the lake’s retreat

old jetties, Lake Michigan (Minolta SRT-102, Kodak Portra 160)

Unceremoniously, the Great Lakes are in retreat. Some normalcy in what feels like a very un-normal world. I’m celebrating, but quietly, lest the climate gods and goddesses think I’m taunting them. In other good news here on the Lake Michigan shoreline:

  • there’s a ton of milkweed growing
  • I haven’t had to pluck a tick off myself yet this year
  • the family of eagles living nearby are thriving
  • my neighbor’s construction is done
  • either there are more birds than usual, or I’m just noticing them more (some are a bit much, like the crow that woke me up tapping and cawing from my roof early one morning this week–but most are just chatty)
  • I’m forcing myself out of a creative rut
  • there are fresh sweet cherries to be had today
  • I’m actually taking a week off of work (which feels indulgent but also necessary)

I sent a few rolls of film to the lab last month, which felt good because it meant I used my favorite cameras and I actually had some time and energy to get out and photograph. Is it just me, or is everyone exhausted? I’m so tired lately I feel like the world is starting to pass me by. I’m not even sure I feel bad about this. Anyway.

I used a roll of Cinestill 800T in my Mamiya C220 in May, I think, or maybe it was late April even, on a hike in the woods behind the cottage, an experiment with my friend Jane while she simultaneously shot a roll on the other side of the state. It was a gray evening and we had a project in mind, but I ended up thinking I’d completely ruined the roll and expected only a few images to come from it. This camera is finicky; if I don’t forward the film slowly and carefully, it doesn’t catch where it should and I over-advance, which means I get fewer (sometimes MANY fewer) than the 12 frames per roll that it should deliver. I could maybe get someone to repair this, but there’s something I love about the quirks and constraints of a finicky camera. I mean, I’ve got my quirks, too, and I don’t want anybody fixing them.

I happen to love the starkness of these two images and the light leaks. Some of the other images from this roll were over-exposed or just boring. But I love these two.

bound (Mamiya C220, Cinestill 800T)
reach (Mamiya C220, Cinestill 800T)

tonight’s findings

a small piece of driftwood; a flat, oblong stone; a gull’s feather

the heady scent of lilacs as a monarch drifts over the blooms
the sand, still warm from the day
the breeze twisting, twirling my long hair
the lake, not too cold for bare, brave, knowing feet
the sandy, wet puppy, who is not interested in me
the older dog, who lets my hand gently drift across her back
the dog owners, who smile and tell me their names, which I promptly forget
the blue sky that was just a moment ago gray
the wispy cloud that, when I notice it, mirrors the shape of the dune beneath it
the cloud that looks like the softest, sweetest lamb’s coat
the sun as the clouds soften its landing into the lake
the breeze as it begins to chill
the nearly full moon as it bursts onto the scene

what do we do?

Seriously.

What do we do? What do we write, or say, or create? Are we allowed to be happy amidst the misery and uncertainty of a global pandemic? Can we make plans for the future?

I haven’t written since early February and while I was already feeling plenty of uncertainty then, now everyone, everywhere, is feeling a level of uncertainty. Unprecedented. My husband chides me for using this word. “If I have to hear ‘unprecedented’ or ‘the new normal’ again…” (he finishes this statement with various and sometimes dramatic endings). We are all tired of the commercials, the corporate messages, the politics, and yet they continue.

And we are the lucky ones, with a house and food and jobs to busy ourselves, for now, anyway. When my mind wanders to those without these things, I don’t know what to do with the ache.

There is a pause happening in the world–a musical conductor with her baton poised, ready to begin the piece of music that just isn’t written yet, with instruments and musicians not yet materialized.

I shot a few rolls of film in February and early March, and then as this pandemic grew I froze. I put the cameras away, stopped writing. And that didn’t feel right, or make any sense, and I still have a shoebox (well, a hiking boot box) full of film, so the cameras have come out again. And the watercolors. And the pens and notebook. And I’m venturing into creative outlets again, and even if sometimes for a moment I feel selfish about that, it feels right and it makes sense out of the things that don’t make sense, and for that I’m grateful.

