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by Michael Altizer | May 28, 2020 | FISHING, SALTWATER, Slider
The Ghost of Old Woman Bay

“There was a sudden rustle in the grass, and I heard the unmistakable whisper of soft and silent feet. But only for an instant, only for a step or two before it stopped and resumed its own curiosity as to what I might be.”
There are ghosts still there at Old Woman Bay.
The first one I ever saw was my own. Dusk was gathering as my brother and I headed out of Sault Ste. Marie and into Ontario, then north and west, up by the shores of Gitche Gumee through the mythical lands of Nokomis and Hiawatha and Longfellow, past Wawa and Schreiber and Nipigon, then across to Thunder Bay and Oskondaga and finally into Kashabowie to rendezvous with the bush pilot who was set to ferry us north onto Little Current.
The evening was luscious, the light a soft essence spilling up from the south as the sun set somewhere below us across America. The beach was a conglomerate of multi-hued granite pebbles, which the young lake had not yet had time to grind into proper sand. But on this evening, the normally unruly waters of Lake Superior lay uncharacteristically coy, and the cliffs off to the south plummeted vertically to the seamless horizon from a pale azure sky that seemed to have hesitated for a moment, waiting for us to get to the bottom of the grassy trail that led from the hills above, down to the water.
We wanted to get a photo here together, my brother and I. So I wedged one of my cameras into the crook of an odd piece of driftwood, set the self-timer for ten seconds and hastened back down to the beach where Alan stood waiting. But once we were home and got the film developed, I discovered too late that I hadn’t been quite quick enough, for the shutter had released a second or two before I got into position beside him. And though his image was steady and crisp, mine was but a latent, ghostly blur.
We continued west and north that evening as darkness overtook us and saw no bears on that hunt.
The following autumn I went back north and took a 300-pound bruiser with Dad’s old Marlin. Two days later I pulled out of Oskondaga just before first light for the 19-hour run back across the north shore of Superior, then south into Flint where Debbie’s freezer was already cleared and waiting for the bear quarters in my ice chest.
But there was also riding with me that day my old mahogany 8×10 Deardorff view camera and its heavy tripod, with a half-dozen good film-holders containing 12 fresh and unexposed sheets of film, ready to record the stunning Canadian autumn that stretched out ahead of me.
My aim was to make Old Woman Bay by evening and have my camera and tripod set up on the coarse granite beach in time to shoot the sunset. But of course, other photographic opportunities seduced me that day, and by the time I reached the trailhead above the bay, all my film had been exposed and it was well past midnight.
old woman bay fog

But still, the stars were out, and the moon had not yet risen and the air was cold and scented with spruce. And so I bore down the dark and narrow trail on foot, through the brittle grass and finally out onto the beach. Orion was hovering above the cliffs to the south and east, and the broad bands of the Milky Way cascaded clear and undimmed from the high-vaulted ceiling of the sky, clear to each horizon.
Only the darkened earth was formless and void, and I moved by feel and smell and the muffled sounds of my soft leather moccasins.
I could hear the gentle whisper of the waves as they lapped lightly along the beach, and for an hour I stood there, a small and insignificant speck alone on the outskirts of Heaven with the sheer immensity of the greatest Great Lake laid smooth and glassy before me, reflecting the universe that soared above.
And then it was time to leave.
So I knelt and scooped up a handful of tiny granite pebbles and slipped them into my coat, then raised an open hand to God and began making my way back up the trail, just me ‘n Him.
Or so I thought.
For suddenly there was a soft and indistinct ripple in the fabric of the night, a subtle lessening of the darkness barely 20 feet in front of me, and I halted without really understanding why.
For a minute or more I stood still and quiet, my eyes completely useless, but all my other senses keen and cunning. Was something, someone, there? The breeze, what little there was, was coming straight in from the east and lightly brushing the side of my face, favoring neither of us in identifying the other.
And so we simply stood there, each of us frozen and alert, curious yet unafraid as to this strange company we now shared, until the mystery overpowered me and I took a single step forward.
There was a sudden rustle in the grass, and I heard the unmistakable whisper of soft and silent feet. But only for an instant, only for a step or two before it stopped and resumed its own curiosity as to what I might be.
Oh, I had a small flashlight tucked into my pocket…but I dared not press it into play, lest I shatter the moment.
So I just stood there.
And so did my ghostly companion.
We stood for a lifetime; we stood for an age, and then for an age again, until I gradually realized that he or she was no longer there, and I cautiously continued up the trail. I thought seriously about waiting for dawn, and now I nearly wish I had – if for no other reason than to find a track, to find a trail and somehow find what this strange apparition might possibly have been.
But in the end, I really did not want to know. For the encounter itself was all that really mattered, compelling as it was and delicious as it remains in my memory to this day.
Whether bear or wolf or old Nokomis or even Hiawatha himself, I do not know.
I cannot know.
I do not wish to know.
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