Like many of us who grew up near Lake Michigan, I have been to the Sleeping Bear Dunes countless times, and each time I go, I am startled anew at their majesty.
My first memory stems from a family vacation and seeing what we thought was just the one gigantic dune. My brother Geoff and I started running full speed, thinking all we had to do was get to the top and we’d see the lake.
Neither of us were near 10 years old, and that incline is the mother of all inclines. Maybe Geoff and I made it halfway before we needed to readjust our exploratory goals. We learned that day the fun there was in rolling down the hill, leaping and landing on the sand, and running so fast it felt like we’d take flight.
At the end of my freshman year of high school, a tad stronger and more patient, I’d made it to the top, this time with Geoff and also with my best friend Celena. (How I got to take a friend along on vacation and Geoff did not is a feat I’ll not question, but clearly I owe him.)
The three of us made it to the top, and I think we truly believed we’d hear some kind of triumphant music the likes of the Star Wars theme, or that the heavens would part, or at the least, there’d be snacks.
An eternal amount of sand is what we saw. I don’t remember being disappointed. It was more that I was in awe of our discovery — we’d made it to the top to find out we had barely scratched the surface.
The last time I was at the the dunes, my daughters Hadley and Harper were with me, and what first shocked me was the fact that everyone left their shoes at the bottom of the dune. I do not remember doing this when I was with Geoff. I watched Hadley and Harper fling off their flip flops with abandon and run (surely my brother and I did this too), and I felt a twinge of envy knowing I had less space in my soul to embrace that wildness. I slipped off my sandals and carefully placed them, along with my daughters’ shoes, underneath a bench, before running to catch up.
That day I made it farther then I ever had. The sand felt fluffier. It even sounded different than the matted down sand of the first part of our climb. We jumped and flew down smaller dunes, just as steep, all four of us saying, “Watch this! Can you do this? Take a picture of me! Try this one!”
We never found the lake that day, though I don’t think any of us set out hoping to find it. Not that Lake Michigan isn’t equally majestic, but that day we were swimming in sand, making up stories about Mama Bear’s back, which we were sure we were walking on. What would we do when she woke up?
In this essay I wrote about exploring the dunes as a child, as a teen, and as a mother. Think of a place you’ve been several times and write a poem about that place told in three parts. What do you learn each time you arrive? How are you different? How are you the same?
Thanks to everyone who participated in last week’s poetry prompt. Here’s one from Michelle we enjoyed:
She pushes off the pillow, rising with unsettled sleep
She pushes off the mat, stretching for the unreachable
She pushes off the counter, praying the coffee will give her wings
She pushes off the mess, breathing deep among scattered dreams
She pushes off the chaos, knowing it will be there tomorrow
She pushes off the noise, finding a pocket of peace to refuel
She pushes off the fear, moving it a little more this time
She pushes off the negative, chanting “not today, not today”
She pushes off the dark, revealing just enough light for take off
Photo by Bureau of Land Management Creative Commons, via Flickr. Post by Callie Feyen.
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Years ago, we visited my brother in Michigan, who was living in Traverse City. One day we all piled in the car and went to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park. My wife decided to sit it out with our then-seventh-month-old. My brother and I, with my eight-year-old in tow, tackled that first hill. Reaching the top, we saw, as you did, more hills. Estimating how long it would take to reach the lake, we decided to retire from climbing sand hills.
Bethany R. says
Sounds like climbing that hill is quite the education. I enjoyed reading this. Fun to imagine a completely different physical space than I’m accustomed to right now. And I do like how you crafted it from three different time-perspectives. Cool prompt.
Sandra Heska King says
Lately I’ve been really homesick for Lake Michigan and the sight of those dunes. Actually, I’ve been pining for any Michigan lake, but there’s no lake like Lake Michigan. I miss it. I’m not sure I have the strength to climb those sand hills any more, but I could easily throw myself off.