For those of us that have a strong need to feel control over things, we will have to learn to give up some of that in this new world. We still have to be strong for others, and we have to plan for futures that may or may not materialize, and we have to be okay with not knowing.

Right now, little white flowers called sand cress are blooming all over the open dunes. Fresh green shoots of dune grass are popping up amid the pale yellow grasses from last summer. The fern shoots are shoving their way into the sunlight and I will be here to hike on the ridge and watch them unfurl in the coming days. The trillium, I hope, will not have suffered from the recent polar vortex and will carpet the forest floor soon. Pandemic or not, overfull Great Lakes or not, these things continue. There is reassurance in this.

In February, when we were not worried about a virus but were very much worried about Lake Michigan’s rising waters, our diminishing protective bluff, and the impending decisions to be made about saving the cottage, I shot a few rolls of black and white film in the Minolta SRT-102, experimenting with some old Cokin filters. I shot the lighthouse with this ridiculous filter that has pink and yellow and red dots all over it and an eye shape in the center, with a clear “iris.” I tried to find samples on flickr and elsewhere but I don’t think anyone has found a good use for this filter, at least not with color film, so I tried it with black and white film and, well, I kind of love what it did to the Little Sable Point Lighthouse.

Little Sable Point Lighthouse, black and white film, and Cokin spot filter

I still have decisions to make about the cottage–big ones. The Great Lakes are still rising, and the future is pretty damn uncertain. But, I’m going to keep searching for ways to move through this.

frozen

I’m a little frozen, and not in the “it’s winter in Michigan sense” but in the sense of being overwhelmed with all that is life. This isn’t uncommon for me–I’m fairly easily overwhelmed outside of my professional life.

I’m not sure why, but work is the easy part. And, my work is busy–sometimes crazy busy–but it comes innately to me. Life is a different story. When I have too many balls in the air, so to speak, I have a hard time managing. I’ve had too many balls in the air for a few months now. Emotional balls, big life decision balls, money balls. I am realizing that I’m most content when things are humming comfortably along, with no crises to manage or fires to extinguish. I like comfort, probably too much. Being so drawn to it has made me near incapable of managing the zingers anymore.

Life lessons don’t fit into that comfort-seeking behavior, however, and here I am staring down the barrel of taking on the financial obligation of the cottage that I love so much. That part I’ve been ready for, the ownership and what comes with that. The part I was not prepared for, but that I feared was coming and is in fact here, is the expense of saving the house from becoming a victim to the rising lake.

I spent the summer stewing about this, worried and waiting for neighbors to catch up with me on the worry front. The very bottom section of our beach stairs, a temporary and cheap homemade build as the low bluff began to disappear and the first cliff appeared, needed to be pulled up as there was no safe place for it. The low stairs we built in the 1980s (after the record-high water level began to subside) appeared from beneath the sand and I hoped we could use those all winter. But the next storm in October swept those away. The next section of stairs disappeared in the wild waves later that month; a mid-section in November, and by late December the upper stairs were loose and then gone in January.

The platform that was the top of our beach stairs remains now, with nothing beneath it, in a lopsided half-hold, its last gasp.

I know about coming and going. I know about the Great Lakes and their interconnected nature, the ebb and the flow. I know about the Army Corps of Engineers and their monthly reports on the water levels. I know about the news stories and the houses that have fallen in, or are torn down just before they are about to plummet. The desperation of homeowners trying to subdue something that cannot be subdued.

The predictions for the lake levels are dire for 2020. Many cottages along the shoreline are in trouble. Did we court this by building so close to the water? Maybe. We tempted the lake, and in repayment for our enjoyment of her shoreline, she is knocking on our doors. Some are building seawalls, walls of cement, layers of giant boulders. I would rather get out of her way, and that’s where my decision leans. With such an unstable bluff, however, and not much room to spare, my hope is that we can hold on until spring, when a move can happen.

2017
last week

Even with the upheaval and the concerns about finances to pay for this move, a friend asked me to go with her to Sedona in the spring to hike and commune with nature, and I said yes to red rocks and desert air and sights I’ve never seen. This is something to look forward to. And my cameras have been a little lonely, so I’m excited to choose one or two to take with me.

