Posts tagged: Lake Michigan
(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)
Following the main street through the center of Fish Creek, Wisconsin, on the western shore of the Door Peninsula, I stopped at the literal end of the road and stared out at the blue-white ice-skimmed surface of Green Bay.
Sunset Beach Park is as far as you can go.
A hundred yards or so to my right, out on the frozen shoreline of the bay, there were three people setting up cameras and tripods and occasionally their voices, scraps of conversation or a sudden burst laughter, carried to where I was standing. But for the most part, I was wrapped in cold winter silence.
Of course, winter isn’t really silent at all. Even snowflakes make a sound when enough fall together. And as I sat on the curving stone wall looking over the cobbled beach, I began to notice the occasional sharp fracturing sound of the ice as it moved, edge against frozen edge.
The park, aptly named, faces due West and provides a expansive view of the sunset and I imagine in summer, high season for the peninsula, when small towns swell with tourists and part-time residents, there is always a crowd at the end of the day. But it was still an hour to sunset on a cold February day, when the temperature was dropping with the sun, and still the view was irresistible. Minute by minute the colors of the sky changed.
Suddenly the quiet was broken by the chatter and squeals of three teenage girls. They’d been strolling shoulder to shoulder down to the beach but when they saw the way the clouds surrounding the sun were stained, and shafts of light were streaking across the water toward them or shooting straight up, piercing the cloud cover like searchlights trained on the sky, they forgot whatever they’d been discussing and ran headlong down to the shore and out to the dangerous edge of the brittle iceline. The mother in me reacted and I almost called out to them to be careful. I could imagine their response, noticing for the first time the woman they’d hurried past, rolling their eyes at my warning. I held my breath as they danced and laughed.
“Ohmygod, Ohmygod,” they called out, posing for one photograph after another, taking turns behind the camera. “This is so beautiful.”
“ Take one of me like this.”
“No, take one of me.”
By then, as if summoned to a meeting, a few more people had joined me at the park and cars were pulling over. On the ice, half a dozen serious photographers jostled for position, some setting up in one spot only to abruptly move to another- a better-angle for taking the perfect photograph. Other people simply pulled out cellphones and held them up, ready for the moment when the color would peak.
As we all stood there, watching the sun move slowly, inexorably, to the edge of the horizon, washing the entire western sky in a deep pink, I thought about what primal drive compels us to stop for sunrises and sunsets and to record them if only in memory. Whatever it is, spiritual call or instinct, I was, in that moment, aware of its presence and grateful for it.
It has to be a good sign, don't you think? Evidence that no matter where progress and time are taking us, we are, at heart, still connected to the natural world. On a raw Wisconsin winter day, we are held by its gravity and pulled by its beauty enough to make our way down to the shore to stand and wait, to celebrate the gift of the sun that paints the sky with fire.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. In addition to her Home Planet , Treasure Hunting and CAMera: Travel and Photo blogs, her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
(photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)
The wind slipped cold, cruel fingers down my collar and teased at the heavy scarf around my neck and it fluttered and danced around my face as I walked carefully down the slushy sidewalk. The afternoon sun was high and bright but the temperature was still bitingly cold.
I’d been wandering in and out of the shops that line the main street of Traverse City, Michigan, looking for some kind of token to bring home with me. Valentine’s Day was coming.
I picked up a few things as I shopped: jam made from Michigan cherries, a postcard, a pair of gloves. But nothing carried the true weight of what I wanted to say.
Finally, running out of time, I turned off the main street and walked toward the shore of the Lake.
As I navigated the path, I was careful to avoid the iciest patches. The deep snow formed a high white wall around the edge of the lake and I noticed there were no other footprints. A few cars were parked at the edge and the occupants were protected as they ate their lunches and gazed out at the water, but no one else was foolish enough to get out and face the relentless cold.
I stood there, open to the wind that poured across the lake freezing everything in it’s path. My face was numb, my eyes watered. My toes and fingers ached.
The deep azure color of the lake, rimmed by snowy beaches and green hills, flowed up toward the sky in bands of blue broken only by small clouds. There was a skim of ice on the water closest to the shore and for a few minutes I watched a pair of swans, side-by-side, floating languidly in the frigid water. I remembered reading that swans mate for life and wondered, again, if it is true.
Finally, surrendering, I pushed my hands deeply into my pockets and started to turn away but stopped when the pair of swans moved. As I watched, in a slow, subtle, water-ballet, the pair turned slightly toward one another, long necks gracefully arched, heads pointed down to the water, swimming breast to breast. And for a moment, at least from where I was standing, the space between them formed the shape of a perfect heart.
Swans live their lives the same way so many humans do, it’s just that our seasons are longer. We court in the spring, have our young in the summer and in the winter, after the young have left the nest, we are content to swim alone, close to our mate for comfort and company.
My fingers were cold and too slow to bring out my camera and by the time I pressed the shutter the swans had turned away. But I had found my Valentine.
I was looking for a card or a gift but it took a pair of wild winter swans to show me the way. This Valentine's Day, all I really want to say is that when we are winter birds, I will still be here. I will always be the other half of the heart.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at email@example.com