The Human Element of a Winter Beach Trip

A one-day vacation beach trip. Where: Lake Michigan. When: February, 2019. Temperature: 32 degrees. Wind chill: nippy. Forecast of snow coming in from the west, over the lake. Location: Warren Dunes State Park, Michigan.

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We planned to eat lunch in the van before walking the beach. Jeff started to park the van between the designated lines in the 200-car upper parking lot. I assured him it was okay to pull forward to the edge of the sand. It went against his nature to be unlawful, even though we were completely alone, but he finally pulled up that extra five feet so instead of asphalt we had only sand and ice in our view.

After a little while it got crowded. A small red car came. With that entire parking lot to pick a spot from, they chose to park immediately behind us. The occupants never got out, and they didn’t stay long, but it got this author-brain wondering all the possible who and why scenarios of him/her/them. If they came to see the beach, why park with a big black van blocking their view? If they didn’t get out, were they expecting us to be someone else, and if so…for what reason? Of course, they may have been scared, coming to a park off-season, and needed to be near other human company in this great, big, wide, Michigan wilderness.

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After they left, we truly had the 1,950-acre park to ourselves. With lunch completed, we reparked, bundled up, grabbed our walking sticks (for stability, for poking at interesting spots, or in case of loose dogs), and headed out over the sand dune for the shore.

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Our visual memory of where the water line should be, the width of dark sand, and the close-up evidence of gentle water movement below eroded holes in the ice at the edge of sand and ice crust, let us know where the hidden shoreline was. Snow and ice buried the lake for as far as we could see. The wind had blown sand upon the crust, giving the illusion that it was solid. We knew otherwise. A dark line in the sand let us know our boundary, of where water had earlier made its way under the crust.  The crust also resulted in no wave movement, and no sound. Even the sea gulls had vanished.

We walked the sand to the creek (Painterville Drain) and worked our way along it to the crust boarder. We were startled out of the silence by a crash and splash. My thought was an orca had jumped. Jeff caught part of the action — a large chunk of sand next to the creek had fallen into the water. I witnessed the wave crashing to the opposite bank. It brought to his mind part of a glacier breaking off. I suppose I would have thought the same had I seen it mid-action. My image just came from the sound. 

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Because the trees were leaf-bare, we could easily see the houses on the other side of the creek. During the summer, the houses are completely obscured by foliage.

We spotted bare human footprints in the sand. They’d been painted over with a light sprinkle of rain, so we guessed they were made either earlier that day or at the latest the afternoon before. My author’s mind went wild again, considering the who and why of the print-maker. They were large, so I assumed the maker was male. There was only one set, so it wasn’t a wintertime challenge with another person. There were also no shoe or boot prints nearby, indicating the man was alone. For anyone to choose to step onto the iced crust was foolishness. It could break or crack and the person then trapped. But mystery of mysteries, the tracks simply vanished. (Very cool, I mean, interesting.)

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When we returned to the van from our forty-minute walk, our faces were bright red — the result of both the cold and of getting wind burnt. But we also beamed, beamed from having a vacation day, beamed from our Michigan winter beach adventure.

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Staycation Michigan February Hike

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How do I get inspiration for settings or even plots? Getting outside. Always getting outside. Being outdoors is something I simply crave.

Of course, any staycation for us must include hikes to the woods and beach visit. I live in Michigan, after all. Today was supposed to be the nicest weather for the week. Today we decided to head to the west coast for a hike or two. The entire day was overcast and in the low 30’s (borderline freezing).

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(Notice the wooded sand dune hills.)

It was our first time to Grand Mere State Park. Fifteen years of passing it by on the interstate, and we never stopped. Today it was a destination. Snow and ice dotted the low-lying ditches, most covered with tan sand giving the flooded areas a tannic pine look. The dirt parking lot was soft in a muddy tan. We hesitated getting out of the car, but in the small parking lot (capable of holding about fifty cars if you squeezed together), there were already five cars. Popular mud spot. We tentatively stepped out of the van and made our way at least to the outhouses and picnic area. Surprise! The path was paved from that point. Well…sort of.

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As we discovered, the paved Nature Trail lays low between North and Middle Lakes and likely to flood, as well as having recent snow meltage. The fall leaves cushioned the path as well, rotting into wonderfully rich, black compost beneath our shoes.

