Michiana Girl Goes Home

The madness was increasing, the pressure growing. No time, no time, and I had been hearing the clarion for weeks. I had not seen the Lake in too long. There was a little space of time to get away between too many projects, no matter what, no matter the emergency oral surgery the very morning of departure!

Being with the Lake remained the priority. Just a couple of days, but oh! Two magnificent sunsets, two early mornings! (I do not do sunrises. Indeed, only the Lake can rouse me out of bed.)

Always the Lake. This time I stayed close to the border, within 20 miles of where I grew up, at a secluded historic inn. The Lake was just across the road, straight down very long wooden stairs. At long last! The glaring sun cast long shadows–still April after all, but with the  trees all leafing out, probably still as confused as I. The waves were quiet and gentle, but soothing all the same. I lingered until the sunset, marveling at the patterns in the sand and the stones that jumped into my pockets.

I had not slept so well in ages. I arose early to a joyous cacophony of birdsong and woodpecker hammering, and headed outside after a quick cup of coffee in the lobby. Sitting on the long porch and writing was tempting, too, but the Lake’s siren call was irresistable.

135 steps down, give or take. And that’s just from the road. The inn is on top of the dune–yes, this is all duneland here. The Lake was quiet, the waves a bit more energetic than the night before. I walked a good way along the shore, past deserted little cottages, and a shimmer of buildings on the horizon that must have been Chicago. More stones leaped into my bag; I walked, I danced!

I stopped to accept the Lake’s caress, leaning into the breezes playing about my hair. Oh, the wonder, the Presence, the Being Present!  All so intermingled that I was barely aware–it just was: the Lake, the wind, the glorious day, all One.

Back up those steps to the Inn with the object of heading northward a ways to Glenn, where I’d hoped to have breakfast at the old restaurant where the town’s nickname of Pancake Town, seemingly now forgotten, originated. What is today Blue Star Highway was once the main road, US31, along the Lake, and in 1937, a blizzard stranded scores of tourists for three days. Food supplies ran out, all except a recent shipment of pancake flour, so that’s what everyone ate. For several years after, the town held an annual pancake festival. The restaurant has changed hands numerous times since I discovered it many years ago, then still a roadside diner and community gathering place. Some subsequent owners tried to make it more upscale, but they never seemed to last long. Alas for this trip: apparently new folks have once again taken ownership, but they were not opening until the following week. So, it was back to South Haven for lunch, but first a stop just a little beyond Glenn to see the matriarch of Dee’s Lakeshore Farm.

I have written much of Dee, at whose farm market and secondhand shop I’ve stopped for at least thirty years. How saddened I was to learn her husband had only just died the previous week, but there she was in business. She loves people (and they love her); it keeps her going. At 89, she’s a delight, and she is tough. 

South Haven is not the lakeside town I knew in my youth, with supermarkets, local hardware, and dimestores downtown, along with small industries and regional tourism. No, it has given over completely to a tourist town identity, and instead features fudge shops, souvenir stands with tacky teeshirts, ice cream–and lots of restaurants, bakeries, and other assorted treats. Food was not a problem, but I puzzled where the local folk got their groceries and bought nails. Holland? I suppose. That city has become a massive sprawl that I largely avoid these days. Headed back, then stopped at Weko Beach, which, owing to relatively recent acquisitions by the state, is now directly adjacent to Warren Dunes State Park, where I spent so many years amidst its woods and drifting sands.

I walked and walked and found myself in the past: my past–these hills were so very familiar to me–and the distant, geological past. All one, all wonder. I was sixteen again, and lost in time–and the Dunes held the answer to all.

Finished the evening with a walk along the beach to the mouth of the creek that quietly sidles into the Lake, bathed in the sunset glow. My soul at peace, I slept well.

So lovely to awaken refreshed the next morning amidst tall pines and hardwoods with the Lake in view–not to mention the woodpecker alarm. The spartan room–luxurious, perhaps, in 1915–suited me fine. Coffee and a bite or two of the scone purchased the previous day, then one more descent to the Lake to bid a long farewell.

Headed back in a leisurely fashion with a stop in Three Oaks, very changed indeed from my childhood, when it was a little agricultural village (it’s the town featured in the movie Prancer) that had a bowling alley my parents often went to on weekends. Still, if you’re going to go all touristy, they’ve mostly done it right. Three Oaks exudes charm. The old corset (yes!) factory houses a theater and artist studios. There are fancy shops, but also a butcher shop dating to the turn of the last century, where my favorite poet Carl Sandburg shopped, for goodness sake! It has not changed much since. The old Featherbone Company building is now the town library. Three Oaks has kept its head.

Hard to go. I can depart from Michiana, but it never leaves me.

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