Camp, 2018, Episode 1

In late June I did a ghost town tour of the U.P. First up was Shelldrake, a few short miles north of Paradise. I couldn’t find it on my own, but my GPS did. Of course I always take anything my GPS says with a grain of salt. When she says, “In one-hundred-and-fifty feet, turn right,” it’s only after I’m practically stopped, and already turning. She’s pretty good with the Big Picture, but when she bores down into the details, her sense of distance leaves a lot to be desired. Shelldrake was not right on Whitefish Point Road, but a little to the east at the end of a dirt road, facing Whitefish Bay. Which is how I managed to drive right past it three times before the GPS convinced me to keep looking. (“No, you idiot–Turn. Left. NOW!“)

Truly, I woke up in Paradise that day. (Disclaimer: it’s not quite like they describe it in the Bible, although there were about as many people as I might expect to see there… I won’t suggest a (low) number.) Then I visited the Tahquamenon Falls, had lunch in Newberry, thoroughly enjoyed one luxurious night at the historic Landmark Inn in Marquette, then two more nights at my cousins’ camp, Wayne’s World on beautiful Lake Arfelin (see new header photo above), before heading out to a buddy’s camp a little closer to the next group of ghost towns.

That night was my most interesting. I visited my Yooper buddy—let’s call him D.—and claimed possession of his camp. I stayed there last year for nearly a week. It was, shall we say, modest. Barely livable, but acceptable and convenient. Better this year. Then D. and I did the usual that evening: rode around in his truck, hitting several dive bars, had a late supper, then….

He dropped me off back at the camp, I spread out my sleeping bag, put in my earplugs and went to bed. (I use earplugs even in the silent nights of the deep and dark U.P. Any little noise, like, oh, say, a bear tearing into the trash, will likely wake me out of a sound sleep. I’m not really timid, honest! but strange sounds in an unfamiliar, dead silent place in the dark of night do tend to get my inner cave dweller’s attention.)

I don’t know what time I woke up, but the moon was bright, and I could see an amber light flashing somewhere in the living room beyond the bedroom doorway. What the hey? Worried it might be my car alarm—or someone else’s… or maybe emergency lights going off (fire trucks? police raid? ICE?)—I popped out the earplugs. Dead silence. Got up to investigate. Okay, not a car, it was the clock on the coffee maker. Blinking 12:00, of course. Went back to bed. Woke up again later on, could hear something through the earplugs. Popped them out, hoping it was rain on the roof. Nope, clear sky and bright stars overhead. Listened, determined it was an animal somewhere, likely in the ceiling. I had one, probably a tree squirrel, scratching around above the bathroom ceiling on my last day there last summer. Not a big deal. Earplugs back in, went back to sleep.

But the scrabbling got too loud to ignore. Popped the earplugs out again to assess the situation. In the ceiling? Maybe. In the wall right next to my ear? Possible. I banged on the wall with my fist, without noticeable results. Oh well. I dozed for a while, but eventually I had to get up and figure this out. I found the noise was somewhere in or near the closet by the patio door. I hoped it was something outside that couldn’t get in.

Until I saw a furry tail scramble up and down the curtain. Crap.

So I got dressed—jeans, heavy shirt and boots in case we had to resort to hand to paw combat. Now, there was a very impressive deer hunting rifle right there in the closet, but I figured D. and the neighbors wouldn’t appreciate me using it. (It might be an elephant gun, for all I know. I imagine it would make loud noises and leave large holes in the cabin, probably compromising what little structural integrity it still has.)

As I was getting dressed I saw the tail shoot across the floor just outside the bedroom door.

Understand that I was a Boy Scout, even achieving the rank of Eagle Scout half a century ago, but I’m not a Yooper, and I’m not a truly competent or experienced outdoorsman, but I do know that furry tails are usually attached to furry bodies, and those bodies always have teeth at the other end, and generally in between are four legs and feet equipped with claws.

This was just a small squirrel. He dove behind the stove, which meant at least I could get to the patio, open the door, and give him an escape route. There’s a piece loose fireboard behind the stove that used to protect the paneling when there had been a wood stove there instead of a four-burner range. Squirrel was behind that, scrabbling around and up and down, and peeking out over the top at me.

I tried to pantomime directions to the door for him, be he just wasn’t getting it. I guess neither of us is very good at Charades. I probably looked like one of those guys waving an airliner into the loading gate. In this instance, I blame the pilot. Not having a carrot, I found a stick. (Once again after considering and rejecting the rifle.) The second or third time he popped out the top and tried to crawl across the ceiling I scared him enough that he dropped to the floor. Behind the stove again, of course. But a few more pokes and he shot across the floor and out the door. I closed it and locked it and went back to bed. The sun comes up at 6:01, and it starts getting bright a whole lot earlier than that, so it was a pretty short night. I determined not to actually get up until 7:00, however.

And I do now finally understand why my buddy drinks Busch Lite, which hardly seems worthy of human consumption. You don’t get very looped, there are no undesirable side effects, like hangovers, retching, or even fuzzy-headedness when you’re evicting squirrels at 4:20am. I was calm and competent throughout, and clear-headed in the morning.

I was dressed, packed, breakfasted, caffeinated and gone by 9:00, heading west to find the ghost towns of Donken and Toivola.

[UPDATE] D. has chided me for my inhospitable actions during this event: “That is just typical, I go to a lot of extra effort to make sure you have a warm cuddly room mate and what thanks do I get? In the future you can be assured that I will inform all the local fauna to refrain from trying to make friends with you. D.”


One thought on “Camp, 2018, Episode 1

  1. Love your stories! Thanks. From time to time when I was a kid, we had squirrels in the attic. Scary at first, then just annoying. It became our reference point to describe people who were similarly annoying, and even for unwanted thoughts/worries that nagged us. What wonderful mentors the squirrels are.


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