I am pleased to announce after a bit of a delay during the wild months of summer, I am finally opening the Letters to Lake Michigan Shop! You will now be able to purchase blank postcard packs of six different postcards, as well as poem postcards that will be mailed directly to you! In the coming month I plan to also add 5x7 and 8x10 prints of Lake Michigan photographs, so that you can add the beauty of Lake Michigan to the walls of your homes.
Essay, along with a handful of poems, was originally published in Issue 05 of The Boardman Review. You can purchase a copy here.
It is Monday morning, the sky is grey and the Lake is blue. The beach parking lot is nearly empty, save for a few cars in the north lot, early for Swim Club. Most days in the summer and fall I am at the village beach in Empire before the crowds, drinking coffee and jumping in the Lake alone at nine in the morning. On Mondays, I have begun inviting others to join me, and for over a month I have started each week by sharing my ritual with friends and strangers, the Lake serving as our meeting point.
This day in September is a gathering of my family and new friends, a mix of locals and visitors to the area. We get to know each other over mugs of coffee before getting up the courage to jump in the cold water. The Lake has changed temperature a number of times this season, and today it is cooler than the morning air. We dip hesitant toes into shallow water, then plod carefully over the rocky bottom until we are up to our waists in the Lake. Taking a deep breath and smiling to those around us for support, we jump under. Silence takes over for a moment, and cool water hugs me tight before I emerge, laughing at this perfect way to start the day. We all splash around until our limbs begin to go slightly numb, then retreat back to our towels and coffee. By the end of the morning, phone numbers have been exchanged and plans made for future swims, the Lake making introductions that would not have happened otherwise.
When I first meet someone and they find out I only recently moved to Leelanau County, that I chose to uproot my life to move to Empire despite not being from the area, their first question is often what brought me here. I always smile at this question, the implication that a person or maybe a career change drew me here, and either their surprise or understanding at the real reason helps me to learn something about them immediately. “Lake Michigan,” I beam and I can feel my eyes twinkle with the feeling that I am letting them in on some sort of secret. The secret, however, is not mine alone and often I hear them admit “That's why I moved, too.”
There is something about this place––something about the way the Lake kisses the sand dunes, the way the treeline turns from green to gold in late September and the whole world slows down through the quiet months of winter––that makes it worth giving up everything to be here. There is magic in the water. It is calming, it is healing, it unites people to one another and to nature. I had noticed that many of the people I met in the area lived for the breaks on hot summer days when they could run down to the Lake and splash around in the water. Swim Club grew out of the desire to share this magic with others, to let it bring us together.
After a few weeks of living here, I began to notice that there were those far away from Lake Michigan who craved more frequent interactions with Her. Because I was spending so much time on the shore, I began sharing photos and videos of the Lake on my social media, and before long people were asking for more. For some, the sight of the Lake provided a moment of quiet in their hectic days, for others it provided a sense of nostalgia for cherished memories. As I shared photos I also began to share my words, sentences that bubbled out of me during my morning swims, poems that came to life as I walked the shore picking up stones on a rainy fall morning. Soon I was writing what felt like love letters to this body of water, and I couldn't seem to stop. Lake Michigan became not just a place to visit but a Being to commune with, one that was teaching me more about myself and my life than I could have expected.
From those words and from the connection that had drawn me to the Lake, I started a poetry project. It began with the intention that I would further my writing practice by micro-publishing an original short poem every day. It quickly morphed into something that was not only about the words, but about connection and about sharing the magic of Lake Michigan with others. Words so often do that, transport us to other places, connect us more deeply to the world and people around us. My postcards went to Tennessee and California, and as far away as Ukraine, all to people who felt some pull to this great body of water.
What started as a way for me to further explore the ways that Lake Michigan has become home for me has grown into a way to share that sense of home with others. A way to share a bit of the magic. Of course it belongs to no one, and most people who have touched their toes on the wet sand of the shoreline have felt a small part of themselves coming home in the process. I have been humbled by the power of Lake Michigan, by the way She crosses the boundaries of states and oceans to settle into the hearts of those who crave Her presence. What an honor it has been to be a vessel for Her magic, to have the opportunity to put words to paper and stamps to postcards and send a little bit of Lake Michigan into the world for others to enjoy.
I moved to Northern Michigan because it felt like home, because I felt called by...something. Everything. By the clean air, by the way the breeze moves through the trees on a summer night, by the feeling of walking on the shore after midnight with nothing but the moon to light your way. By the sound of Lake Michigan touching the sand, sometimes wildly with the crash of mighty waves and sometimes with the soft touch of a mother on her sleeping child.
Being here has always awakened something in me, required me to pay more attention than I was prone to doing elsewhere. What is it about nature that has a tendency to do that to us? I walk barefoot in the dirt and feel the way it presses up between my toes, smell the opening lilacs in the spring and suddenly notice the whole world opening.
In some ways, I worry that I am hiding. That staying in this place that seems to demand my attention is a bit of laziness on my part...perhaps I live here so that I do not have to do the work I would have to do elsewhere. I wake up and walk to the Lake and am forced into a day of noticing. I cannot see those brilliant blues without gasping and feeling my heart open to a world outside of my own body. Would I be as attentive if I lived in a city, in a land I did not feel so drawn to? Or is my choice to live here evidence of my attention, of my noticing where it is that makes me my best self, and following through on my heart's leading?
Walking along Lake Michigan's shore has always inspired words from me. Sometimes it even inspires singing. When my nieces were babies I would carry them along the edge of the water at nap time, covering them with a light blanket and singing songs about the shore as the waves crashed nearby and lulled them to sleep. Some days I stand in the water about to jump under, singing these Lake songs as prayers. The water is a magical place, is a lyrical place, and my drive to write grows by being in such close proximity to it.
The last seven weeks of writing daily poetry have stretched me in so many more ways than I expected. The words have come on my walks along the Lake, as I sat at home sipping my coffee reminiscing on a night swim from the evening before. They have poured out of me on drives downstate away from the Lake, in hotel rooms in New Orleans and on airplanes hovering above the water. I have struggled to write words some days and have done so anyways, plucking favorite phrases and lines from other poets as inspiration, from conversations with my neighbors...anything to spur the writing on. I have missed writing a handful of days, but only a handful and that feels like an accomplishment.
My goal with this project has been to build a practice. Yes, I wanted to write good poems, poems that maybe I could compile into a collection someday, but more than anything, I wanted to further my practice of writing. I wanted to learn how to edit better, to stick with a piece that I started and see it through to completion. I wanted to learn how to share my words without being so critical of them, to believe that I had something worth saying and that somehow it might impact someone else. And I must say, this project is doing that ten-fold.
I definitely plan to share more about my growth, the ways that my practice has shifted, the prompts I have given myself, the editing practices I have adapted. I plan to use this website to discuss writing a bit more in the future. But today, I am showing up just to say that I am here and that I am stringing words together almost every day. Keep an eye out on the blog some of my favorite poems from the last seven weeks. I will be sharing a few each week from now until the end of July, and will be working between now and then on what the next iteration of this project will be. I cannot wait to see what continues to grow in me through this.