It’s thundering and lightning as I write this, and I am feeling the same feelings of vulnerability I was feeling this summer while weathering lightning storms aboard my little sailboat. Certain reactions have become ingrained in me after spending hundreds of hours and nearly five thousand nautical miles living and traveling on Lake Superior over the last three years. Rabbit Island was one of the most memorable highlights of those hours and miles, storms, sun, weather, and people.
It came and went three times over before I was able to stay for any appreciable amount of time. I learned of it by chance while my girlfriend was looking up pictures of cabins on the internet. After doing some research on it, and who was behind it, I decided I must go there. It just so happened I had already taken the forthcoming summer off to go on a sailing odyssey on Lake Superior. And so I scribbled out “Traverse Island” on my nautical chart and printed in black marker “Rabbit Island”.
Months passed. I was able to launch my twenty foot sailboat “Voyageur” on March 28th due to the unusual weather patterns that were hovering over the Midwest. Susan and I left Washburn, WI, aboard Voyageur on April 21st and after a few stints at the tiller, a few minor issues, weather, and waves, we arrived through dense fog at Rabbit Island.
But our stay was short. We hiked part of the island, then started a fire in Voyageurs little wood-stove to warm up. The weather was foreboding and the island lacked good protection had a storm arose. The rocky bottom wasn’t good for anchoring, and being April I wasn’t about to dive into the frigid waters in order to get a good set with the anchor. So naturally, we left for Grand Traverse Bay, further North up the Keweenaw Peninsula coast.
Susan, Voyageur, and I continued to sail up the Keweenaw coast to Copper Harbor, then over to Isle Royale and then into Canada, eventually turning to head for home once we had hit the Slate Islands.
It had been two months since that cold and foggy day with Susan on Rabbit Island when I once again found myself battling a headwind, waves splashing spray across my face, trying to reach the island. I made it halfway before turning around and heading back to the Keweenaw Entrance for refuge. A few days later I tried again amidst much better weather.
It was calm and I anchored on the West shore. I dropped my anchor and watched it drag across the bottom, bouncing off rocks, until it finally caught underneath a large boulder. I jumped into the dinghy and rowed ashore.
“Hi! You must be Marlin! Welcome!”
I was greeted by Rob and Ty, and not long after this greeting we got to work on the obvious: a sauna.
But the weather wouldn’t have it and the next evening (after watching Voyageur bounce around in the building waves) I decided to go back to the Keweenaw Entrance and hideout from the impending bad weather. While I was leaving the island and making my way back to the Keweenaw Entrance the waves started to build along with the wind. I noticed a cruise ship traveling North up Keweenaw Bay. I had never seen a cruise ship on Lake Superior and I was sort of dumbstruck, which caused my mind to turn. It was in that momentary lapse of attention, attention which the inland sea was by then demanding of me, that I got caught broadside by a large wave. In an instant several inches of water had collected in the cockpit and I was soaked from head to toe. I arrived back in the South Entrance around midnight.
The days passed slowly as high winds ripped across Michigan’s Upper Peninsula until I once again found myself sailing the ten miles back to Rabbit Island. This time I was determined to stay for more than a day and had decided I would dive down and set up a temporary mooring for Voyageur by jamming my anchor underneath the biggest boulder I could find. This I did upon arriving and the anchor held well over the weeks that followed.
Excerpt from the Memoirs of Peter Lahti:
“…the [rabbit bay] district was a veritable wilderness, covered with dense forests—possessed of a wild and somber beauty…” —Helen Torkkola, 1939
We worked on the sauna. We swam. We hauled lumber from the mainland. We built things and shared ideas. Friendships were made and meals shared. We popularized a new gauge of measurement: The Rabbit Island Titsel. We all felt like we were a part of something; because we were a part of something.
Rabbit Islands’ resources have never been exploited. Rabbit Island is a wilderness in one of it’s truest forms. It is now protected from being developed in perpetuity. This is the most important aspect of the island to me, and this is why I went through so much trouble to get there. I wanted to see first hand what one person could do. One person who was driven not by greed, but by the opportunity to save something. Having the self discipline to make a decision based not on financial investments and returns, but instead on the principle of our future, is the art of being human, and right now it’s what we need more than anything else.
So Rabbit Island will remain “a veritable wilderness, covered with dense forests; possessed of a wild and somber beauty…” Forever. The true artists that travel there today create ideas fed by the foundation of the island itself. It’s the true artists, the ones who create not for attention or money but for the emotional rush provided by the creation of art, who exemplify the preservation of Rabbit Island. It is these artists who are preserving the arts, and the art of being human.
- Marlin Ledin