Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Beauty of Storms

Around five this morning I was awakened by a furry black body leaping into my bed and pressing up close against me. Only then did I hear the thunder and lightning. Sophie does not like to be alone in storms. Her preference is to be as close as possible to me.

Apparently I missed a heck of a storm. Jordan said later that she too was wakened by dogs and told Christian, “I hope Mom is enjoying this.” I do love a good storm, a love that stems back to my childhood days. My brother tells me that our mother taught us to love the fierceness of storms rather than to be scared by them.

When I was a kid, my family had a cottage high on a dune in the Indiana Dunes State Park. The cottage literally sat at the foot of Lake Michigan, and we could watch storms roll down the lake toward us. When we saw one coming, great preparations would ensue. Dad would put the windows back in the frames---they came completely out to allow fresh air. Awnings would be pulled in. And I would sit mesmerized, looking at the clouds and whitecaps. Lake Michigan in fury is a powerful thing to behold.

When my parents allowed, I loved to be on the beach, with the wind whipping my hair, my feet digging into the sand to get a foothold against the wind. I wasn’t allowed on the beach alone if there was a storm, but I could go to a spot on the second level of the dunes that I had carved out as my own. A little sandy knoll stuck out among the grasses and weeds, and I would sit there forever with my dog, a female collie mix incongruously named Timmy. From that sot at sundown I could watch the sun go down behind the buildings of Chicago, which looks unbelievably small. Sometimes yoga or meditation instructors urge you to go to a quiet, peaceful spot in your mind, and to this day that knoll is the spot I go to.

The lake was powerful and tricky, and I was taught always to be careful. I had to swim parallel to the shore and to touch my foot on the bottom to make sure I hadn’t gotten in over my head. I still can’t swim in the deep end of a pool where I can’t touch my foot to the bottom. Riptide was a word I didn’t even want to hear.

There were more or less three levels of cottages at the dunes—ours on the high ridge, with windows on the back to the woods, which I thought was wonderful except when I needed to use the outhouse in the dark of night. Then I woke someone to go with me, but I refused at an early age to use the chamber pot.

The next mid-level row of cottages was where my secret spot was, and then there were those that nestled up on the high end of the beach, where the grasses began. Every year, one or more of them would just wash into the lake. Erosion was and is a real problem all along Lake Michigan’s shore.

You could not drive to our cottage. We parked in the woods, a mile away, and carried our clothes and food in; you could also walk the beach—which we rarely did—or, oh luxury!—have the park jeep drive you to the foot of your stairs, with all your belongings. This was not a luxury cabin—an outhouse, at first no gas, so the refrigerator as a kind of box on a pulley that we lowered into the cool ground. Once a week, the ice man cometh—to put a huge block of ice in the bottom of the hole. We put milk in the bottom shelf so it would stay cold.

Drinking water came from a pump on the beach and had to be carried up three flights of stairs. Drinking water as therefore precious, and I always remember the nigh we heard a splash—a mouse drowned in our drinking water, wasting a whole bucket. In the cottage we had only cistern water, so Mom would wash dishes and then scald them to rinse. No electricity—kerosene and Aladdin lamps. Dad was always saying, “Turn it down. You’ll burn the mantle.” I don’t know what we would have done in this age of computers and cell phone. The Dunes did not offer a luxury vacation but to this day a piece of my heart is there and I have fond memories.

My dad and some friends owned the cottage when the state of Indiana took it over under eminent domain. Thereafter Indiana leased it to my folks and one other couple until the year my folks retired to North Carolina. For a while the cottages were leased by the weekend, but I guess that proved too difficult because after a few years they tore down all the cottages.

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