I can be standing on the sand at the edge of Lake Michigan in less than a mile from my house. The distance has gotten a tad shorter due to the winter storms, high water level and lack of ice build-up this year. The water has chomped at the sand all winter long, biting off huge chunks of beach, taking it back into its stormy sea. The lake giveth and the lake taketh away.
In Southwest Michigan we live and breathe the seasons. We have four seasons, and each has a distinct character. Summer features calm waters, cool breezes and temperate sunny days. We have the occasional storms but mostly the lake is a gentle giant in the summer. It is the season that Michiganders hunger for during the long winter and the fickle and stubborn spring. Fall brings lovely crisp temps but raging storms that whip around my house with hurricane-force. Sometimes I wonder if my house will hold. Being almost a hundred years old, I suppose she’s seen more than her fair share of Lake Michigan winds.
Winter, of course, is most of the time raw. The winter before last was so cold that it killed fruit trees across the region. This winter I never shoveled snow at all. The lake never froze over. It was a winter that lay sleepily at our feet. But the winds of fall only escalate into the ferocious winds of winter. It is wild watching the snow blow and the waves crash into the ice banks that typically line the shore of Lake Michigan for as far as you can see. While it’s dangerous for people to walk on those banks, people still do it anyway. They seem so small amid the frozen hills and valleys that inevitably form as waves crash and freeze. Thousands of ships have gone down in Lake Michigan in the winter. She shakes her fist at us.
Spring can be long and sleepy. Winter reluctantly sleeps but keeps waking up to show she’s still alive. I was wearing a parka to walk my dog less than a week ago, and yesterday I could have worn shorts. Winter and Summer spar during spring. Stubbornly, flowers make their way past the fighting. Foliage bursts into view. Yesterday was the first day I noticed the forest here full of green. She had a slow, long start this year, but she is here – just in time for the first day of summer.
One day Lake Michigan is beautiful in her anger, and the next day she rests like a sleeping baby. I can hear the waves a mile away when a storm is brewing. I was running the other day, and the surface of the lake was smooth as glass. She is so easy to love when she is quiet and still. But isn’t she much more interesting when she is taking charge and pushing her boundaries? I love an angry sea. My heart beats faster when the wind is whipping my hair and the cold bites into my skin. I scream in awe at the majesty of her wrath.
I’m not even a water person. I’m more of a land-loving mountain goat. But this lake sits here in such close proximity, and she’s just so damn interesting. I wonder what she thinks of us humans who dare to think we can tame her or keep her in her place. She must be inspired by our love and angered by our disrespect. Or maybe she doesn’t care at all. After all, she was here long before we got here and will be here long after we are gone. We are but a speck in the sands of time.