Perhaps some of you might be surprised to know that my love of Lake Superior birthed on the shores of Lake Huron. Shall I share about my first love down in lower Michigan, that long arm of the Great Lakes reaching up?
During our recent book tour, Terri Bocklund sang of genius loci, the spirit of place. How the spirit of a certain place can draw us, inform us, dream us. (Visit her blog, here, to learn more of her love of Lake Superior.)
The rising spirit of a lake, or prairie, or mountain, might ignite our heart and create music through us. Or stories. Or deep connections which refuse logical arguments.
The boundaries between place and person might blur, as each gifts the other with precious beauty, creativity, delight.
So shall I speak now of Lake Huron, my first love?
My grandparents owned a cottage high on a bluff above this sandy lake in Forestville, Michigan, where I stepped in a cake on my first birthday. (Family photos declare this is true. A tiny Kathy steps in a pristine cake, shame on her, causing peals of laughter to echo decades later.)
We called a friend of my grandpa’s “Fred Petunia”. He ate a petunia petal in front of us kids one lazy summer afternoon while the waves pounded the beach and we lounged in the hammock, drowsy-eyed and ready to be entertained.
He announced the nourishment of petunias and we stared aghast as the petal fell into his open mouth and he swallowed.
No magician could have entertained us so! No Internet could have mesmerized us thus. We thought it unthinkable–that a grown man might eat a flower.
My grandpa sharpened silver knives on a grinding stone behind the cottage, whetting them with water, sharpening them just so.
He carried out the compost from Grandma’s kitchen with the dull knives and we stood, fascinated, as he worked the pedals of the grinding stone bike. Later, we wandered back on the property to a bridge he built and he told us tall tales, none of which I can remember.
I remember his hand holding mine.
I remember Grandma in her apron.
I remember the Weekly Readers which arrived in the summer, one each week, which I devoured whole, delighted in this world of words.
I remember the garter snakes which writhed on the hill down to the lake at certain times of year, scaring us to death, except for my brave brothers who pretended they didn’t care and sometimes waved a snake in an unsuspecting sister’s face.
I remember the ritual of the Flag. How Grandpa and Grandma reverentially carried the American flag out to the flagpole overlooking the lake. How we stood in silence as Grandpa pulled the flag up. How it meant we were THERE, at the lake, with the flag waving in the wind, signifying something more than our small presence.
I remember the foghorns of the freighters in the depth of night, consoling us, healing us, wrapping us with a sense of security in the cedar-smelling walls of the cottage.
I remember family movies of us buried in sand, only our heads and toes showing, our parents so young and laughing, so innocent.
And don’t you remember dancing to Oklahoma! musical on the huge 78 rpm records in the corner, feeling a delight larger than your eight years old? Don’t you remember that feeling that the world awaited you in grand magnificence like Oh What a Beautiful Morning and Surrey with the Fringe on Top?
Then I’m nine years old and our beloved dog, Buttons, all yippy bark and crazy energy, up and died on us here at the cottage, the safest place in the world.
He swallowed a fish bone from down on the sandy beach one fine July morning and choked and died.
Just like that, our Buttons perished.
I wept so many tears that Lake Huron flooded, or so it seemed to this third grader.
I wept so many tears and could not imagine a worse fate until early the following summer when They said, “We’re selling the cottage.”
And they sold the cottage, they sold Lake Huron out from under my freckled face, my sandy swimsuit, my wandering along the beach.
Years later, settled along the shores of Lake Superior, I still dreamed of Lake Huron. I dreamed of the loon-call of the freighters. I dreamed of Fred Petunia, the Weekly Readers, the grindstone, my beloved grandparents.
Night after night I dreamed, until one night, how many years ago? the dreams ceased, gently, like the softest of waves on a midnight eve.
Last week I visited my first love again. Oh, how he laps the shore with his Huron waves. Oh, how he still sings with birdsong and flowers. Oh, how Lake Huron still calls a portion of my heart with his rowboats and sandbars.
Do you have a place which still calls you, a first love of the earth, a place which you call home, even though you may have whispered goodbye oh-so-many years past?