Monday, August 31, 2015

Lake Michigan, sand dunes, and nostalgia

Whenever I feel the need for a place of retreat, I go in my mind to a certain spot in the Indiana Dunes. It was about halfway between the shore of Lake Michigan and our cabin on the top of the ridge. At twilight, you could watch the sun sink behind the skyscrapers of Chicago. Sometimes you could listen to the lake gently push small waves ashore; other times you could hear louder sounds of waves crashing. When storms came, you could watch them roll the length of the lake, to end with whitecaps thundering on shore and sometimes reaching dangerously close to the first level of cabins. I used to go to my favorite spot often with our female collie mix, inappropriately named Timmy,

Our cabin was rough to say the least. No plumbing, no electricity. The front of the house faced the lake; the back, a lovely deep woods—except the outhouse was down the hill in the woods. I hated to go at night, even when my mom went with me. The refrigerator was a box on a pulley, so it sank deep in the ground; once a week, the iceman cometh—literally, to drop a huge block of ice down the hole. You always put the milk in the bottom shelf where it would stay coolest. For lamps we had kerosene or Aladdin, though my dad worried constantly about turning them too high, so we never had enough light to read by at night. But the nighttime smell of the woods and the lake was so tranquilizing—I’m sure I never slept that soundly since.

We had to hike a mile, through the woods, from where we could park our car to the cabin, carrying in clothes, groceries, etc. I think I could find my way through those trails even now, though it was another thing I didn’t like to do at night. The family with whom we shared the cottage walked the beach, but we weren’t really beach people except for swims and baths in the lake. I sunburned easily and after a bout of sunstroke was never again comfortable in the sun. But I loved the woods.

Those days were magic to me, and I am often overcome with longing for them. Sweet corn fresh from the field, buckets full of raspberries for 50 cents—everything tasted better. Today, the state of Indiana has torn down all the cottages—yes, Thomas Wolfe, you really can’t go home again. And I’m not sure I’d feel safe in those woods. But I think everyone needs a retreat to which they can go in their mind. And that’s mine—my spot of refuge and renewal.

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