I’m sending two rolls of film off to the lab on Monday and I can’t even remember what might be on one of them. The other I shot of beautiful ice formations on the beach last weekend. There is beauty even in the devastation, at least.

I don’t know where I am when I wake up sometimes

I’ve meant to get back to those last rolls I shot on the west side and I’ve just been so busy. Busy at work, busy being busy, busy avoiding things, busy with things I don’t feel like doing but must do. You know. Or maybe you don’t (lucky you).

I’ve been missing my dog. I know it takes time, but I miss having her near me. I miss hearing her breathe. There is a lot I don’t miss about how her last several years were, but I feel a bit lost without her. There are moments of tears that surprise even me.

Last week was a whirlwind of work meetings in California, then a long weekend on a mountaintop near Ukiah, spent with an old friend plus strangers who now feel like family. I felt mothered for a weekend, and I haven’t felt mothered in a long time. I didn’t realize how much I’ve missed this, either. Maybe it’s not true for everyone, but to be cared for is such a treat. I want to have this and to provide this. If you come to stay at my house, I want to make you feel this way. It was nourishing, and I am grateful.

I still feel like I’m recovering from the trip. I left a sunny, hot mountaintop to come back to an early winter and six inches of snow. This week in Michigan was gray, dull, cold, a sharp contrast to the sun and brilliant colors of the changing leaves on fields of grapevines blanketing the valleys and hillsides of California. It’s been a rough re-entry. After travel and several beds, and the summer at the cottage and the fall back-and-forth from home and the cottage, I often have to get my bearings when I wake up each morning. I’m not quite sure where I am for a minute or two. And I’m enjoying that, really. There’s a moment of dream state and a realm of possibilities before I know where I am settled.

But I meant to get back to those rolls of film I shot in September, and so here are some photos I took on the I guess not-so-newly released Kodak Ektachrome. Gosh, it’s pretty, the cool, saturated colors of this slide film. I walked through the woods with it loaded in my favorite camera, the Minolta SRT-102, and took my time with it, waiting for colorful sunsets and clouds over the lake.

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You can see a few more from the roll here, if you like.

rising waters

Both literally and figuratively. I’m paddling hard here.

Lake Michigan is high. I mean, all the Great Lakes are high. Polar ice caps are melting, oceans are rising, we’re toasting up this blue ball we live on here and the news isn’t good. But I’m not tackling all that. I’m just one person in one little cottage atop a bluff on Lake Michigan, and that lake is getting closer.

That’s the literal bit.

The figurative bit is that it’s been a rough summer. It was different, sharing close quarters with my dad. I think we did ok but there were bumps for sure. And, I lost my sweet old dog in early September. It was for the best, but I’m still bruised and missing her. Things are going on with my kids and my husband, too, but those aren’t my stories to tell. It’s interesting, parenting grown people. The things I worried about when they were little make me laugh a bit now. If I’d known the challenges of parenting adults I might have softened up a bit back then.

Hindsight is 20/20 though, right? Or so they say.

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Anyway, I sent seven rolls of a variety of films off to the lab a bit more than a week ago. Here are images from one of those rolls, Ilford FP4+ shot on my Mamiya C220.

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Silver Lake State Park is just a few miles from me. Most people think of the park as a place to go dune buggy riding, and that’s probably what it’s most known for. But I like it for the landscape. And I like it best off season when I can hike all of it, not just the areas relegated for foot traffic. Plus, I feel like I’m the only one out there off-season–just me and 3,000 acres of dunes and woods. The dune buggy season ends at the end of this month, so I’m really looking forward to visiting again soon.

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I love shooting here. I can shoot the same piece of driftwood a hundred times or year after year–I swear it’s different every time. The sands shift, the wind covers one piece and unearths another. These skeletons of old trees are gorgeous sculptural elements on this vast, shifting landscape. I can never get enough and so I will keep going back.

