Brendan The Navigator: Just A Little Fog

Fog at Isle Royale [Source:]
Fog at Isle Royale [Source:]

We set a westerly course midway between Wright Island and shore. I sensed something uneasy about the way Brendan hunched in his life vest. He wasn’t talking.

“Want to go for Hay Bay?” I asked, hoping that an absurd proposition would loosen him up.

“You’re crazy, Dad. Ten miles there, ten miles back — before dark? This lake could change any minute.”

He was right. First came intermittent wisps of clouds scudding across the water. The fog thickened, and five minutes later Wright Island disappeared again. Malone Bay socked in, too. Birches and spruces along its shore blurred like trees in a waterside painting by Claude Monet. Sometimes the shore was there, sometimes not. About the same time, Lake Superior’s rhythmic swell turned into an indeterminate chop.

After three Isle Royale journeys with Brendan, the first when he was nine years old, I knew we were most likely to disagree about things when paddling through chop. He read the fickle wind and waves one way, and I another. Instead of balancing forces, bow and stern clashed and our course was an unspoken dispute until one or the other or both of us yielded.

“How far do you plan to go in this?” Brendan said. It wasn’t quite a question.

“We just got started,” I said. “What’s the matter? You’ve been on big water before. Bigger than this.”

“Not in the fog. I don’t like it when I can’t even see where we started.”

I had to laugh. “But Brendan, this is what the world looks like all the time to me. Just a little fog. It’s a fine day for boating on the Great Lakes.”

Without missing a stroke he turned to dart a skeptical glance at me. Brendan the Navigator. When we named him I didn’t tell his mother everything the legendary Irish name implied. But I imagined him taking on the role of navigator for me. He was christened on Whitefish Bay, on eastern Lake Superior, when he was four weeks old. His first voyage on big water came at age 2, nested securely between my legs at the canoe’s stern. Growing up with Coastal Survey charts and tales of Great Lakes shipwrecks, he came to know Superior as another home. He never doubted the wisdom of canoeing there with a father who was half blind.

Read more. “Big Water received an Individual Artist Fellowship for creative nonfiction from the Ohio Arts Council in 2000.

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2 Responses to Brendan The Navigator: Just A Little Fog

  1. ms modigliani says:

    ” Fog at Isle Royale” is an amazing photograph that frames your story beautifully. I saw it and wondered if it was a painting or a photograph.

  2. Mark Willis says:

    Yes, compare it with the Monet paintings of Waterloo Bridge and the Houses of Parliament.

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