Kayaking the Archipelago of the Gods

We have paddled close enough to Pismire now to see that it is covered in cormorants — cackling black angels vaunting their primeval wingspans and defecating everywhere on the dull-colored rocks. Bruland motions us to his kayak, and we bob around it like baby ducks while he asks over the sound of waves if anyone needs to stop and rest on Pismire. We all vigorously shake our heads no.

With Pismire behind us, the sun breaks through the fog and instantly the water changes color. Where there was steely gray, there is aqua, turquoise, even sapphire. Epiphenomenal colors. In the light I see that we are not in deep water at all, but instead paddling the shallow trails of Caribbean green that I’d seen from the plane on the way to Beaver. In moments I’ve moved from wondering if I’m going to make it through the trip to believing I must come back to this womb of blues embraced by islands. We smile, call out oohs and ahs to each other across the water. Bruland and Martin look pleased; their secret has been revealed to us. It occurs to me that there were bleak days for the pilgrims looking for religion on these islands. But there were just as many days when these waters must have buoyed them.

At Grape Island — a long, thin spit of land that is connected to Hog when the water is low — we pull our kayaks up and have lunch, swim in warm, waist-deep water and dry out on our towels. We cross the three miles to Hog’s Baltimore Bay over cobalt bric-a-brac waves.

Strang and some of his men once hid out on Hog from an angry gang of Gentiles (the word the Mormons used for outsiders). But beyond that, apparently religion never found Hog. The reason, I think, hobbling barefoot over the sharpest stones I’ve encountered on any of these islands, may have more to do with soles than souls.

While Bruland unpacks he sends us to snorkel the sunken schooner Baltimore. The bay shows no signs of such a large treasure hidden in its waters. But after a short swim offshore we spy the massive ship’s skeleton through our masks. Cassidy, Kate and Elizabeth dive down, touch its ribs and scare up two fat bass.

Back on the beach Bruland has produced chicken, couscous, dried cherries, apricots, scallions and cumin from his kayak’s cubbies. Before long we’re seated, strung out along a beach looking due west, eating steaming plates of couscous while a bull’s-eye sunset melts into the still lake. Later, in the quietness of turning into our tents, a series of rhythmic thuds reverberates across the water. "What’s that sound?" I ask. "Drums," Bruland says, cocking his head west. "Miniss Kitigan over on Garden."

Elizabeth Edwards is managing editor of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine. [email protected]

Kayaking Beaver Island’s Waters: What to Know

Note: This article was first published in August 2006 and was updated for the web February 2008.

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Article Comments

  • Anonymous

    I met Kee in the summer of 1988 or 89. I was leading a canoe trip with about a dozen teenagers. We decided to hike across the island one rainy day. Kee’s grand-daughter met us on the trail as we accidentally stumbled into thier camp. She took us to meet Kee who noticed the severe case of poison ivy on my legs. She gave me a bottle of medicine made from jewel weed and other stuff. That bottle fixed me up in about 4 days….. Better than anything I ever got at a pharmacy.

    Bob M.