech owl. Her hearing is great, though, and she likes her head rubbed as if she were a family parakeet.

Higgins was tethered on her perch a few inches above Sammy's nose. To him she was a potential platonic love interest, as is nearly everything living. But, she demolished his courage by chattering dismissively at his timid sniffing, and he carefully backed away.

The owl and the pussycat pooch showed an important quality, though --- maybe the essence of seamanship --- adapt to conditions as they are.

My father adapted to his 89 year old knees and mostly stayed on the home's deck with his binoculars, books and timely scotch, watching hummingbirds feed and freighters slide by. I'll guess in his lifetime, and maybe mine, we passed the point in time after which the total tonnage of cargo through Munuscong became greater than the tonnage having gone in the thousands of years before. At least in order of magnitude, tonnage per year seems to have stabilized.

Sailing canoes Wayne and Joann Barry brought their adopted dog, fifty pound Smores. She's run an Iditarod sled race, and a dozen other sprints and long races. With one blue eye and one brown, she seems to have Siberian husky in her. For nine years, most of her life had been on a chain in a sixteen foot circle. She was well fed and attended, usually exercised twice a week for 25-50 miles. Now she's a wary, ten year old family pet.

At sunset, mulling our good fortune with wine in cups, the long weekend seemed a snow globe, but with no snow. Instead it was a melange of frogs, dogs and birds; boats, food and friends.

Smores and Sammy ran around and around us and the boats and the forest, stopping and starting, one then the other rolling, pouncing and dog talking, Smores waiting for Sammy to catch his breath. Both were unfazed by consequences of orders of magnitude; they played like puppies into the twilight.

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