ghost sail in fog

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sailboat and fog

A fog rolled in this morning and blurred the line between the lake and the sky in such a lovely, muted way. There have been boats all day so far, coming in and out of the fog. Some I can only hear the low hum of their motors; others, the tips of their sails peek out from the fog, like this one. Some seem to emerge fully from the fog only to be enveloped again.

I ventured down to the beach this morning to try to photograph the fog with my new pinhole camera. Because of the high water levels on the Great Lakes, our beach is slim (and on rough days there is no beach to be had at all). The stairs go down the bluff from the house, and then there is a short path that is carved through the prolific dune grass. The kayaks lie to the left of the path just as it drops to the beach. I paused for a minute there, for no good reason, and that’s when I realized that something was blocking my way… a short, thick, just-barely-darker-than-sand-colored snake, with no discernible markings. I’m not afraid of snakes, but I don’t exactly feel comforted by the fact that this one was just a few feet in front of my feet, and that this one, or one like it, could just emerge from the thick grasses onto the narrow path at any time. Of course I talked to it, asking it gently to move along, and it did in its own sweet time, in no rush at all. It didn’t seem threatened at all and moved under the kayaks and then back into the grasses.

a quiet house again

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After many weeks with my kids being here, and then various guests in and out, and then a week of extended family renting a cottage just a few doors down, I am now the only one in our cottage.

Aside from the dog, who is snoring on the couch as I write this.

I really loved having so many people around and catching up with extended family that I don’t see often enough. But I am kind of a loner by nature–I couldn’t wait for the peace and quiet, and now, well… it feels way too peaceful and quiet. I especially miss my kids–their banter, rousing conversation, just having them in the house again. I am sure I’m not the only one who gets exhausted by social interaction but misses it when it’s not available. What’s the secret to that, anyway? How do you marry the two? I’d really like to know.

Anyway, it’s a Monday and it’s back to work for me, albeit from my dining room table overlooking Lake Michigan, where this beautiful catamaran motored by in the late morning light under a bold blue sky and wispy clouds, close enough where I could just overhear the sailor’s voices from where I stood on the cottage deck.

The sky and the lake

It’s just too amazing here. I think in the city we forget to look at the sky. In the country, the sky demands review. Where I am on a bluff above Lake Michigan, it more than demands… it slaps you upside the head.

It must be the time of year, but the cloud formations right now are just amazing. Storms have been rolling though this week. Some stay out over the lake where you can just hear their low, rolling grumbles and catch a flicker of lightning out of the corner of your eye. Others come ashore, steamrolling, blowing deck chairs around like the weather gods have it out for deck chairs or something.

Two days ago the clouds got all puffy and twisty and rolling-hills-looking out over the water. Rain fell out of holes in the clouds out over the lake. One looked as if a funnel cloud was going to form, but fortunately never did.

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And yesterday this front came through. I love when the front of the storm looks like a tendril reaching across the sky, a pointed finger. This, too, dropped a little rain but only for a minute. The wind that came with it pressed the dunegrass nearly flat and whipped the lake into a frenzy, but again these effects were only a few minutes and the calm behind the front belied its intensity.

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And then this morning, clouds stretched like rays across the western sky over the lake, lit up from the east by the sunrise.

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Sun rays

Or, more accurate but less nice sounding, crepuscular rays, which I got to see after the sun set this evening and damn, they were fantastic. And yes, I had to look up the technical name for this phenomena (I hope I’m right… I think I am). I have seen it a few times but never quite as bold as it showed up tonight.

In fact, there were even anti-crepuscular rays going on, which converged right above my neighbor’s house. I’m not a natural phenomenon blogger here, so go look up crepuscular (and anti-crepuscular) rays yourself. But it’s rays. From the sun. And they’re totally awesome.

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Who could not be happy?

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oh, just another sunset on Lake Michigan

Is it normal to experience a bit of a depression after a vacation? Not like I have experience in this. I’ve only had what I would call a true vacation once, 10 years ago when my best friend and I went to Tuscany to celebrate the year we both turned 40. In the years before and since Italy I’ve had little trips, yes–long weekends, short weekends, a few days off at a time but not a “real vacation” until Peru a few weeks ago.

And even that is starting to feel more like a dream.

