Friday, August 12, 2011

Something a little different

Souveniers (a memoir)

We drove north on Highway 119, along the Great Lake. She lay to the left, affording glimpses of azure through the trees. The sun shone quietly that day, a whisper of brilliance reflected in the lake. The road wound past old family places, full of charm, and past ostentacious vacation retreats, so big they were almost an embarassment. The places with the cedar shake siding, deep front porches, wavy glass windows and dimunitive size tugged at my heartstrings. I am a sucker for charm over everything else-- the pragmatist in me just bails out the nearest window when the words "charming" and "character" are apt descriptors of dwelling places. "Perhaps someday...," I sighed.

Our little white car galloped down the highway. Two of us were silent. You were focused on the road, with its turns and twists, and I stared out the window recording the landscape as future fodder for my pen. The friends accompanying us on this trip were engrossed in conversation about the sale of their home and purchase of a new one. My mind was filled with an expansive quiet, pale as the water and sky to the south, despite the excited chatter in the car. We drove to a "T" in the road, which a lovely local girl had described for us, and turned left, hugging the lakeshore.

Large dunes manifested between the road and the water. There were cars parked haphazardly along the roadside, and footpaths led through the beach grass, up and over the dunes.

We parked in the sand and grabbed the essentials-- straw hats, sunscreen, towels, frizbee, camera, and bottles of water-- and headed toward the lake.

A curved expanse of sand spread out for at least a mile. Sandy beaches are a rarity on the shores of Lake Michigan, and it seemed we'd discovered hidden treasure. I walked with purpose in the direction of a barren patch of sand to claim as my territory. "This will do," I thought as I spread out my towel. You and our friends lagged far behind. I'd wasted no time.

There were rocks dispersed in waves atop the deep bed of flax-colored sand. I have been a rock collector for many years as a way of taking bits of the larger world with me, back into the everyday-ness of my life. They are used in decorative displays when I return home. On this particular day I hunted for pieces the color of bone with an eggshell texture. I noticed clamshells among the stones, many of which had their mother-of-pearl lining still intact. The coolness of the water beckoned, and I gingerly immersed myself. It was bracingly brisk; each step deeper forced me to inhale sharply. The sand beneath my feet was rippled by the constant roll of the waves heading shoreward. The clarity of the water was a pleasant surprise, and I hunted for shells and stones in the shallows.

It was a pale day, and out on the horizon, sky and water became one. That softness seeped into my being, and flowed through me-- into the water, into the sky, into the swaying beach grass, and into the moments that stretched out before me. Like the stones in the palm of my hand, all hard edges were gone. And like the driftwood I collected later in the day, I'd been saturated.

You strolled out to me. The coldness of the water made you tense and stand on tip-toe. I coaxed you in deeper by saying I'd found a warm spot. None of us had dressed for a day at the beach. Coming here had been spontaneous when a girl in town suggested we visit this jewel of a park. Your cargo shorts were heavy with the weight of the water. The ruffled hem of my dress floated out around me. You kissed me-- water, waves, sand and sky surrounding us-- and we were timeless then, ageless. The constant march of time had ceased. It could have been 10,000 years ago or 10,000 years in the distance. Past, present and future merged into a single moment, and I knew then that is has always been you, the one I have been moving toward all these years, across all those lifetimes. Always you.

Together we began to dig up clamshells that had been buried in the sand. Their luminescent linings were prettier, in my mind, than any pearl has ever been. After your pockets were stuffed, we emerged from the water. In effort to dry out before getting back into the car, we decided to walk. I was on the hunt for driftwood. The sales clerk had told us that there was a hotspot for driftwood further down the beach. So we walked-- past splashing children, past young couples worshipping the sun, past stick-fetching dogs, and frizbee-playing men-- to the point where the land curved outward. We stepped through natural springs making their way to merge with the lake. We came upon a camp fashioned out of driftwood.

Some clever souls had crafted little huts and benches from planks that washed up on the shore. After taking a few photos, I scavenged a few curly pieces to add to my collection back home.

Driftwood amazes me with its lightness and perseverance. Despite all the storms its has weathered, it remains true to itself, although a bit softened and tattered-- a lesson in resilience.

Souveniers in tow, we headed back down the beach toward the friends and towels we'd left behind. We held hands, as we are wont to do, and strolled slowly, speaking little and yet fully in tune. By the time we got back, our friends were ready to leave. We gathered our belongings and bid this beachy paradise farewell. Back into the car we went, back down curving country roads , back past summer cottages and whispering pines toward our home away from home. The day's discoveries and mysteries were stowed safely in the trunk of our little car and in the sweetest corners of my mind.

Wishing you all the sweetness late summer can bear.

Until next time,


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