Looking out from inside of Manitou Island Caves

Anchor the “Little Dipper.” Slip into the wetsuit and step carefully down the swim ladder into the blue-black water of Lake Superior. That sudden, bracing sting of cold that passes as you remind yourself to just breathe in and out, floating alone in the largest lake in the world in the pre-dawn light. Put even that small hope of rising sunrise light at your back and swim towards the darkness of an Apostle Islands cave, a velvety blackness smooth against your skin. Deeper in the cave until you have seemingly left all the light behind. There is only the restless sloshing of the black water rising and falling like something breathing. Drips from above like shards of falling stars. Stars, that seems the right image here, alone in a place that is as dark as outer space … almost.

Looking out the back side of the Manitou Caves

Slowly, your eyes adjust to the darkness, pupils opening as if to the memory of light. And then you see it – even here, far back in the cave, the growing sunlight out over the lake has found a way to color the moment with beauty and you understand why it is you have come.

Boat outside of Manitou Caves

The sun is up, and with it the first restless stirrings of the wind. The cold has seeped deep into your bones through the wetsuit and your teeth begin to chatter in the deep shadows of the cave. The day has broken like an eggshell. Carefully, slowly, pack the camera and tripod away, secured for the swim back to the boat where there is warm fleece and hot coffee waiting. There will be time to sit basking in the morning sun thinking back over the swim. But first, deep breath, move slowly, carefully. The rocks are still sharp, slippery. The water still cold. One more time slip yourself into the arms of the lake for the sweet, sunlit swim back to the “Little Dipper” waiting to take you home.

For more of my writing on the Apostle Islands, see my book “Jewels on the Water: Lake Superior’s Apostle Islands.