Lessons from the Porcupine Mountains

Katie Napiwocki avatar

by Katie Napiwocki |

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Imagine your soul as a canvas that illustrates the story of your life’s journey. Sprawled across an artistic medium, what would your scenery reveal? For some, it would be a river of peaceful waters winding into stormy rapids, set upon a base of weathered stone. For others, splashes of bright oils would narrate a rising sun over a humming arena of metropolitan development. Yet another shows a gentle sketch of wildflower fields wind-swept with nature’s vitality. The images that unfold are as diverse as each of our souls.

If you happen to be someone who connects with the wilderness, it’s likely intertwined with your very core. When Andy and I learned of Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, nestled along the northwestern shore of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, it didn’t take us long to research the accessibility options and set out on an adventure.  

Launching on our road trip to the “Porkies,” we focused our sights on a radiant feature that is revered by some as the heart of those mountains: Lake of the Clouds. Widely noted as an area with ADA overlooks, this alluring lake was well worth ascending the winding path of boardwalks and ramps. The exhilarating vistas left my spirit uplifted.

As the drifting clouds overhead shifted the lighting on the backdrop of our expedition, the weather was shaping into an ideal day to explore waterfalls. Nawadaha Falls is situated in a serene woodland haven along the banks of the timeworn Presque Isle River. Alongside a barrier-free gravel trail through rustic forest, powerful currents swirl, and thriving wildlife rambles.

We veered off our route to visit Bond Falls Scenic Site, known for an expansive boardwalk brimming with accessibility. From the very first moment we approached the boardwalk passage, the rumble of turbulent waters resounded, escalating our anticipation of the majestic sights ahead, which can be adored from six accessible platforms scattered around the falls.

With less impressive views than Bond Falls, but a level pathway that winds underneath a charming bridge, Agate Falls Scenic Site is another wheelchair-friendly rendezvous atop roaring waters. Whether it is boot prints or wheel prints that string behind us, accessible hiking trails carry us toward new wilderness experiences.

It is said that this modestly mountainous region looked to the native people like the hunched silhouette of a porcupine, hence its name. While the porcupine holds several meanings across different cultures, a common one is the symbolism of its ability to fiercely protect itself while remaining humble and kind at heart. 

In contemplating the guiding principle of the porcupine, I found a reminder to strike a balance between launching my defenses and keeping my quills tamed. There are a time and place for both. I think this image might speak to other people who navigate life with significant physical challenges, whether they have coped with a disability from a young age or have progressively lost the physical ability to perform certain aspects of their own self-care. We are perpetual advocates for ourselves, trying to ensure that our caregiving needs are met from one day to the next. 

I recently heard a comment about how some people with SMA live in a heightened state of fear and stress because any change in our life structure — to our existing care plan, caregiving benefits, transportation options, healthcare providers, and so on — can be the tug on a thread that unwinds our intricately woven web of daily living; a web that took a great deal of planning and energy to construct. Many of us are willing to share our SMA story because we want to be a part of real, meaningful change within our society.

As we overcome barriers on our path throughout life, warding off the harmful elements that may tarnish our attitude, carve feelings of bitterness, or turn our heart into an inhospitable place for kindness can feel grueling. On my journey, keeping my eyes toward the light of the sun and accomplishing invigorating feats has helped me to gain some beautiful perspective, which is yet another reason this endeavor of accessible adventure resonates so deeply within me. 

When accessibility and ADA information is readily available while researching natural areas to explore, life can feel a bit less challenging, and it validates the notion that our world should be inclusive of people of all abilities. 


Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today, or its parent company, Bionews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.


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