by Bill Leutz
It was a beautiful sunny day in mid-June when John Martin arrived on the train. His cousin from Covington Kentucky had told him about this beautiful little lake up in Michigan, and he had decided to take a week from the hustle and bustle of business life in Cincinnati to see if what he had heard was true. A peaceful, spring-fed lake, with clear water, excellent fishing, two nice hotels, and even occasional dance music. It was the summer of 1919, the fighting in Europe was over, and the boys were coming home looking for a bit more in the way of excitement. The terrible pandemic of influenza, brought back to the country by the soldiers returning from Europe, seemed to finally have run its course, with estimates of total American deaths rising over 600,000. Almost 1 person out of every 200 in the entire country had died. As a result of these events, Cincinnati had taken on a higher pace of life, and John was feeling he needed a peaceful escape to the countryside,
With his carpet bag in hand, he left the station and walked down the half-mile of dirt road to the lake, passing the little Inn for overnighters who had no reservations at the bigger hotels further down the lake, and the Odd Fellows Lodge where it was said dances were held on the weekend, and another house where two ladies rocked on the front porch. One, a hefty blonde, called out as he walked by, asking if she could do anything for him. His friend had told him about this too, a house of easy women, conveniently placed near the train depot, the small transient Inn, and the Odd Fellows Dance Hall. But he had left Cincinnati to get away from all of that too.
As he approached the shore, he could see the little steam launch that carried people down the lake to hotels and cottages, had already left the pier. Upon asking, he was told that the earlier train arrival from Jackson had held more passengers than usual, so the launch left with a full load. It would return in about an hour.
With that much time on his hands, he checked his bag with the launch attendant and took a casual stroll along the western shore of the lake. This was where the little village of Clarklake, with its train depot and post office lay. As he neared the curve that became the southern shore, he found a small encampment of Indians, descendants of the Anishinaabe – the Potawatomie, Ojibwa (Chippewa,) and Ottawa nations – that had long shared this country before the arrival of Europeans. Two or three families were currently in the camp, lounging in the sun, smoking the morning catch, and making baskets for sale to the tourists that came by. He had friends among the Shawnee of Southern Ohio, so he stopped to talk. His greeting of “Hatito,” a Shawnee term for hello, gathered a collection of stares before an old man responded with “Bozho.” We don’t hear many Shawnee speakers around here.” John apologized, saying, “I was afraid I would be misunderstood, but wanted to be polite.” The group smiled in welcome, and invited him to sit and share a glass of spring water with a faint hint of berry juice added. The water flowed from a nearby artesian well, and it was very cold and delicious.
Soon, an older woman began to speak to him of the lake. She said, “You seem sympathetic to the old ways. I will give you warning if you are going out onto the water. Migizi, the great eagle, who lives on the end of that point of land that reaches out into the middle of the water has spoken to me. He told me that Mishibizhiw has come to spend some time in our lake. He is the great underwater panther, a very bad spirit. His home is up north, by the Gchi Gammi, the great water. Copper, which grows in the ground up there is sacred to him. But sometimes, he comes south in the summer to visit his friends. He likes it in that lake further south that some have named for him, as it has a deep hole where he can be comfortable. Since the water is good and clear here, he likes to come here too, and sometimes to other lakes where he has friends. But some of the boats use copper, and he doesn’t like that. When he finds that he will try to drown the people who use it, or offend him in other ways. Migizi told me he is here now, so be careful if you go out on the water to have no copper with you or on that boat. I can see that you respect the old ways, so I tell you this now, to protect you.” After this, they all began to talk with him, answering his questions about the fishing, and telling a story or two about the old days, when their ancestors knew this lake as the carry-point of a portage between Lake Erie and Lake Michigan. Time passed quickly and, in what seemed a short time, he was surprised to see the steam launch returning. Thanking them for their hospitality, he rose to return to the pier. As he left, the old woman reminded him to be careful.
The boat ride down the lake was uneventful, and gave John a good chance to see the lake and the scattering of cottages along the shore. Most of these had been built by the hotels, or large land owners, and were available for rent to tourists or fisherman. They were generally small, with just one or two rooms around a fireplace and an outhouse behind. But a few, that were used by local farmers as their summer homes, or the more wealthy from Jackson or Detroit, appeared fairly impressive from the water. The two hotels sat opposite each other, about half way down the lake. One, on the north shore, was named the Pleasant View Hotel, for the little bay where it had been built. The other was on that large point of land the Ojibwa woman had referred to. It was named the Eagle Point Hotel, and sure enough, a withered old tree on the tip of the point held a large eagle’s nest high in its uppermost branches. This was where John was staying, as his friend had told him it gave great views up and down the lake, of the sun and moon rising in the east and setting in the west. The sun was setting as he arrived at this hotel, and the view of it, and its reflection in the lake, seen from the long hotel porch, was spectacular – a good omen for his vacation.