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late July and I’m thinking too much, maybe

private property
PRIVATE PROPERTY

I’m pretty sure my husband does not read this blog, because a) I don’t know him to be the blog-reading type and b) I don’t write about bikes or cycling, which is pretty much the thing that he loves best (and I have no issues with this–we each have our “things”). And I don’t talk about him here because he’s a private guy and he’d think it’s cheesy and all that. Maybe I’ve written about him once or twice in the context of us being married for a really long time and that we might know a little something about being married a long time. Or maybe that he’s good at a lot of things. And smart. But that might be it.

But things are changing in our lives, and some of those changes have been challenging but some have also been pretty enlightening and overall good in the scheme of life-things. We just spent a week together, which might sound weird because we are married, but we’ve been mostly living apart since late May, so the week together, alone, was a little different but so very regenerating. Marriages are hard, maybe particularly so with independent types (and maybe by independent I actually mean stubborn, but we’ll leave it at independent for now). When he left today it hit me that I don’t show him or tell him that I appreciate him enough. I’m going to work on that. I’m not exaggerating when I say he’s been a rock, particularly in the last year and a half. I’m not sure I deserve any of it.

foggy road
foggy road

I mentioned it a few posts back but in late June I shot a roll of Portra 400 on a foggy morning, driving alone through the back roads around the cottage. The land looked really mystical and I hoped the shots would be even more foggy looking, but overall I really liked most of them.

dew, asparagus plant
dewy asparagus plant at edge of foggy orchard

Also, a few days ago I enrolled in a creative writing class for this fall. My minor in college was fiction writing and I’ve dabbled before and since, have always written poetry and essays and bits of this and that. It’ll be interesting to do it again in a class and get feedback and critique again. I miss that exchange. I’m excited and ready for it.

lines and fog
power lines, vines, fog

Tonight I shot two rolls of black and white film in the garden at Cherry Point Market, which smelled amazing and was teeming with buzzing bees and zipping hummingbirds. Black and white partly on a whim, but also because I’m committed to putting a dent in the shoebox full of film I have going on (don’t make me count. It’s a lot.) So tonight I shot a roll of TMax 100 and used a macro lens on my Minolta X-700 with a cheapy close-up filter on top of that for most shots. I also shot a roll of Fomapan 100, a film I haven’t tried yet, on the Mamiya C220, mostly getting really close to herbs and flowers and hoping upon hope I framed things the way I wanted but who knows? Close ups with that camera remain mind-boggling, but I keep trying.

barn in fog
red barn and fog
grounded steeple in fog
steeple, fog

Anyway, I kind of can’t believe it’s already late July. Storms came through the last few days and Lake Michigan just mowed down more of the bluff in front of our cottage. We (and by “we” I mean mostly the rock I mentioned earlier in this post) had to right and reset the beach stairs. The former post that marked the high water of the 1980s washed away, so we don’t have much bluff to work with here. The chicory and the queen anne’s lace are beginning their roadside takeover. The wild rose bush is at its peak. It’s high summer.

(You can see a few more shots from this roll here.)

jetties

Lake Michigan, Mamiya C220, Lomography Lomochrome Purple

The “poor man’s jetties” we called them, driven into the sandy shore,
pipes and discarded tires as wayward sentinel stood
in theory to protect and build the shoreline.

They did their job,
buried for decades and only half forgotten, a hazy dream.

But none of us, not rich nor poor own the lake, the dune, the shore
and the jetties unearth, gloating like an age-old secret,
a reminder that nature, always always, is in charge.

The seaglass tide reveals our folly
and everything else we buried, sun-bleached, water-washed, anew.

I wade into the lake, dizzy in the musty water on a steamy summer Wednesday, contemplating my own jetties, attempts to shore up my barriers against what might be revealed when nature advances.

gently, gently

I’m trying so hard to be gentle on myself and those around me. Really, I am. Watching my dog decline by the day is hard; so is trying to work in a place where everyone else is vacationing. I’m counting all my blessings, but I’m also allowing myself the feelings because how can I not? I have more responsibilities right now–to my dad, to my dog, to the people I love. I’m getting snippets of time for me, and I’m going to have to make the most of them right now. It all changes. This will change.

