A Family Boating Adventure To Beaver Island's Outer Islands: Garden and High Islands

As the sun edges west, I remind Justin dusk brings bugs and wind brings bigger waves. We dinghy back to the boat and pull anchor, pointing our bow toward the quiet haven of Garden Island’s harbor.

Determined to explore the heart of at least one of the islands, we settle the big boat and set off again. The hum of the dinghy’s motor matches the hum of a slightly disconcerting symphony of insects. The wetlands and swampy shores prove too hard to penetrate in dying light. I think of the rows of spirit houses I’ve heard of that denote a handful of the 3,500 Anishinaabeg graves found on this land. We can’t see beyond the tall reed grasses, but I feel the presence of that sacred ground all the same. I think too of the nonvenomous snakes—rumored to have once numbered in the millions—that are said to occupy the woods and waters of Garden.

Back in the dinghy, we motor out of the safety of the harbor to bob aimlessly in line with the setting sun. Orange and red and yellow bleeds into the sky. I peek over the side in time to see a bass flick its tail and vanish into the green growth underwater. A small fire glows on shore to our left, where a group of kayakers have pitched tents for the night. The sound of a harmonica echoes from their camp. Noah yawns. We head back.

Soon, our children are sleeping again, legs tangled together on the long berth that has become their collective cradle. Justin and I sip wine in the relatively bug-proof enclosure that zips up the sides of the hull. We’re staring into the darknessthat bounces between a heavy billow of clouds and inky black water.

I tell him about the Ojibwe that once lived on the island. He tells me about Garden’s old fishing town that was, as if by divine joke, named Success. We muse about how some settlements simply die away, left to history to be remembered, or not.

That night, we sleep like the dead. A buzz in my ear wakes me at daylight.

Making a mental note to lather everyone in bug spray, I get up to jump into the shallow water. It only takes two cold seconds to remember I forgot to look for snakes. I’m back on the swim platform in a blink, my skin glinting like a fish out of water in the early morning sun.

Surveying the protected anchorage, I’m reminded of a favorite North Channel gunk hole. There is awe to be found in this little pocket of mostly state-owned land just a mile from Beaver Island.

“It’s no wonder,” I say to Justin, who is swimming laps around the boat without worry of snakes, “that people come to camp on these beaches. You don’t need a big boat or even one with sail or motor power, and you’re close enough to land that if you get in trouble, help is near. The easy access alone makes it worth exploring.”

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