Barefoot Days: published in Northerly Quarterly

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Essay originally published in the Spring 2019 issue of Northerly Quarterly.

Barefoot days. We have waited all winter for them, for the chance to slip out of our shoes and dip our toes into a still-cold Lake Michigan. You sense them approaching on the wind, each morning slightly warmer than the last, but it is the light that truly ushers the season in. The way the orange fades to red at sunset, the way the sun creeps its way further north every day. Light slants through the window to wake you in the morning and however quietly, announces the arrival of Spring.

The light changes first and then the landscape, brown and barren, then suddenly bursting bright green. Wild onions and trillium carpet the woods, and soon the maples explode neon. Next comes the forsythia, yellow and wild through the streets of town, calling forth the arrival of the lilacs. They are the true crown of a country spring, the air fragrant with their scent, and all of Northern Michigan becomes drenched in it.

It is in the early months of spring where our daily patterns change. We trade our boots for sandals far earlier than we really ought and step outside every chance we get. The first warm day when the thermometer reaches fifty feels like a miracle, feels to us in April as eighty degrees will feel in August. We trade hats and winter coats for bare arms and excitement.

On these early spring days the answer is always yes to the invitation to go outside. Winter was filled with excuses––The roads are too icy or I just need a night in––but spring is the casting off of responsibility. There is nothing more important than being in the sun, nothing you need more than running down the sand dunes to stand on the shore of Lake Michigan.

So we take to the dunes every chance we get. The dunes themselves call to us, shining like beacons in the glow of the sun as it returns from its winter hiding. Staying out later, showing itself from behind the haze of clouds where it spent the last few months, the sun lights up the hills like a neon marquee. It announces Tonight Only: Warm Sand on Your Toes, and we act accordingly. We forget that spring turns to summer and we have months before we must return to icy winter. We roll down the dunes as if its our last chance to do so.

Moving through the seasons in Northern Michigan causes us to pay attention. To prepare. To change our patterns. The length of the days changes, the scenery goes from brown to neon to dark green to white, and we track our lifetime within the colors. For now, spring has arrived and we track mud from ground that was recently frozen into our houses and our cars. All of it is a reminder that time is passing. All of it is an opportunity to pause and smell the earth, to listen to the rain as it glides through the gutters, to try and catch sight of the first bud as it emerges from the trees.

We move into this new season with renewed energy. Winter had its own place in the cycle of the year, created space for us to rest and to plan. We needed it. But the arrival of the wild plants in the woods and the sun lingering later over the dunes is another necessity entirely. It is one we welcome all the more fervently for the many dark nights we spent waiting for it.

The arrival of spring invites us into a world of color and sound, of carelessness and adventure. It invites us to first swims in water that is barely above forty, to bonfires on the beach welcoming in later nights. It invites us to climb the dunes so that we may take in the sun, take in the view, and then dares us––with all the reclaimed recklessness of warmer days––to run down as fast as we can without falling.