Once More to the Lake

“In talking to others, I have come to believe that  . . .  some lonely spot, some private nook, some glen or streamside-scene impressed us so deeply that even today its memory recalls the mood of a lost enchantment.” So writes Edwin Way Teale, a mid-20th-century nature writer. For Teale, he can never return to those “lost woods of childhood.”

On this trip west to Oregon, I have returned to my “lost woods”: Dune Acres, a small community in the Indiana Dunes, nestled next to Lake Michigan. Dune Acres is where my father grew up, and where he set his third novel, At The Shores. His father built a cabin there at the height of the depression, and my father grew up between sand dunes and backstroking out into Lake Michigan. Summers, we visited the grandparents. For me and my sister, the Dunes were pure fun: popsicles in the fridge, games of cut the pie and flashlight tag with the neighbor kids, and sleep outs in the dunes. To return to such a magic place is, of course impossible, because those childhood days of no cares are gone forever. But the place itself: it was there and I wanted to see the changes. Better still: old friends opened their doors.

Smoke stacks in Gary down the lakeWhen I arrived, I crept down the main road that leads into the Dunes. My father used to pick up speed at this point, the roads his and familiar. We were tossed about in the back seat of the VB bug, then the Dodge Dart. But I wanted to savor the marsh before the woods, the curve on to East Road, the uphill onto Circle Drive. But the driveway to my grandparent’s house: shorter and really not so steep, and the house itself half the size of my memory.

I stood on the porch of my friends’ house, looking out on the wind tossed lake, white caps formed as waves rolled in. The lake extended to the horizon--I keep wanting to call it the ocean--and there met a pink, blue gray sky, a bank of clouds. The water was a gray green with a lighter green swatch far out. That always meant a sandbar, and when we were kids we used to swim or wade out, standing knee-deep a hundred yards into the water.

To the west and south, I saw the sparkle of towering buildings in Chicago. A few Ring-billed Gulls floated like balloons in the  gray gray sky. I turned into the house to find a half dozen beds to choose from, a puzzle half made. My friends had clearly recreated this house so that their children could live with the magic of sand and water. The enchantment is not gone. Maybe Teale is wrong, maybe once a place is enchanted it is so forever, can never be lost.

On the beach, ice formed, small balls encasing sand. In the summer there were alewives that piled up, marinating to a stink in the hot sand. All these years later, I still wonder what killed those fish? I looked down at the frozen sand, remembering searching for “Indian beads,” small stones hollowed out in the middle that we could string together in a necklace. Then I looked up and almost laughed: so close were the smokestacks of industry in Gary, just down the beach. Had I ignored them as a child, splashing in the docile waves of the lake? The blowout, the rolling sand dunes where we played our finest games, did not take a day to cross but twenty minutes, side stepping all of the native grasses that have come in to secure the sand. Ecologically this is a good thing but clearly no children play in these dunes anymore. New houses crowded the edge of the dunes. Maybe Teale is right, the lost woods are lost forever.

Dune grasses covering the blowoutI spent the morning catching up and reminiscing with my friends--no time had passed, the wrinkles there but our laughter the same. Then I walked out the road, still narrow and sand dusted. There, heard the plaintive cry of a Red-shouldered Hawk perched high tree in a tree. I realized I did not have any bird song to accompany my memories, not the coo of Mourning Doves or the dee dee of the Chickadee.  And so here was my Dunes music: the cry of a Red-shouldered Hawk. Delighted, I watched the bird as it flew toward the lake, wing beats steady, gracious, bold. Maybe we create and recreate our own enchantments. 

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Reader Comments (1)

thank you for taking me back with you to the enchantment

January 31, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterLisa Redburn

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