We watch the swimmers
with our feet splayed upon the dashboard.
We will never be younger than we are now—
conjuring what we can from August heat,
all these nights of little sleep,
our bodies shifting to find the breeze.
Here in the Great Lakes region of the Midwest, waterways were especially pivotal to Underground Railroad history, and movement to and across those waters highlights the remarkable bravery, determination, and resourcefulness of escaping slaves as well as their allies. The Old Northwest (the Midwestern territory designated by the Northwest Ordinance of 1787) was central ground for abolitionist struggle in the middle decades of the nineteenth century because of its location on two liquid borders. The line between the slaveholding country of the U.S. and the free realm of British-controlled Upper Canada (or Canada West), and the line between the slave state of Kentucky and the free state of Ohio flowed through this region in the form of water. The winding rivers and ample lakes that characterized the area’s geography and marked the boundaries between and among colonial-European states and Native nations also became physical markers, signs, and routes of the Underground Railroad.
“When I wrote that I’d like to be clear-headed about it all, it was a small longing in me to have some kind of scientific clarity that the best scientists no longer believe in. But it is hard for me to experience that level of relatively undisturbed wilderness, the presence of those incredible animals, and the deep sense of the force of Lake Superior, without feeling that these things are signs of something, in addition to having the incredible weight of their own presence.”
“I don’t think this wind is ever going to stop,” Jamie said.
“I can do a rain dance if you want something else to happen,” Lewis said.
The wind sounded hollow, and we all stopped talking as if we’d decided to just sit and listen. We were the only people on the beach, but the wind searched for us, and it wrapped that blanket tight around our bodies as if we were the only people in the world.