After a while, the trail became too muddy for us to feel it was worth continuing in our chosen footwear…so…we headed upwards, on a sand path going over one of the many sand dunes in the wooded park. Jeff slipped on ice which was covered by oak leaves. I fell once to the ground stepping over a many-twigged branch which wrapped itself around my other leg. It was all part of the adventure.

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Although we hiked an hour, we never made it to Lake Michigan. It was not our intention. This was merely a serendipitous exploration. There were signs for waterfowl hunting and one warning of ticks, although not pertinent in winter hikes.

I spotted a large bird from the distance. It looked familiar, but unfamiliar. Only when it flew did I recognize it as a robin – with feathers fluffed up making it to about three times its normal size. Poor cold thing.

We only saw a couple people in parked cars, and one man walking his dog, otherwise, the park was ours. Quiet. Serene. Late winter wilderness. Gotta love Michigan in all seasons.

Keep on Writing!

Being a 1-computer-1-car home, I write when Jeff’s at work and do errands when he’s home. Yesterday was defeating. Besides being a tad sick, I kept staring at “the blank page”, knowing my computer time was limited, and frustrated I was so apathetic (although that may have had to do with being sick).
 
THEN I remembered a vital rule in writing: Never leave your writing at the end of a scene, but always in the middle. The end of the scene means completion, finished, stop. The middle of the scene is exciting and you know where it’s going and your brain and fingers can’t wait to pour out what comes next.
 
While Jeff was at a meeting last night, I started in on the next scene.
On to writing more of Book 3 of The War Unicorn Chronicles!
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Another Friday; Another Hike Out There

Scenes in many of my stories are taken directly from real-life adventures. Not that I’ve actually met unicorns, trolls, or dragons. (Or have I?) But the settings, the stillness, or the noise, loud and whispered — all of them experienced at one time or another. (And you thought I just made all this stuff up for my books.)

Last Friday, we knew a big-old snowstorm was heading our way lasting all-day Saturday. That wasn’t the reason why we decided to take a Friday hike. We just enjoy getting out there, and had the time.

A week ago on another hike, we met a deer. This week’s adventure led us to a cute opossum. Animal spotting in the wild is always stimulating, with just the right amount of mutual observation. That said, we also love the woods and water.

Fort Custer Recreation Area was farmland before the military bought up the land during WWII. It was marshland before that. There is at least one cemetery there (seen through the wire fence on the base next to the park), as well as the remnants of roads and house foundations if you know where to look for them.

One short trail we’ve gone on several times circles a small lake, caused by dams, both human-made and beaver-made. With me stopping to take photos, or just to gape at the beauty around, it takes us about an hour to hike it. Short but sweet.

When the water is low, an old road rises from the lake bottom. It’s a secret road, for much of the time it lays unseen, buried below the watery surface. A few times when it was exposed, we’ve walked to the culvert in the middle of the “lake”. This wintery day, we decided to go all the way, straight across Sunken Lake. The tricky part was that walking here involved ice (under the snow-covered road), sinking marsh (through the plants along a narrow strip on either side of the road), or wetness (black water lake).

Successfully on the other side, through the woods, under birds, through a pine forest, and spying footprints in the snow which were tinier than chipmunk prints. Thinking back on it, they could be from mice — but very tiny mice. The prints were probably a day or two old (reasoned from my mad tracking skills), as the snow on the outlines had begun to cave.

Then, over the dam, back to our vehicle and civilization, and home. Those last three words ought to bring warmth. They in fact do: but only a physical warmth. For walking through the winter wilderness brings a deeper warmth, an inner warmth, a peace and stillness which can only be felt and experienced from being “out there”.

 

 

God’s Outdoor Ice Museum

On Jeff’s day off last Friday, we headed north to Yankee Springs Recreation Area. We only saw five other people in the park during the entire afternoon. The last time we visited was fourteen months ago, when we were treated to some pretty awesome water and ice features along Gunn Lake’s shore.

Remembering the ice sculptures from mid-November, 2017, and the gentle waves lapping over the lake –

(These 2 shots were taken over a year ago.) – we parked and headed for the grass shoreline.

We were not disappointed.

The lake was covered with layer of ice, making lovely patterns which mimicked the sky world.

As we walked along the shore, each step brought us to new natural artwork. It felt like we were on a personal tour, walking a hallway of a museum, God’s Outdoor Ice Museum.

There were ice-encased branches and grass.