It is so refreshing to step away from work. I knew everything would be handled expertly so I didn’t worry. It felt amazing to experience a new place. But there’s a shift after something like that; everyday doesn’t feel quite the same. Like, there’s a little piece missing, a change of some sort, something is not quite right. It’s more than a little unsettling.

I’ve moved to the west side of Michigan for the summer and get to wake up on a bluff above Lake Michigan. I make coffee in the morning, feed the dog, settle in to my workday while she snores away on the couch. I break from work to walk her and see what the weather is doing. Like today, a north wind makes the air a little chill while the sun is warming if you’re out of the wind, like on the south side of the house or in the dips on the road behind the cottages. It’s quiet, peaceful, beautiful. Who wouldn’t be happy here? But this malaise, or post-travel funk, follows me on these walks, taps my elbow as I brush the sand off my feet when I come up from the beach.

With freedom, books, flowers, and the moon, who could not be happy?

I came across that quote yesterday, which is attributed to Oscar Wilde. I have freedom. And books. And oh there are flowers popping up everywhere. The moon is waxing right now and was bright and loud enough to make it hard to go to sleep last night. How could I not be happy? Yeah, it’s a little pitiful to feel sorry for myself here. Cue the violins and all that.

I’m sure I’ll shake off the funk any day now. A new photography project will help.

Frantic limbo

I’m right in between things.

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barn and field, Kodak Tri-X, Mamiya 645 1000s
leaning shed
leaning shed, Fuji Acros, Mamiya 645 1000s

In between a work trip. My film photography class is ending. Then a vacation to an unknown and, to me, exotic place. Then a move from town to the beach for the summer. And in the meantime I feel the unease of my kids as they finish their college terms. Does that part ever end, I wonder–the part where you feel the pain of whatever stress or difficulty your (albeit adult) children are going through? Somehow I don’t think I was totally prepared for that part of parenting.

Oh but who am I kidding? All the parts of parenting have surprised me. Why would I think that now, because they are grown, it should be any different?

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White River Light, Kodak Tri-X, Mamiya 645 1000s

In any case I feel such a sense of limbo right now. I’m trying to roll with it.

And speaking of rolls… I have been frantically shooting film like I have the budget of someone who has, well, a big budget for film. I’m a copy editor, after all, and last I checked no one ever said they wanted to go into copy editing to make the big bucks. But here I am buying and blowing through rolls of film like they’re free or something.

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creeping juniper, Ilford FP4, Minolta SRT 102
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new shoots on the forest floor, Ilford FP4, Minolta SRT 102

I have developed 22 rolls of black and white film for my class and will develop three more this week before the lab will be off limits. I had four rolls of color film developed in February; I’ve got five rolls of color film at a lab right now, and had two rolls of color film developed a few weeks ago. That’s 36 rolls of film shot and developed since January. Of nothing special, even. I could have far worse vices, right?

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orchard road, Fuji Acros, Holga

For my last class assignment I wanted to photograph a thing I love. The sand dunes at Silver Lake offer a shifting landscape that at times buries and other times unearths the ghostly treasures of its past. I’ll never tire of hiking these dunes and coming across these alien, sculptural roots and trunks of the trees that once forested this landscape. The light cooperated, but I found the resulting photos an interesting juxtaposition–these images look serene, but the wind was so fierce it nearly knocked me off the tops of some dune ridges and sand came out of my scalp for two days after I got home.

I still have so many more to scan, and a few might show how windy it really was.

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resting under a live tree, Ilford FP4, Minolta SRT 102
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alien on the dune, Fuji Acros, Mamiya 645 1000s

Desolate dunes

There is something I love about being in a huge space all by myself.

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On Saturday I walked a short, wooded trail that opened up onto the Silver Lake dunes, not the spot where I usually go but an area closer to the lighthouse. The dune grass was prolific here and is a gorgeous warm, golden color right now–nothing like the vibrant green of midsummer. I thought it was a beautiful contrast to the sometimes stormy sky that was occasionally letting loose with lovely, light flakes of snow.

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From the top of the first dune I climbed, I was treated to these amazing vistas, Lake Michigan in the distance and rolling, grassy dune criss-crossed with paths, either made by humans or by the many resident deer. The clouds sometimes opened and the sun peeked through, lighting up changing sections of the dune before me.

