It wasn’t until December that I drove out to Saugutuk, in search of comfort where the soft sand meets the sea.
This “sea,” as I call it, is Lake Michigan. I’ve always viewed each of the Great Lakes more like a sea — their immense size and powerful strength shaping the way of life on the shore. In western Michigan, the waves that wash up on our “third coast” echo the ocean tides, with a wake that changes in the winter.
The water cools. The waves swell in the wind. The land freezes, and then comes the ice.
Only, this winter, the waters didn’t freeze. Not in southern Michigan. Not in late December. An unseasonably warm weather system kept the waves in motion, and — in an anomaly for the region — the sun beat down on the sand late into the year. So, too, did the erosion.
A year of rising water swallowed much of the beach in the summer, and the water remained high throughout the fall. So that, by the time I took a winter’s sunset walk with my dog, the beach was almost completely submerged. In many places of the world, this kind of erosion leads to landslides. It means losing treasured parks, or shelters, or homes. Even people. Where I stood, it simply meant less room for the children and dogs to play.
But still. What happens when the water rises?
Fluidity in Life
I have a complex relationship with water.
From a young age, I’ve admired its beauty, but when I embark on my own adventures, I tend to head straight for the trees. Thankful to live in the Great Lakes region, I respect water and conserve it where I can, but I couldn’t live without long, renewable showers — the way they ease my mind and relax the tension of daily life. I’ve long loved paddling a kayak out on the surface, but it wasn’t until adulthood that I grew confident I could swim.
Now, I want to swim every single day. The deeper the water, the better. The farther from home, the more invigorating. So I ask myself, where is the comfort in that?
I think we begin our lives by living small. We learn the lessons and routines that will get us through the day. We find what is tested, what is reliable, what is true, and above all, what reminds us of home. Then we build our lifestyle slowly, going through the motions and gradually adding more. We add what brings us gratitude, brings us strength, brings us joy, and then if we are brave, what brings us somewhere new.
The water in our lives moves fluidly around us — starting our day, helping us cleanse, bringing us peace. In a way, it’s a reassurance that our lives will always be bouyied by what we hold dear — that we will always be supported by our natural environment.
Then, the water rises.
What Happens When the Water Rises
The tide comes in. The rains fall unwonted. The storm surge pummels the shore. The comfort of a beach or a boardwalk that we’ve come to know and love is submerged in the waves, and those who are out embracing the adventures of the lake are faced with daunting challenges — whether they’re using a backstroke, a surfboard or a boat.
There’s more at stake now.
Anyone venturing out to the water is taking an enormous risk. By way of personal harm, property damage or straight-up sinking, there is that much more they stand to lose. By way of inspiration, skill and accomplishment, there is that much more they stand to gain. What may have started as a means of living small picks up speed and becomes more tumultuous — to the point where it would be easy to make one wrong move or to completely lose control.
Skeptical? Imagine how the powerful waters of the lake feed into the nearby streams. Then picture a kayaker running a river — every rock, every branch, and every changing current presenting a new, life-threatening obstacle. It must be exhilarating to run that course!
Or maybe, it’s just plain stupid. Depends who you ask!
Picking Up the Paddle
The waters here are rising. Not only in the Great Lakes, but also in my own life. The rivers are flowing faster — and adding adventure, along the way. The lakes are getting deeper — and more gorgeous, all the same. The oceans, so teeming with life and the power to transform, are suddenly within reach.
As an artistic, intuitive, and emotional person, I can find a hundred ways this ties back to my creative and romantic life. I’ve continued to grow in many ways, and challenge myself in my writing, my public speaking, and my relationships. Now, the opportunities are endless! Even if the stakes are high. Personal growth has happened, in part, because I feel supported by my environment. I’m constantly inspired by the beauty of the Great Lakes, and everything the state of Michigan has to offer. But my own growth has also happened because I made a choice.
When I began living my life out here — truly began living it — I decided to do so with purpose. I’m done living small.
For my part, I have decided to embrace the rising tide, and venture courageously out onto the water. I know that the rivers may gush, the lakes may reach too deep, and there is an ocean of other obstacles to consider. No matter what my environment.
It’s no secret that the earth will also need support, as the waters rise. And I am on board, 100 percent. Still, I’m not going to let the obstacles of the future scare me, or stop me, or even slow me down.
There are beautiful sights to witness on a sunset walk in Saugutuk. This, I know to be true!
Next Stop: Cape Canaveral, Florida!
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