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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6 thoughts on “The Human Element of a Winter Beach Trip

  1. Those footprints would make a unique wall hanging. Such a mystery. And who would be walking barefoot in that freezing cold temps PLUS actually setting feet right on the ice. I get shivers just thinking of that. What an experience. And so glad you both like to do these crazy cold outings on the beach!! True love. Happy Valentine’s Day to you and your sweetheart!
    JQ Rose

  2. Interesting post, Sandy. Now I know what Lake Michigan looks like this year. That was quite odd, the car parked behind you. I would have been a little leery.
    Happy Valentine’s Day!!
    P.S. When it snowed in St. Louis, my brother went barefoot out in the snow to take photos and included his feet in the snow. So I can understand, someone walking in the sand in the winter. 🙂

    • Re: The parked car behind us: shiver.
      Re: Walking barefoot in the snow? Actually, not that unusual. I’ve heard of people doing it a lot, especially those silly Polar Bear Club folk.
      Re: Happy Valentine’s Day!!: Same to you, Susan.

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