Clyde Mikkola's Isle Royale Reflection

My residency on Isle Royale was life changing. I expect it may have been that for some of the other artists that have stayed there as well. Two profound things stand out in my mind from that experience which I will relate here.

On the Ranger III, there is a dining space in the forward part of the boat that has a mural on its front wall. The painting showed two white men dressed in buckskins and carrying flintlocks, and a large number of Indians, working, wearing breechcloths and moccasins. During my residency I depicted a limner (artist) living in 1760 as a product of my involvement in an activity known as “living history”.

Since heating Dassler Cabin required you collect your own wood for the fireplace on a daily basis and I did not wish to soil my clothes I would wear a breechcloth, leggings, and moccasins myself. I was surprised to see it attracting some attention. One morning I looked out the window of the cabin and across the small bay a dozen people were seated on the side of Scoville Point waiting for me to emerge from the cabin. Several had binoculars which popped up the moment I stepped out the door. What ultimately resulted from this was a rule that no one was allowed to wear breechcloths on Isle Royale.

The other occurred on the day I walked from Dassler Cabin to Rock Harbor in hopes of buying some film for my camera (pre-digital). When I arrived at Rock Harbor I was met by a young woman, a ranger, who informed me that airplanes had been flown into the Twin Towers in New York City and the Pentagon. The date was September 11, 2001… 9/11.

I walked back to Dassler Cabin and the next day I wrote this in the journal I made while I was there:

Yesterday, as I walked, I came upon a bright yellow butterfly. Its wings, body, and even its legs were yellow. It had very small red circles of varying sizes paralleling the edge of its wing. I’d never seen a butterfly that looked like that before. I can’t remember if I was thinking or if I spoke aloud, but I said, “Why did God make you? Was it for this moment, so I could meet you on this path and ask this question? Or, was it for every moment, because you have a life to live, as I do?” I stepped off and it flitted away at the same moment.

It was for that moment and for every moment. Each moment gives meaning to the rest.

I was upset when they changed the schedule and I lost a day out here. I feel I have found what I came here looking for. As much as I love being here doing what I am doing, be it fetching water, drawing, writing, or chopping wood, they could pick me up now, or give me an extra week in the cabin and it wouldn’t matter. I am here, now.

- Clyde Mikkola, 2018

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Last updated: December 13, 2019

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