Moments later two kayakers paddle by, gear strapped to their boats and floppy hats hiding their eyes. The paddlers, likely traversing the many small islands easily accessed from Beaver, wave before turning their attention back to stroking alongside more than 3,000 acres of blown sand and scraggly trees.
We follow suit, clamoring into our dinghy and heading to the beach. It’s a spot that boasts breeding grounds for pipingplovers and would-be pirates; legend claims Beaver Island’s fallen King James, a renegade Mormon who set up a kingdomthere in the 19th century, has his royal treasure buried here.
“Treasure?” My oldest, Noah, says, his blue eyes matching the lapping waves. He’s been building cairns, marking his presence with smooth stones. The possibility of gold and rubies sparks a new energy, and he sets off down the beach, a pair of terns squawking behind him.
I sit and sift sand in my fingers. Justin disappears into the meadow above us, searching for trails. Partly, I’m still wishingwe’d gone farther north. Mostly, I’m just quiet, listening for the voice of this island and its curious history—from glacialbeginnings to the strange Millenarian sect that once called High home. Instead, I hear Max, my middle born, break into giggles as he cannonballs rocks into the water, scattering a school of minnows and splashing his sister. It makes me wonder about the Native mothers from fishing families that last lived here. I imagine they too watched their children fall in love with the lake again and again on this stretch of beach.
An enormous horsefly lands on my knee, and I scream. I remember friends saying this is not the place to go if you havea phobia of large insects. Justin comes running, until he sees me in a swat-and-dodge battle against the enormous black bug.
“Find anything?” I ask with a frown.
“Just a meadow,” he says, measuring my reaction.
“Well we might as well go look,” I sigh, annoyed that hiking seems out of the picture.
We clamor one by one up a small dune into the knee-high grasses that scare my toddler, Elizabeth, into my arms. Theground is specked with rust and green mosses, the field splattered with low bushes, purple blossoms, and young trees. I turn circles a few times, finding no break in the underbrush.
I start to head back to the beach when a spear-sized stick whizzes past me. Whipping around, I half expect to see a crazy-eyed hermit or apparitions of the fatally wounded King James, whose crew supposedly stopped here as he made his way from Beaver to Wisconsin to seek medical treatment.
“Watch out mama!” Max shrieks with excitement, racing by to duck behind a bush. “Noah and I are being the king’s men.We’re protecting the treasure!”
They go on like this for hours, lost in a world where sticks become swords and lines drawn in sandy ground become maps. Justin and I sit in the space between them and the lake, looking at the low-lying islands in the distance and growing waves that move toward us.
“Maybe we didn’t need to hike after all,” Justin says. I notice the way the fading daylight colors his face, warm and glowing.
“Yes, playing soldiers for the odd-ball Mormon polygamist king is a much better idea,” I say.