One happy summer we entertained our daughter on a camping trip across Canada. Her brother was having his first summer away from home in Maine, being a teenage disc-jockey at a radio station in Quebec. So after dropping him off at the studio we kept on going and rediscovered the Great Lakes.
This was rewarding and instructive and a lot of fun, and our daughter dipped successfully in Lakes Ontario, Huron, Michigan, and Superior, something nobody has been stupid enough to do since Champlain's time. She never jumped into Erie, and if you care to go to, say Erie, Pa., the Health Officer will explain why this is so. I understand great strides have been taken and this is a splendid idea.
Our first memory on this extensive trip is of a Royal Boy, modern Mountie, in Cochrane, who told us to go ahead and camp. We had been timing our daily distance so we'd arrive at a campsite in the late afternoon, marked on our official road map, and each evening when we arrived we'd find a sign saying "NO OVERNIGHT CAMPING." So we asked a speed cop to reduce things to our needs. He laughed and told us to go ahead and set up our tent. "Be my guest!" he said. So I said, "Clear up one point for me: Who'll arrest us if you don't?" He said there wasn't anybody else. And I guess there wasn't. He also said if we'd like caribou steaks, his brother kept a meat market in the next town. (The big trouble with caribou steaks is that the next town in the northern Canadian acreage is 800 miles ahead.)
To a coastal clam-digger from Maine, the Great Lakes are respectable ponds. The construction of a railroad to Port Churchill in Manitoba, on Hudson Bay, and the building of Erie Canal and the St. Lawrence Seaway have in turn changed Canada's means of delivering prairie wheat abroad, and we paid attention to this as we moved along.
At a place called Helen Lake, the postmaster said he recently had a letter from a lady from Missouri asking for his postmark. This lady, he said, was Miss Helen Lake. It's a small world. We liked the signs that said "Beyond this point all water flows into the Arctic Ocean." This gives every raindrop a choice: It can flow down that way or come down to Montreal. We spent one night at a campsite where Hungarian immigrants congregated on their way to prearranged farm work in Alberta, and every one of them had a clean shirt, a bag of food, and a balalaika, which I can't spell and which is a musical instrument tuned to the 47th problem of Euclid.
About 4 a.m. the concert yielded to sunup.
When at last we came to Lake Superior, we found a lovely tenting spot. We were just off a fine highway not heavily used, and before us spread a plentiful and scenic lake. It was interesting to see such a spread of water without a tide-line of sea wrack, and also to see sea gulls the same as ours at Muscongus Bay. There was a cooking fireplace of loose stones that I quickly made ready for our supper purposes, and I said thank you to whatever kind soul first fetched the rocks.
We were in business and Daughter now said, "Well, here goes for dunk No. 4!" She had already dunked in Ontario, Huron, and Michigan. I believe she was then 15. She shed in the tent, came out a-flying, and ran barefoot on the green to Superior.
Now that we are here, let me add a few details. In that area, you can eat a leisurely supper, play seven innings of a twilight baseball game, go home to read the newspaper on the front porch, have a snack, and be in bed before dark. Also, a family of 10 had come soon after we got our tent up, and was having a cookout across the way, between us and the lake. That is, our darling daughter trotted past them as she approached her dunk.
When she did, they all looked up, stood straight, and placed their hands on their hips, intent on watching this damsel pass. They were plainly in disbelief. Our daughter, singing out a jolly howdy as she passed, kept on going and jumped in the lake.
NOW she came out of the lake. She had not bothered to turn around, but simply backed out, to reverse herself on shore and leg it for the tent. What portion of her was not in bathing suit was the lovely blue of a blue plum endorsed by Andrews nursery. Our young lady was in headlong discomfort. She gained the tent and we could hear her teeth crackling like castanets at a Gypsy wedding. She had a towel wrapped around her when she next appeared, and she got in our automobile to turn on the engine and the heater. Now she knew that one does not swim in Lake Superior.
The folks at the cookout regrouped. After eating, they drove off, but stopped first at our wickiup to ask if the young lady was all right. The gentleman said, "We didn't suppose she meant to go in!" Ever since then, our daughter has felt before leaping, and she will tell you the Old Atlantic at Monhegan Island in mid-July is like hot pea soup compared with Lake Superior.
But she did go into Superior, and that left her only Lake Erie to look forward to. And when at last she did see Lake Erie, at Erie, Pa., she declined vociferously, and then she reconsidered. "But I've got to, "she said. And, she did. It was years after her leap into sustained frigidity of Superior, but she was still a little cold. She stuck her right big toe into Lake Erie, and that was that. She said maybe she'd a-done better to go back and give Superior another chance.