The next morning, he was awakened by the itch of mosquito bites. The pesky critters had materialized as soon as the sun went down. They seemed to be a bit more aggressive than the ones he knew along the Ohio River. He had been warned of these, so he had come prepared, he hoped. His friends among the Shawnee had told him that mosquitos did not like the scent from Sweet Grass or Crane’s Bill, the latter being a form of wild native geranium, although smearing yourself with mud, or with stinky animal fats were betters ways to discourage them. John figured that polite society might frown on the mud or fat approach. Therefore, he had prepared a mixture of finely chopped leaves from these two local plants, crushed for their essence, and suspended in a light mineral oil. Smearing this on his exposed hands, arms, neck, and face had worked moderately well in his walking tours of the woodlands in Southern Ohio. Therefore, he had brought a couple of small bottles of this with him in hopes that he might be spared the worst of their attention.
At breakfast, he met the owners of the hotel, a delightful couple who lived on the lake for half the year and retired to the warmth of Florida for the other half. From them, he received directions on the most pleasant walks, the rental of boats, purchase of fishing bait, and other activities that could occupy his week. After breakfast, he took the launch back up the lake for a pleasant Sunday service at the little church in the village. Here, he also purchased a collection of worms and minnows for fishing.
After the return trip, he rented a small rowboat from the hotel, borrowed a cane pole from its owner, and spent a nice afternoon over the deep end of a weed bed between two small points of land along the north shore. When he came in he had a respectable string of small yellow perch and two nice largemouth bass. The hotel agreed to prepare the perch for his dinner, and they were excellent – lightly battered with cornmeal, sauteed in butter, and served with home-fried potatoes. Home-made peach pie, with freshly churned ice dream, was the desert – the peaches from a local farmer who lived just north of the lake. This place was truly a neighbor of paradise.
The remainder of the week was spent in similar fashion. Morning fishing followed by afternoon walks were the order of the day. His home-made mosquito repellant wasn’t perfect, but he never was attacked to the degree of that first evening. A light rain on Thursday dappled the surface of the lake and encouraged the fish to be even more hungry, but was warm enough to still be pleasant. The sunset that day, although not as spectacular as the first night of his arrival, painted the low clouds and their reflections in the lake with pastel colors that were certainly as beautiful. An evening card game in the hotel lobby was often available with the other guests, and the entire atmosphere was one of genteel neighborliness. With the cool breezes coming in off the lake, refreshing the air through his screened bedroom windows, he fell asleep each night to the murmur of small waves on the break-wall made of tumbled field stone, and slept peacefully until morning.
Friday afternoon there was a change. A well-advertised dance band was performing at the Odd Fellows Lodge on Saturday, and by evening, arrivals from nearby Jackson, and more distant Toledo and Detroit started checking in. Saturday was hot, and many guests were swimming from the hotel’s dock, while a few more adventurous were diving off the end of the point. This was a bit more dangerous. There was no lifeguard, and the water, very shallow near shore, dropped off quickly 10-12 from shore, often catching unwary waders by surprise. A young couple from Detroit were in this group, and they were drinking beer that they had brought with them. Suddenly, there was a cry for help and then an uproar. Soon the sad procession came back to the hotel carrying the body of the young woman. She had gone too far, and had dropped from sight. two of the men had gone after her and eventually found her tangled in weeds in about 18 feet of water. Many shook their heads at the risk of carefree young people who got careless when they had a bit to drink. But John noticed that she had a lovely etched-copper bracelet on her right wrist, and a spiral of copper wire decorating her left arm, and he remembered the words of the old Ojibwa women. Perhaps the ancient spirits actually were still guarding their traditions.
Sunday morning, vacation over, he rose, breakfasted, took his leave of his new friends, and took the early launch up the lake to catch his train back to Cincinnati. It had been a beautiful and restful vacation. But the events of the previous day had cast a pall over the trip. He knew he would come back, probably every year. But the presence of the spirit of Mishibiziw would live long in his memories.
Pictograph of Mishibizhiw
Lake Superior Provincial Park
This story is from the Realms of Twilight, a Collection of Short Stories, by William K. Leutz. The book can be purchased at Doyle’s Market, Hyde Road, Clark Lake, MI. It can also be purchased from Amazon by clicking here.
More about The Realms of Twilight from the Author
This collection of short stories explores a number of different aspects of the broad genre of Speculative Fiction. Science fiction, Native American Mythology, Old World Folktales, and Fantasy are all represented.
In “A Trip to La Pa,” a 20th century American businessman accidentally finds a connection to an ancient Peruvian god. “The Long Night” relates a 19th century British sportsman‘s experiences in the high country of Norway. “Gunther’s Heir” relates the first phases of the next Dragon Mage, while “White Birches” speaks to the life-long evolution of a Native American boy’s vision quest. In “New Beginnings” we find an early science fiction tale, set in an alternative timeline and, in “Behind the Shop in Go-Down Street,” we are returned to Lord Dunsany’s wonderful world of Faerie. Twelve stories such as these, drawn from the author’s travels, both real-time and armchair, are presented for your pleasure.
It is hoped that you, the reader, might find a few of hours of enjoyment herein and, with a little luck, be transported, for a brief moment or two, into those lands never mapped by man that lie within The Realms of Twilight.”