I’m smitten with this piece of architecture, this battered seawall. I’ve photographed it in all seasons. I love its jagged shapes and protruding planks, the way the incoming rush of a wave moves around or through it.
A few years ago it was in several feet of water. It didn’t have a chance then. The lake was gaining on its borders and there’s no stopping that. Nature says when she’ll give a reprieve, and she wasn’t in the mood to bargain.
As Lake Michigan continues to lower and the shoreline does its normal shifting and scalloping, this seawall is battered less and less. Someday soon, I hope, it’ll be mostly covered by sand, but I’ll keep photographing it until then.
I’m also still attempting to use up a shoebox full of film, much of it expired and of dubious quality. This was a lone roll of Lomography color 100, and I couldn’t tell you when I bought it. Maybe for that Iceland trip in 2018? It’s been carried around, left in hot places, and generally not treated well. The colors on this roll look a little blown out, but that’s okay. I like the pale hues here.
Yesterday, late afternoon, we left the toasty cottage to hike in the woods behind us. It was only meant to be a short hike, to have a look at the little lake that’s tucked into the trees back there. The woods would offer some protection from the wind that was picking up. When I was little, there was a trail that went all the way around that lake and I knew it like I knew my own image in the mirror. The spots where the trail kisses the edge of the lake, the clearing where local boy scout troops were allowed to camp, the marshy places where you needed to step carefully, the places where locals sometimes fished. The lake was filled with tiny frogs and fish and lily pads, and water skaters carved patterns on its surface. It was magical.
The land went through some ownership changes over the years, including a spell of logging and another spell of an owner who didn’t want anyone in there, so our access became limited. Now, though, a good part of it is owned by a conservancy, and I’m rediscovering it.
After we hiked the ridge that separates the dune from the woods, we made our way down to the water’s edge for our favorite view of the lake. On this occasion, we got to see three eagles soaring and dipping over the lake and into and out of the woods on the opposite end. Luckily, eagles are no longer a rare site here, but it’s never not breathtaking to see one (or three). So we watched for a while before moving on.
After that, we hiked off-trail toward the far end of the lake, noticing that it was getting darker and darker. And then the rain came, and with it a fierce wind that reminded us that the woods isn’t the smartest place to be, with old trees swaying and cracking, so we quickened our pace.
Once back up on the ridge, we could see how wild the weather had become. The wind pushed the remaining leaves from the trees up into the sky, where they danced and pitched and soared like the eagles we’d watched 30 minutes prior. But the sky was filled with them, like a murmur of starlings.
We pushed into the wind as we took our final steps back to the cottage, getting pelted by rain and sand and those soaring leaves, all to the deafening din of a now-roaring Lake Michigan.
The dune grasses on Lake Michigan go to seed in the fall. One variety shoots a tall wispy stalk of delicate seeds several feet above the grasses; another produces these thicker stalks, which are soft and sturdy and remind me a bit of a cat tail (but not the plant called cattail, or bullrush–I mean an actual cat’s tail). The grasses turn from a verdant green in summer to a rather striking golden straw color in the winter.
In the spring, the green shoots of new grasses poke their way up through the golden carpet. This carpet of old and new grasses just layers on top of itself, helping to stabilize the dune. It’s miraculous, I think.
I took this photo last winter on a short hike across the dune near the Little Sable Point Lighthouse with my Minolta SRT-102.
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.
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? 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.
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.
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.
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’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.
You can see a few more from the roll here, if you like.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)