Growing up, we used to go to Lake Michigan in the summers. Either a quick drive to the Indiana dunes on the weekend or a longer stay with my grandmother at one of her many cottage rentals. I often say that I was a beach kid but, if you're from the Midwest, saying something like that gets a lot of skepticism. But in the summer that was where we were. Spending hours and hours on the beach was what we did. And that was where I loved to be more than anyplace else.
My favorite memory of the lake is from a time when I was about 15. We were staying with friends at a rental in Michigan on a bluff overlooking the lake. Because my parent's divorce had moved us far away, it had been a couple seasons since I had been there. One night, at sunset, I went down and took a walk on the beach. I was sunburned, not painfully, just enough that my skin was tight and I was a little dazed from being outside all day. My hair was soft and wavy, with just the faintest mineral scent from the lake water. I realized it was the first time I'd ever been allowed to be on the beach by myself at nightfall. I walked down the beach for awhile and had the place all to myself. I turned back for home and watched the sun drop under the water and the stars start blinking on. I had a feeling of total contentment that is possible only when you are a kid, but also the sensation of knowing I was feeling it, which was signalling the end of that kind of childhood emotional immersion. I think this dissonance is why I remember it all so clearly.
There are many times when things are tight, when panic rises or anxiety starts to call the shots that I think back to that walk on the beach to calm myself. When I summon it I am right there. I am able to feel the crazy soft Michigan sand under my feet and the wind on my sunburned lips as I futz with the sleeve of an old thermal sweatshirt. I am there, I am content, I am a little dazed by the beauty of it all.
Last month we went to Lake Michigan for a family reunion. It's been years and years since I had been at a lakeside cottage. One evening we all went down to the beach; from my 90-year-old grandmother to my 3-month-old niece. The sun started to go down and I snapped the picture above with my phone. There - I thought - now I have a postcard of my happy place.
P.S. I'll be at BlogHer this weekend. No doubt amidst all the excitement conjuring up this beach scene several times. I can hardly wait.