While traveling through Michigan’s Upper Peninsula—as I am now—my mind often takes a literary bend. Not uncommon for me, but it’s Great Lakes freighters, foreboding Lake Superior, stretching to endless depths, and rugged inhabitants (Yoopers), enduring winter for six months out of the year*, that come to most people’s minds when thinking of the U.P.
Yet, while mountain biking this week through the rolling, dense forest and rocky cliffs of Western U.P.’s massive trail systems, I found myself thinking about author Jim Harrison, once a summer resident of Grand Marais. The Woman Lit By Fireflies, his novella, has to be one of my favorite titles of all time, and in another novella, Brown Dog, he perfectly captured an aspect of the Yooper spirit and culture.
Two mystery series by Steve Hamilton and Joseph Heywood also pry their way into my consciousness, a reminder of my to-read list. The remote, semi-wild feel of the U.P. provides the perfect setting for murder and intrigue.
But it’s an older, somewhat forgotten writer, Robert Traver, attorney and author of Anatomy of a Murder, on which the classic film, starring Jimmy Stewart and a very young, sassy Lee Remick, was based, who most often joins me in my mental wanderings. Although best known for that novel, Mr. Traver was actually a prolific outdoor writer, specializing in fly fishing.
It’s easy in the U.P. to conjure up long-gone authors. Time seems inconsequential, a nuisance best ignored. Quintessential cabins hug remote shorelines, as if they were always part of the landscape, created like the hills by glacial carvings.
And one afternoon, during a ride on those hills, I pedaled along a skinny trail with Carp River’s rapids churning below me. Waterfalls spilled over rocks, merging with the river in a silvery pathway, cutting its way through the earth. I pictured a lone angler, flies decorating his vest, casting next to the river. He murmured a greeting and tipped his cap but otherwise remained silent as sun and shadows flitted across his features.
The trail took me around a corner, swooping across a hill before forcing me to gear down for the next climb, leaving the ghost of Mr. Traver behind until my next visit to the U.P.
*During a cross-country ski trip to the U.P. earlier this year, I marveled at two elderly women as they skied, scarf-less, in single digits as a frigid wind slapped against my face. “We grew up here,” they informed me. “We like the cold.”