I didn’t see another soul as I hiked toward the area where the dune buggies race all summer long. This is among the things that I love most–being the sole inhabitant of this spacious land, now filled with the natural sounds of wind through the dried grasses, tugging on the remaining leaves that crinkle and tap against dry branches, roaring lake in the distance. It’s exhilarating. I can be alone here for hours and never feel lonely.

How can you be lonely with the wind whispering love poems in your ear?

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Aside from the vistas that stretch out from atop a dune, there are low sections of trees and plants that love these sandy areas. And of course ghosts of the trees that once were. I’ll never get tired of seeing these, the trunks and former root structures of these formerly living trees. They’re majestic now, sun-bleached and wind-whipped and topsy-turvy. They tell stories. Tall tales.

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I love the changes in color, too. This low, earthy growth turns shades of gray and warm gold where in the summer it’s a lush, deep green. During my hike it held oak and poplar leaves from the nearby trees in its grasp, and tiny pockets of snow.

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Red stands out, and this red–some earthy growth both on the ground and on this stump–was easy to miss until I noticed it. And then it seemed to be everywhere.

And then camera batteries die and fingers and toes and noses get mighty cold, and it’s time to remember that you’re not part of the landscape here, and you must go back to a warm cottage and cement the sounds of the wind on the dune and the images of golden vistas and roots reaching skyward into your brain until the next venture.

Coming to Terms with the Dead

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I nearly step on its body,
the small bird that the wave pushes rolling and tumbling ungracefully
as a watery offering toward my feet on the shore.

I see more as I walk, first five in close proximity
and then six, seven, nine, twelve dead birds in open shore-graves
until I can count no more and turn back to the cottage, weeping.

I recognize them as the swallows that nest in holes dug into the sandy cliffs
that form too close to the water, cliffs which were battered by yesterday’s storms
and the wild waves and wind that erode the shoreline.

I wonder if these dead are mourned—if the birds I see now
darting along the beach as I walk home are searching, frantic,
for the holes they built not long ago to nest their young?

My footprints disappear as quickly as I leave them,
the depressions in the sand fill instantly and without fanfare;
a reminder of my own impermanence and the lake’s dispassion.

There is no rescuing to be done;
I can pluck a struggling moth or two from death for today, and dry my tears.
The lake carries on.

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September sky

Where did this month go?

Honestly, September flew by. Didn’t it just start? I had too much on my to-do list this month, only some of which got done (I guess I have a few more days to work on that). Slow down, September. What’s your rush, anyway? Where’s the fire (as my mother would say)?

But here at the end of this month, I just can’t get over the sky. September sky, particularly a big, wide open view over a great big body of water… well, it kind of can’t be beat.

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sky + lake = heaven
The ocean, the sea? I bet they are as gorgeous. I’d like to spend more time getting to know them. But the Great Lakes come pretty close.

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blue and white as far as you can see
I sound like a broken record. I feel like a broken record. I step out onto the deck multiple times during my workday to record this gorgeousness, either with my camera or just by trying to create an imprint on my brain, my soul.

Particularly in the last several days, the wind has been wild and the waves huge, crashing, like lumbering giants that roll over each other, bumbling. It’s mesmerizing.

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dunegrass in detail; wild waves and clouds

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pink mini stormcloud

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lit up
Maybe October will hang out a little longer, move a little slower, let us savor it a bit longer. We can hope. Or, maybe we have to be proactive and demand it. The midwest turns vibrant in October–I will try to savor the burst of color before the winter moves in.

Being still

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I haven’t ventured far from the cottage this week. Sometimes it’s not so bad to be still and mostly quiet, to sit in one’s place, face the things that need doing or need thinking about.

It has its rewards, like noticing the ever-changing shades of the water from moment to moment, the shifting shapes of the clouds, the call of the crow that frequents the tallest pine near the house, the warning pain above my left eye that foreshadows a pressure shift or coming storm.

I drove out the other evening, and when I came back to the house in darkness I surprised two young deer in the dunegrass just next to the house. My headlights made them visible for only a moment before they moved out of view, but later as I stepped onto the deck to commune with the stars I heard the sound of their breathing and rustling in the grass, and felt reassured by their nearness.