Naked in the Stream: Isle Royale Stories
By Vic Foerster
By Elizabeth Buzzelli
If you liked Bill Brysons A Walk in the Woods, youre going to love Naked in the Stream: Isle Royale Stories by Vic Foerster.
Foresters tales of almost 30 years camping and canoeing and hiking on Isle Royale and surrounding islands is not only a captivating read, but instructive, throat-catching, and deeply knowing, the way good outdoor books should be.
In beautifully clear prose, he writes about the vagaries of weather so far north, as well as about people hes met along the way. There are stories of encounters with animals and stories about himselfwhat hes learned and how Isle Royale has made him the man hes become.
It might be best to start with the last essay in the book, the title piece, Naked in the Stream. This is where his love of the outdoors, and finally his fascination with Isle Royale, began. He and his friend, Ken, who would become a lifelong trekking buddy, were college buddies up at Michigan Tech. Ken was the daredevil who took on challenges, but he was soon taking Foerster right along with him.
On one particular spring break, as their buddies headed for Florida and the pursuit of women and booze, Ken and Vic decided to hike around the shore of the Keweenaw Peninsula, from Bete Grise to Copper Harbor. It was only March. Spring hadnt found the land up there yet. The snow was deep, the ice unpredictable, the terrain rough.
At the Montreal River there was no way to get across other than wading. With boyish bravado, Ken jumped in. When it was Vics turn to enter the icy water, all he could do was say a simple prayer and step into the river. To say I was shocked does not do justice to it. No easy summer wade across tranquil water, the river ran with ice. Foerster describes what happened next: I swallowed hard, and then waded out to the edge of the drop-off. As I approached the channel, my shins and then knees lost feeling. I hesitated. My legs started to feel like they were burning, but the sensation disappeared after a few seconds my balance was shot Taking three deep breath to steady my nerves I jumped into the trough. The water rose to my waist. I battled another surge of panic. The cold penetrated through me. The numbness stopped at my legs.
Although stark naked for this fording of a river in winter, the boys make it to the other side and continue on their hike, stopping at dusk to pitch their tent in the snow, to eke water from a lake protected by shelves of unpredictable ice, and to try to sleep, though the winds might howl around them.
On a terrible night of snow and high winds, camping out on a sheltered bay filled with ice, the boys take on Lake Superior, clambering up a wall of rock to get a look at the lake in full fury.
Gripping the stone, I carefully rose onto my knees, not daring to stand, and lifted my face to peek at the lake. I froze. An unbelievably huge roller heaved up right in front of me only fifty feet away. It surged and then smashed against the rock. It hit with so much force the concussion of sound dazed me. Lake Superior was a war of water. Frothy, ice-filled waves surged and bucked everywhere at absurd angles. Water escaped hills of slush and squirted through the ice with the force of geysers. The liquid water exposed to the gale shot horizontally toward shore. The spray froze in mid-air, pelting the stone all around us.
After this beautifully written introduction to what would become a lifelong passion, Vic and Ken move their weeks and months of camping to Isle Royale, over the years learning the small islands, the campgrounds, the trails, and the people.
In Captain Don Foerster introduces one of the ferryboat captains who take people across the open water, the the four-and-a-half-hour trip to Rock Harbor on Isle Royale. He had many a bad storm to talk about, and many a sick passenger, but kept the details of one, terrible trip to himself. Vic and Ken had made this crossing with the captain, a bad one that almost took the boat and the lives of all on board. At the end of the trip, the Captain came out on the stern deck where Vic was standing. He was smoking a cigarette and I thought it kind of strange until I noticed that his hand holding the cigarette was trembling. It was at that moment, and not until that moment, I fully realized, it had been close.
OTTER & THE FOX
In Little Brothers and Sisters, one of the charming glimpses of island fauna up close, Vic watches as a fox outsmarts an otter who brings his fish to shore, repeatedly losing it to the waiting fox. I wasnt sure if the portly fox would be agile enough for another battle or interested in more fish. He was. With wistfulness, Vic adds, If the otter had just carried his food to one of the isolated island rocks in the deep cove, all very safe from foxes, he could have eaten in peace. The otter never did connect his problem with his choice of shoreline feeding location.
Encounters with moose were many, sometimes treacherous, as in when they erected their tent on a moose path and heard one outside their fragile walls that night, trying to figure what was blocking its usual path to food.
From tears, as in Into the Wind, to cautionary stories such as Fish Tales and An Off Shore Wind, Foerster is deeply knowledgeable about his subject. Whether hes dealing with bugs or sunsets or Northern Lights or lots and lots of good fishing, the stories strike a cord with the reader. These are tales told around a campfire after dark. They hand us a mans devotion to a natural world that might reject him or accept him, but always allows him to observe, learn, and take nothing home but long days of new experience and freedom in a timeless world.
Elizabeth Kane Buzzellis new mystery, Dead Sleeping Shaman, is in bookstores now.