They were in one of the wider channels. Jenny was looking frantically forward. Ahead and to the left, she saw a small landing between two outthrusts of stone. Before she could turn to tell her father, the wind hit her as if someone had swung a telephone pole. She flew forward and smacked her head against the prow. She was stunned but still fully aware of the danger and held to the gunwales for dear life. She fought her way back onto her seat, but an instant later the dinghy swung sharply right, and again she was almost thrown overboard.

“Dad!” she cried, turning her face into the raging face of the wind.

Her father was no longer at the tiller. The stern of the boat was empty. Without any hand on the throttle, the little kicker engine was winding down, threatening to die. Jenny bent low into the gale and clawed her way to the back of the dinghy. She grasped the tiller of the outboard and gave the engine gas and tried to bring the boat about and find her father. A useless maneuver, she quickly discovered. There was no way she could put the boat crosswind and not be swamped by the waves, enormous even in that channel. And if the waves didn’t get her, the wind was strong enough to lift her, boat and all, and throw her easily against the cliff face that loomed to her right.

Then the rain hit, a downpour pushed horizontal by the fury, threatening to drown her.

She had no time to think. She simply fought to survive. She gave the boat full throttle, shot from the channel, and curled into the lee of the starboard island. A great pine toppled almost directly in her path, and she swerved; the hull scraped wood and the props cut branches. She shot forward, the wind cupped her, and the boat tipped; she swung left, and the wind was again at her back, waves sloshing over the stern. Across the channel where she now found herself, she spotted a beach of small rocks at the base of a tall outcropping capped with cedars. The opening was only slighter wider than the dinghy was long, but she launched the boat straight for it and onto the rocks of the tiny inlet. She heard the rending of the hull and the grind and pop as the propeller blades were sheared off by stone.

She leaped from the boat, and the wind immediately knocked her over. On all fours, she crawled into the shelter of the outcropping. The island was forested with pines bent by the force of the wind, their crowns pushed almost parallel to the ground. She heard an explosion like a shotgun blast very close. A second later, she watched the trunk of a hundred-foot-tall pine snap in two. Rain continued in horizontal sheets. Mixed with it were hailstones that hit the beach like rocks from a slingshot. Jenny pressed against the solid body of the outcropping, grateful for the little haven. Then she heard a deafening crack directly above. In the next instant, a cedar that had crowned the outcrop fell. It hit near her feet. The whipping of its branches lashed her, and she pressed still harder to the wall.

Through the mesh of the cedar boughs, she could see the dinghy. Each sweep of the waves forced it higher and higher onto the rocks and more and more into the rage of the wind. It was finally lifted off the ground, outboard and all, and thrown a dozen yards, where it slammed against a shattered pine trunk and lay in a crumpled mess.

Thunderclaps came one after another and with them the explosion of tree trunks, until the sound was like the discharge of batteries in a heated battle. Rain fell so thick that everything beyond the inlet became a blur. Water poured over her, not only out of the sky but also down the face of the rock, and she sat helpless in the deluge.

A quarter of an hour into the storm, she saw movement near the broken hull of the boat. Frantic motion. She thought it must be someone caught in the storm, and for a brief, almost joyful moment, she hoped it was her father. She rose almost fully upright and saw that it wasn’t a human being at all but a gray wolf running round and round in blind terror. As she watched, a broken section of evergreen as large as a canoe fell from the sky and crushed the animal. Jenny crouched again and tried to hold to hope for her father’s safety.

For nearly an hour, the world was in upheaval, then as suddenly as it had come the storm passed, the rain turned to drizzle, and the lake lay in a stillness like death.

Jenny stood slowly. The water had calmed. Far to the west, she saw blue sky.

She looked inland at the island where she was now stranded and gasped. The place was devastated, blasted, the forest that had covered it nearly obliterated. The great majority of the trees had been toppled and their trunks lay in jumbled masses on the ground. The ragged tops of stumps jutted up among them, the wood deep at their center exposed, white as bone.

Except in photos of war, Jenny had never seen such destruction. She edged her way from behind the fallen cedar and crossed the rocky beach of the inlet. The smashed boat was pinned beneath a long section of pine that she couldn’t have budged even if she’d wanted to.

At her back, she heard a pitiful whining. And she remembered the wolf. She made her way to where she’d seen the animal go down and began pulling away evergreen branches. Near her hands came a sudden, vicious snarling, and she drew back. More carefully, she removed the remaining cover.

The gray wolf lay under the broken section of pine trunk that had plummeted from the sky. His eyes were milky red. His mouth, as he snapped at her, was a bloody foaming. His front legs fought for purchase, but his hindquarters were absolutely motionless.

Jenny guessed that the poor creature’s back had been broken. Probably his insides were a mess. She knew what she should do but couldn’t bring herself to do it.

“I’m sorry,” she said and turned away.

She stared across the channel at the maze of islands and realized with a note of panic that she had no idea from which way she’d come. Everything looked the same, none of it familiar. In which channel had she lost her father? If she began to look for him, where would that be?

“Dad!” she screamed. “Dad, where are you?”

Behind her the wolf let out a groan that ended in a high-pitched cry. She could hear his painful, labored breathing.

“Dad!” she yelled again, so loud it threatened to tear her throat.

The only sound in return came from the suffering wolf at her back.

Tears welled up, of frustration, of fear. She wiped them away and turned around. She found a rock roughly the size and shape of a football, lifted it, and walked to where the wolf lay pinned.

All her life her father had pressed upon her the responsibility—any feeling person’s responsibility—for a suffering animal. She looked down into the eyes of the wolf and saw clearly the terror and the agony. She said, “I’m sorry, ma’iingan,” using, for some reason she couldn’t have explained, the Ojibwe name for the animal.

When it was done, she threw the bloodied stone into the lake and washed her hands clean, then stood at the water’s edge and stared at the confusion of islands. Out there somewhere was her father. And somewhere, too, were Anne and Stephen and Rose and Mal.

She spoke a prayer: “God, let them be all right. Let them all be alive.”

THREE

The night before, they’d anchored the houseboat near an island in a huge area of open water north of French Portage. On the chart, the island was roughly crescent-shaped. They’d tied up off the northwestern tip so there would be nothing to block the cooling evening wind or their view of the sunset. The island was heavily wooded, with a steep ridge along its spine. At the other tip of the island, a quarter mile across the curve of a narrow bay, was a small beach where Anne and Stephen had swum in search of blueberries.

Mal had his field glasses out. He looked across a broad span of open water in the direction of the base of the blue-black wall of cloud sweeping toward them, gobbling sky as it came.

“The waves are at least eight feet high,” he said. “The wind out there must be incredible. We’ve got to get into the shelter of the island, Rose.”

“We’ve got to get the kids,” she said.

“We’d never make it. Pull up the stern anchor,” he ordered. “I’ll loose the bow line.”

He started away, but she grabbed his arm. “We can’t just leave them out there, Mal.”

“Rose, this boat is nothing more than a cigar box on a couple of aluminum cans. If we don’t get into the lee of that ridge, we’re dead. What help would we be to the kids then?”

“But Stephen and Annie,” she protested.

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