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If you haven’t been to the mouth of the Lester River since the flood hit in June, it’s worth checking out: Rocks and debris have formed an island resembling a crescent moon about 50 feet from shore.
When I first saw it, many thoughts came to mind:
What will it look like in the spring when hundreds of fishermen jockey for position at the mouth of the Lester River?
What about in the winter when Lake Superior throws its frozen surf to shore?
Late at night when a crescent moon is high in the sky, will it look like a reflection of the celestial world?
And how fun would it be to build a fire on it?
Most of these thoughts require waiting; things imagined and romanticized. Except for the last one … building a fire on the crescent moon. With the help of Duluth Outdoors writer Rachel Kraft, that thought came to life.
The August sun was bobbing on the horizon when I started gathering firewood to transport to the island. I didn’t skimp on the big logs, knowing the rest would burn fast and require another trip to shore. Once the wood was situated in the back of my car, I cinched the canoe to the roof and waited for Rachel to meet me.
Together we made our way up the shore toward Lester River, canoe straps flapping in the wind and hitting the side of the aluminum hull. The sound reminded me of the many canoe trips my father and I took when I was young. He would always ask me why I didn’t tie the straps down better as we pulled over to fix my shoddy knots. But tonight I let them flap in sporadic rhythm because the sound reminded me of good adventure and good company.
We pulled in to the parking lot just in time to catch the fading light from behind the hill. It was enough to work by as we schlepped the canoe and wood down to the shore, climbed in and paddled out to the island.
Rachel was in the bow and paddled on one side for a few strokes, then the other side for a spell. It made me smile because she thought she was steering us around the rocks but it was actually my J-stroke that gave the boat direction. I never told her.
As we glided toward the crescent moon island our canoe scraped to a stop along the tapered bottom. We noticed a tree half buried by the rocky debris and decided to build the fire there, using existing deadfall as fuel. After carefully placing birch bark at the bottom and stacking small twigs and splinters of wood on top, we had fire. Gradually we added the bigger chunks of wood and let nature take its course, just as it did the day of the flood.
When the sun was down, our fire was the only light left on the lake. A few cars honked at us as they drove over the river, probably wishing they could stop and join us, or maybe just applauding our sense of adventure.
At times we were silent, letting our camera shutters do the talking. At times we kicked around rocks and talked about life: deeper conversation that is inevitable when sitting around a campfire.
Sitting there by the warmth of fire, breathing in lake air as it moved into shore, more thoughts came to mind:
Maybe I will camp here overnight. Here on Crescent Moon Campground.
I wish I could own a little house on a little island, maybe have a dog and a kayak and that’s it.
I wonder what it was like to discover the north shore when the hillside was nothing but trees and rivers. Before Duluth. Before it was inhabited.
Slowly my thoughts wandered off into vagueness, into the imagined and romanticized. And that is why I love the outdoors and the adventure. Because it allows the mind to be free and to discover thoughts that have been meaning to come out for a long time. Being outside allows me to unconsciously look in on myself.
As I make my next trip up the shore, maybe I will see the flicker of a campfire at Crescent Moon Campground and another free soul searching for life’s meaning under the stars. If I do, I’ll be sure to honk.
A few nights ago, I agreed to go to the Crescent Moon Island with Dave. We wanted to create new content for Duluth Outdoors. When I arrived at his apartment, he was all ready to go. Aluminum canoe strapped to his Volkswagen, piles of wood filling his back seats. I hopped in and we were off.
Once there, Dave started taking the canoe off the car as I stood and watched.
“Need any help?” I kept asking.
“Nope.” He kept saying.
Finally the canoe was down and I gladly took up the task of unloading wood into it. Lots and lots of wood. Feeling satisfied with myself for helping, I threw the last piece of wood in and grabbed the deck to help carry the canoe down. Right as we lifted it, I set it back down. No way could I carry this! Complaining to Dave that I’m too weak, we stopped and removed the larger pieces of wood. Again we lifted the boat, this time we walked. The short trek was difficult, but we made it down the small hill pretty effortlessly. To my surprise, the dirt path with weeds lining it for the sole purpose of tripping visitors didn’t prey on me as their next victim. Maybe because it was obvious how much I was struggling. I was in back, Dave missed this all.
Once we got down to the shore, we quickly set the canoe in the water and Dave asked me to push us out. I haven’t been in a canoe since last summer when a friend and I “borrowed” one located near a beach on Madeline Island. Getting the same thrill as I did then, I had a flood of memories come to the surface. My family owned two canoes all throughout my childhood. With just two canoes and six people in my family, I always was the one stuck sitting in the middle. My job was always pretty lax; just paddle to help. Now with Dave as an adult, I got my own seat in front. After I pushed us off the rocks, I slowly got back into the canoe while simultaneously splashing water onto where I was sitting. Wet butt and all, we started paddling the short distance to center of the island.
It didn’t even take more than a minute to get there. Right away we started throwing wood into a pile to make the fire while we still had daylight. Dave started working on the fire, a task I think he considers an art. As he took his time arranging each log in a prime position for burning, I scoured the shore and island for interesting rocks and sea glass. Since the island was formed from the flood, there was a lot of debris scattered throughout. I found over ten pieces of large sea glass. Walking back to the fire, Dave already had his camera out, photographing the flames licking the night’s cool air. I joined him, taking my camera out and observing the subjects Dave chose to photograph.
Full swing into the night, we were knee deep in long exposures. The night was a challenge that we accidentally created. I forgot my tripod and Dave brought his but forgot the clip. We ignored the inconvenience and used what we could to steady our cameras.
The night was clear, beautiful and full of stars. I swear I saw a faint trail of milk from the Milky Way, a rare sight for living in a large city. Looking up at the sky as I laid on my back next to the fire, I would have been content sleeping there. In the middle of our city, we had this sweet slice of crescent island to help us escape whatever we needed a break from.