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new growth

I have shot a few rolls of film but am waiting until I have a few more before I send them to be developed. In the meantime, I’m writing when something pops into my head. Sometimes it’s just a phrase and sometimes it develops into something else. I’m painting with watercolors, abstracts and I’m drawing over top of them sometimes and learning how things work and making all the mistakes and loving it. There is a soul-stirring that happens when I look through a lens or dip a brush into water and then a color and touch it to paper. It’s healing and recharging and soothing and magic all at once. It’s therapeutic in such a profound way.

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new pine cones

My daughter spent a week and a half here at the cottage; her boyfriend came for half of that; my son and his girlfriend were here a few days; my husband was here; my dad was present when he wanted to be part of the fray and then did his own thing when he didn’t. We ate and drank and talked over each other and I reveled in all of it, except the decision-making parts (like meals) and soaked up the love. They’ve all gone and the quiet, well, I love quiet. But the transition is tough, and I miss my kids and husband.

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fern leaf from above
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fern leaf from side

It really only started to feel like summer a week ago. Lake Michigan warmed up enough to let people in (or, to let me in specifically; I’ve become a cold water wimp). The fourth happened, and I get more and more crusty on the whole fireworks thing. My dog is already distressed enough these days and watching her panic with the explosive onslaught of fireworks all up and down the beach was brutal. Things are blooming, I mean really blooming–pink, purple, yellow, white, clovers and fleabane and sweetpea and daisies and the tiger lilies, which I think might be a little late here this year. The cherries are getting ripe and I think blueberries will be soon, too.

Mid-June, with the two rolls of film from the last two posts, I also had developed a roll of Portra 400 ISO that I shot in my Minolta SRT-102, of plant life just in the driveway of the cottage. Ferns and evergreens mostly, but also this swirly cloud formation that I couldn’t get enough of. New growth, fresh greens.

The valley just behind our cottage and all our neighbor’s cottages is filled with evergreens. We planted some of these decades ago, just after our cottage was built. I believe the DNR either sold (cheaply) or gave out 100 tiny trees to whoever wanted them, I think in the mid-1970s. My brother and I and neighbors took these plants, dug little holes into the welcoming sand, and popped them in. They’re two or more stories tall now.

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fresh pine growth
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swirly clouds framing old tree

Anyway. It’s late as I write this. The dog has finally settled after doing her nightly pacing and panting. I’m writing this, and will set up the coffee for the morning and step out onto the deck to say goodnight to the half-moon, leave windows and doors open because it’s a warm night, and climb into bed.

we can’t be mad at the fog

As a child I remember foggy mornings on Lake Michigan; waking up to the foghorns of freighters and stepping onto the deck to feel the chill of the moist air. I don’t remember, however, so very many days of fog. Maybe because we weren’t here in May and early June back then?

Either way, it seems more foggy here in recent years. The fog rolls in and stays, laying down a chill blanket that obscures the lake and shrouds the woods behind us. When you drive or walk inland as little as a quarter mile you’d never know as the sun shines cheerfully and blue skies prevail. We can’t be mad at the fog for hiding our surroundings–it has its own cool beauty.

It’s late afternoon and I’m breaking from work to write for just a moment. A sleeping cat on the chair to my right; a snoring dog on the couch to my left. It’s warm enough to have the sliding door open to the deck, and outside I hear a foghorn call every minute or so from one boat, getting louder and closer with each minute now, as well as the sounds of multiple birds and the buzzing of insects.

Our former neighbor Adeline is long gone, but her lilacs–even though they were chopped all the way down last year–have grown back and are just blooming. I like to think of Adeline, standing on her cement slab porch in her robe with an ever-present cigarette hanging from her lips, maybe shouting for her shovel because a snake is slithering across the slab, or laughing her gruff, hearty laugh. She was both rough and gentle and her lilacs, baby’s breath, and lily of the valley planted along the driveway and between our houses keep coming back, year after year, a testament to the past and a sweet reminder of persistence and grit melded with beauty and softness.

And now the sun is shining through the fog and I see sparkles on the lake again, the foghorn is getting distant, the dog is demanding an afternoon walk and I’ll have to get back to work.