The road begins as sand. A warm, honey-colored path that grows rutted and wild the deeper we go. It will take a full hour to travel the mile ahead, but we have made this journey many times and are used to the bumps. Ahead, towering pines, and languid cedar trees sway in the breeze. The air carries the scent of sun-warmed cedar and something else. It smells cold. A wild, fathomless thing.
Another turn in the road, a fork, then left. On we wind, deeper. The sun is rising fast. Another bump, tipi poles shake on the roof, a tin pot bangs somewhere in the back. No one speaks.
The tree line opens for a moment revealing a dazzling bay of aquamarine water glittering in the sunlight, a sheltered cove hugged by a wide crescent of white, sandy beach. Small waves break against a far shore of black rocks. The water is alive in the sunshine, beckoning.
Another turn, and the view vanishes, but the excitement mounts. We reach a low, hand-hewn wooden fence and stop before a post. An almost invisible lock is unlatched and we move forward between thick curtains of branches that close around us, erasing our presence.
We are barely stopped before the first door is open, a flash of bare feet and then another running over a springing forest floor, the path well worn. Arms outstretched, we burst through a line of trees to reach the crest of a dune, pausing briefly to take in the view – the bay with its distant and hazy horizon, the wide beach, the waves that lap gently against the shore, filling our ears with a rhythm that will follow us into dreams – before plunging toward the water.
The sand is warm and soft, so soft, underfoot. A cloud kicks up behind each runner, its mineral scent mixing with the clean air of this wild place. The bay is shallow, the water bitingly cold. Our heads will ache tomorrow as we plunge over and over again beneath the waves. But it is a rite and tradition demands the ritual.
The Ojibway believe that the coves on this island, with their sheltered bays and lunar-like rocks, are the dwelling place of a great spirit. In all our years of pilgrimage, we have never seen such a god. But on nights when the sky is clear and the sparks from our cedarwood campfire fly to meet the stars;
when the night sounds of small animals moving through the tangle of juniper bushes tickle at the edge hearing;
and when the water is still;
We have seen the sweeping hand of heaven rain light across the sky. Ancient and alien, tails streaking toward oblivion, each burning star reflected and rising from the dark, moonless depths of the bay.
On those nights, we are in eden. And we taste immortality.
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