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The red branches were particularly stunning.

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There were bubbles and drips, walls and chimes. Cones and fans, berries and fences.

Tree branches dipped to become one with the lake for the season. And an ice castle.

We even spotted angels.

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The sky changed from the morning see-no-shadows overcast grey to afternoon blue skies and sunshine. What a delightful day to explore God’s Outdoor Ice Museum. And just to let you in on our secret find so you, too, can explore hidden delights, if you peek over the edge, this is what the shore looked like on land:

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We look forward to more of God’s ice treasures another time.

 

Interview Questions from 5th Graders

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I received a request from 5th graders in a coastal town, doing research on ghost towns in Michigan. They’d read my book, THE TOWN THAT DISAPPEARED, and wanted me to come to their school so they could interview me. But as they live ninety minutes away, I suggested they email me their questions. I thought I’d share the Q&A with you.

1.Where did you get most of your information from? Various forms: books, newspaper articles, online articles, pamphlets, brochures, Douglas-Saugatuck Historical Society Museum, people who live or lived in the area, and visiting the area numerous times to get “the feel of the land”.
2.Did the burying happen slowly or faster? It took about 4 years for the entire location to be buried under sand dunes.
3.How large was the town? If you’re talking population, I can’t remember. I’m thinking hundreds v.s. thousands. (Research it) If you talking area, it was only a few miles along the Kalamazoo River.
4.Was the story about the man that kept moving to the next floor of the hotel once the sand reached the floor true? Yes, this is a true story. Not sure that it was a hotel. I’m thinking it was a house, although it might have been the boarding house.
5.What was the population? (see question 3)
6.Who started the town/main people? Once upon a time (8 years ago?) I knew this answer. It never came into my story, so wasn’t information I retained.
7.Did everyone evacuate before the town was buried? Yes.
8. Is the town still being buried? Yes and no. Most of the buildings were moved, board by board, window pane by window pane. The few remaining buildings are exposed and reburied with the blowing wind and rain.

Why haven’t they tried to uncover more of it? Imagine uncovering a town buried by a mountain avalanche. Now imagine that mountain being sand which is pushed and blown daily by wind and rain. Even if the remaining buildings were uncovered, they would soon be buried again by the shifting sand dunes.
9.Where there any deaths? None caused by the shifting sand.
10.What was Oshea Wilder’s lumber company called? I don’t know. (Research it.)
11. Who, do you feel, were the most influential members of the town? In any town there are influential members for various reasons, politicians, bankers, merchants, the sawmill owners and manager. My favorite historical townsman was the violin-maker. Was he influential? He is to me — more interesting than influential — but I changed his name in my book because he had descendants, and as I was making up things about the man, I didn’t want to blur fiction with nonfiction.

Good luck with your project.

Sandy Carlson

Living a Grateful Live, Part 3

Becoming frustrated with negative news and online comments, I decided the week before Advent (November 25, 2018), to start posting on my FaceBook page one thing per day for which I was grateful to God, and try not to repeat. It was mostly a personal challenge for me, but held accountable by the public, daily posts. It forced myself to focus on positive things, for the weight of the negatives were surely weighing me down.  I also chose a deadline because I wasn’t sure how I’d do, so decided on Epiphany, January 6th, which was yesterday. I posted daily thanks for 40 days — actually, it was 42 because I miscounted twice — a six week journey. Here is some of what I learned:

  • No matter how bleak things may seem, there are people and things everywhere, and every day, to be thankful for.
  • I shouldn’t worry about offending anyone by writing about God or being grateful or thankful. (Before, online, I sometimes felt like I treaded on eggs.)
  • I found myself “on the lookout” every day for something to post. It wasn’t difficult to find them; what was difficult was limiting myself to only one thing.
  • I ended up praying more – nearly entirely for others, but occasionally for me, too. It wasn’t so much that I was more aware of God in my life, but more how and what to share with others, as if my life experiences and thoughts were going through a filter.
  • I discovered the FaceBook algorithm changed many of the people who normally popped up – changed to more thoughtful and grateful posts. This probably had to do with the “Living a Grateful Life” phrase I wrote every day. (Now I’ve been tagged!)
  • Some days I felt like expounding in a super-long post (or blog or chapter) about what I’d mentioned. A possible book? asks this writer. Most likely not, I answer.
  • An unmet-yet writing friend commented how I didn’t focus on thankful for material things. But I realize material things come and go, and you certainly “can’t take it with you”, I didn’t even consider that (except for the bed bit).
  • I found it easy to skip posts or news articles which I knew were upsetting and would previously only draw me into dark places. I’m not saying I strove to ignore the bad, just not to dwell on them nor allow them to pull me down.
  • Although my thinking and thoughts seemed to be clearer these past few weeks, I felt like the days passed very quickly.
  • I know that upon further reflection I could drone on and on, but my point on my FB posts was brevity, as it rather is now, too.

