Off the Grid

Jim called, Want to go kayaking at Isle Royale?
‘Sure’, my 18 year old self said.
Oops! I’m 74.

Our ride to Isle Royale
photo by Jim Gregory

Isle Royale or Minong (in Ojibwe) is an archipelago 40 miles off the coast of Lake Superior in Northern Minnesota. It is the least visited National Park in the US and took 8 hours to get to our destination. Lake Superior is known for its quickly changing water conditions and weather. I was thankful for the calm water passage.

Minong means ‘The good place’ in the Ojibwe language.

North Shore Ojibwe paddlers travelled up the coast to Thunder Bay in their birchbark canoes, where the crossing to Minong was only 19 miles. They would take advantage of calm conditions and leave in pre-dawn hours. It would take many hours of hard paddling. Ojibwe travelers knew the danger in crossing, since lake conditions could change at any time.

The Ojibwe paddlers believed the lake was a living entity and that heightened their feeling of vulnerability. Before setting out, prayers were said for a safe crossing.

I should have said a prayer during the crossing to combat my negative self-talk:

Have to use a water filter pump just to drink the water.
It may have giardia in it.

It’s 39°, I should have brought gloves and long underwear.
Let go! You are off the grid now.

The volcanic rock on Minong is basalt and is over a billion years old. There are countless beautiful formations.

lichen covered basalt

The call of a loon
Warblers flitting in the aspen trees

What is this new feeling?
Fills my body
The sound of wildness
Touches a deep place within me

Characteristic rock formations at Minong. Folded layers of volcanic rock.
photo by Jim Gregory

Listening to the stories of the Grandfather Rock

Reader Angie Adamek captures essence of our experience with this comment:
The Great Lakes ‘water-meets-rock’ is so irresistible to me with its gurgles and splashes. Looking at your pics evokes the sounds and smell that go with them.

Untouched rocky beaches.

Treasures found on the beach.
To show respect for the land, I took nothing with me.


The crystal pool.
This quiet place had very calming energy.

This was a rock not a skull. So unique and beautiful.

Plenty of time to meditate?

Even the clouds were magical.

We are paddling
Just ahead
A dark cloud is pouring rain
But the wind is at our back
Pushing the rain ahead of us
The early morning sun shines through
Illuminating the golden rain drops
We stop
To embrace the beauty.

The water visibility was 50 feet or more.

Carnivorous Pitcher Plant
On one of the barrier islands there was a Spaghnum Bog.

Moose Scat
There are almost a thousand moose on the island.
(We didn’t see any.)

Mourning Cloak Butterfly


Alpen glow on the rocks, signaling sunset.

At the Temperance River, foam in the water created patterns that mirrored the currents and moved continuously.
Photo by Jim Gregory

As it happened, we visited the Temperance  River, my late wife’s favorite place, on the 12th anniversary of her death from lung cancer. We wrote her name in the froth on the surface, and watched it as the current carried it away. I looked at the pictures I took, and I became fascinated with the patterns on the surface of the water where the river flowed into Lake Superior.  Jim Gregory

Art work by Jim Gregory

I decided to focus on foam patterns as a painting subject. First I attempted the macroscopic view of the overall patterns that were created, the swirls, the shapes and the flows. Then, after working with the painting, I realized that the microscopic view of the shapes of the individual floating pieces, were much more fascinating and worthy of capturing.  Jim Gregory

Art work by Jim Gregory

The smaller floating particles, were very similar to the dots I had practiced in my Chinese landscape painting classes.The larger floating foam particles, were similar to the brush strokes from my bamboo brush in my Sumi-e painting classes. Jim Gregory

Art Work by Jim Gregory

Studying these patterns found in nature, I had a greater appreciation for nature’s creations and for the beauty that is always surrounding us. I will be forever grateful to Larry for the homework he assigned to me and my willingness to follow through.

Jim Gregory

Art work by Jim Gregory


Art work by Jim Gregory

This entry was posted in Nature Notes, Nature Poetry, Photography/Art. Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Off the Grid

  1. Peitsa Hirvonen says:

    Thanks Jim and Larry. Lovely journey, glad you shared it with all of us vicarious travelers. Jim, I believe thats the best and finest art work I’ve seen from you. I really appreciate seeing it. You’ve moved to the next level.
    I’m writing this in Hamina, Finland where the sunset colors are in the sky now, and where it sets at quarter to eleven, and rises at 3:40. We celebrate midsummer here this weekend, a few days after the longest day.
    Happy belated solstice you all!

  2. Anne Deuring says:

    Wow! Beautiful!

  3. Cindy Suplick says:

    Jim, this is an utterly gorgeous remembrance of your journey to Isle Royale! So glad you shared it with us. Your creativity and talent never ceases to amaze me.


  4. paul gagner says:

    Remarkable artwork ! Thank you for the mini-vacation.
    The North Shore(for me) is a complete restorative body of water.
    I have never been disappointed in the beauty of the lake no matter the weather.
    Like many Minnesotans ,my grandparents came from norway and Sweden around 1910.My grandfather would take me to Jay Cooke state park where we would sit side by side and he would tell men about the island of Hitra,off the coast of Norway where he was born and raised until a young teen. he loved Jay Cooke Park as he always would tell me it “reminded him of home’.

  5. Janet Kramer-Barr says:

    What a lovely glimpse of Isle Royale! Though I’s seen your art work last Thursday and liked it, this piece put it more in its home. Thank you for the visit. My favorite is the third from the end.


  6. Carol J Allis says:

    Stunning — so beautiful, Jim — thank you for sharing! Makes me homesick to be there ….

  7. Tom says:

    Great photos! And what a super paddle trip. What is your next destination?

  8. Bob Walden says:


    Superb, a treat. Thank you.

    Bob Walden

  9. Ken Corens says:

    Thanks Jim for sharing this link to your kayak experience. Thanks to you and Larry for the photos, poetry and art. Beautiful! I was on Isle Royale once backpacking with my daughter. We looked for moose everyday. Of course they didn’t show until we were on the boat about to return, then they walked right through the little village and out into the bay. Also interesting that you two are connected. I worked with Larry at Hopkins Schools. Larry, brother Bob and I had many fun times working together for benefit of the kids. Larry, I hope you will keep letting your 18 year old self speak to your present self. Just don’t always listen!

  10. Larry L Stickler says:

    Thanks nice work

  11. Dick Oberg says:

    Thank you for sharing your experiences, Jim. I have spent hundreds of hours on the North Shore and Boundary waters, not Isle Royale, however, but not consistantly with the mindfulness you demonstrate here.

  12. Mary Hammill says:

    What great fortune when I wandered into your orbit. The pictures, the poems, and the art all tell of a wondrous adventure. Now I can say I’ve been to Isle Royale too. Thanks, Larry

  13. Harlan says:

    Beautiful, thanks for sharing your trip.

  14. regina says:

    Jim, thanks for sharing a wondrous experience. Beautiful place, inspiring very interesting artwork. It’s a place I’ve thought of visiting, the A.I.R there very appealing.

  15. Lois Troemel says:

    Thanks Jim, for the wonderful pictures and info about your journey. I’m sure that it was a great trip.

  16. Mary Slaughter says:

    Thanks to both of you for sharing your journey.

  17. Angie Adamec says:

    Lovely pics. Our son wanted to visit Isle Royale for his graduation from high school gift, but we never made it. Life is so busy…. or we make it so busy. Maybe one day he will make it there, now that he has a baby girl to show the world to. The Great Lakes water- meets-rock is so irresistible to me with its gurgles and splashes. Looking at your pics evokes the sounds and smell that go with them. Thank you

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