Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Beauty, Solitude, and the Irish Whistle

Musings From Copper Harbor, October 1

Beauty and solitude.

Those were the two reasons I gave when people asked me why I was going on vacation, by myself, to a remote town called Copper Harbor in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

I’m looking for beauty and solitude, I told them.

It isn’t like I don’t get plenty of solitude. I live alone, and I have plenty of time to myself—to write, read, watch baseball, surf the net, and so on. But there’s a lot of time, too, that just feels like cooped-up time: stuck in an apartment with no human contact but a lovely view of the tennis court. Weekend nights, when other people are out with friends, dining, going to movies, and getting laid, I’m still there in the apartment, where, to be fair, I do dine.

So in seeking out even more solitude on vacation, I figure it’s mitigated by the search for beauty. Fortunately the U.P. specializes in beauty. Today I hiked along Hunters Point Trail to a red rocky beach where Lake Superior was crashing and cool breezes were blowing—I found a person-shaped nook in a stack of big rocks and made myself comfortable with a book. Later I drove south on M-26 and found a beach with a 200-yard stretch of rock, 200 yards long, 10 feet high in places, that looks as if it had once been part of a cliff. I got the impression it was a big rock shelf that had fallen from a mountain a million years ago: You can see the various strata in places, at about a 45-degree angle from the beach itself. There are little pools in this stretch of rock where the waves crash over the first layer and then have no way out.

From there I drove south and got a glimpse of Great Sand Bay (didn’t stop because I was getting ready for lunch). This bay is unusual for Lake Superior: Instead of the usual red rocks on the beach, it has what looked to be golden sand. I’m going back for pictures tomorrow when I’m not so hungry.

Tonight I was back at the beach with the big rock shelf, watching the sunset. I read until the light got too dim, then sat there on a high rock improvising Superior-influenced themes on Irish whistle as a freighter slowly crossed the northern horizon.

So yeah, there’s been beauty to go with the solitude.

But there’s been soul-searching, too. I don’t think you can play Irish whistle on a rock in Lake Superior while the sun goes down without proscribing some sense of mystery to the whole thing. I was sitting there thinking “It’s very cool to be sitting on a rock playing the Irish whistle, 700 miles from home.”

My next thought would invariably be “Why am I the sort of person who thinks this is cool?”

And “Why am I the sort of person who would do it in the first place?”

I put the Irish whistle in the backpack this morning, knowing that at some point on this vacation I would use it to serenade the world’s largest freshwater lake. Why? And to what end?

Perhaps it’s because it was so far removed from what I usually do. Usually I sit at my desk and write advertising copy for clients who think they can do it better. Usually I write fiction (when I have some fiction going) that the publishing world has made quite clear they have no interest in reading. Usually I play the piano and write songs no one will ever hear. Usually I sift through online dating profiles searching for someone who might not exist.

Those are my usuallys.

And somewhere among them there must be an explanation of why I felt compelled to stand on a stretch of rock that’s been there for millions of years and ad lib some tunes to a lake that’s been beating on those same rocks for the same amount of time.

Maybe there is no reason other than the fact that I thought it was cool.

And if that’s the case, then there’s another question nagging at me: Why weren’t there more people doing the same thing?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It sounds beautiful. That's why I would be tempted to take a pass, actually: It sounds almost unbearably beautiful.

I've turned my back on almost-sunsets, torn past mist-cloaked meadows, closed the window on birdsong ... more often than not, I am ashamed to admit. Because they are almost too beautiful, too potent, too perfect. Impossibly perfect reminders of how imperfect, how unreachable, how incomplete I am.

Does that make any sense? I'm not even sure any more.