Today I go in for outpatient cancer surgery. Instead of focusing on the negative (cancer, etc.), I will focus on people – praying for the attitudes, emotions, thoughts, and skills of the doctor and staff working on me, as well as for the thousands (most likely more) people who are also going through cancer surgery this very day, as well as for their families and friends.

God is good.

The Story of Walking Tree

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The forecast was for partly sunny skies. So we drove the 90 minutes to Michigan’s West Coast only to find it foggy. We wouldn’t have left home if we knew it would be foggy. But once there, and surrounded by December fog, we were up for the adventure. 

It had been a while since we had walked that particular beach. We could only see a few yards ahead of us. The ghostly silhouette of a large tree loomed in front of us. We certainly didn’t remember there being a tree in the middle of the beach, standing tall between the edge of the sand dune and the waves. But it was foggy. Perhaps so were our memories.

Our second thought, separate, yet the same idea struck us, that the water was quite high. It must have been to be so near the base of the tree.

We’d agreed that the turnaround point of our walk was at the tree. However, as we reached it, I had the urge to see it from the other side. I twisted between and beneath the dripping branches. It was then, from that other side, that it became much clearer what had actually happened: the tree had walked down to the beach.

Two other whole trees lay on their sides nearby, their spidery roots exposed to the white air. Following up the sand dune, we noticed other trees, bent out at angles over the dune’s edge. Enlightenment! Through erosion, The trees had slid down the dune. 

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We’ve been on mountain roads where there are signs warning of falling rocks. I recalled the story of Sleeping Bear Dunes and a man walking his dog when the dune collapsed. With the streams of water flowing from the dune base and headed for Lake Michigan, I became a little nervous of other tipped trees anxious to take a walk down to the beach. There ought to have been a warning sign: Beware of Falling Trees. 

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I hope the people in power will leave the tree alone — particularly that one which walked down the dune, remaining upright. It has a chance to continue growing, for it is sure to have sufficient water for its roots, which were fairly covered by the sand. Clear away the debris from the beach, but allow this graceful tree have its second life. Please?

Living a Grateful Life, Part 2

This is a followup to my last post of attempting to live a more thankful life. I intended it as a personal challenge, to rather counter all the negativity I see around me in life and in the media. I then wanted to share it with others, both friends and strangers through my blog, as well as daily on my FaceBook page.

Twelve days in, I’ve noticed that the FB algorithm now shows different people coming up in my feed, some I know and some I don’t. Each of them is more positive with more positive posts than my usual FB encounters. Already I feel more relaxed when logging onto FaceBook. Also, about every four days comes a pop-up for me to fill in a form and share whom I am thankful for. I never-ever saw that before starting this sharing a Life of Gratitude on line. Hurray for algorithms.

One last thing here: I started this, wanting to post just one thing a day for which I am thankful to God. A challenge. A discipline. This morning, before breakfast, I had perhaps a dozen thoughts vying for my attention. “Pick me for today.” “No, pick me.” I’m beginning to think that this Living a Grateful Life personal challenge is like a snowball, starting small enough to fit in my hands, but as it rolls through the perfect snow, it grows and grows and grows.

A Grateful Life

With 6 days until the New Year, I have decided that from today until the end of Christmas (January 6), I shall post something each day on my FB page for which I am grateful to God. I shall try to be more specific than “family” or such. It is a month-long personal challenge.

Especially in this age of so much dissent and separatism, I would like to encourage anyone reading this to do the same. Here is my FB page, if anyone is interested in my own journey: https://www.facebook.com/sandycarl

“In everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (NASB, I Thessalonians 5:18). (Sandy’s comment: Not thankful for every circumstance, for some are evil, but find something even through bad circumstances to be grateful for.)

“And whatever you do in word or deed do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (NASB, Colossians 3:17).