September 6, 2011

Except That Autumn is Overrated

The dread of dirty snow and frozen snot trails grabs us by the scruff of our necks, pins us down, and warns us to seize the summer for all we can wrestle from it.  That's why I'm never here anymore.  I'm obviously not devoted to my blog, but it's been months since I've breathed the Dairy Air, and I miss it!  The truth is, if this space gets all sorts of attention, it means the dog hair is overtaking my baby and my baby is overtaking a plastic bag (his very favorite choking hazard of choice).  It also means I'm wasting precious beach time.

This summer has been packed with long hours, quick spurts, half days - and even one whole night - on the beach.  We've seen a tent, a triathalon, a tragedy, a wedding, a sunrise, a paddleboard, and many a s'more.  We've been with friends, newborns, toddlers, cousins, aunts, grammies and just the three of us.  It's been the opposite of wasting time; everything feels more sane when our floors are sandy, our fins are used, and a small charcoal grill lives in the Passat.  Fortunately, Bear has turned out to be the draggable kind of baby, and doesn't insist on much but milk and silly songs - both easily transportable to our favorite spot by the pier.

After our time at the lake two nights ago, I was in a skirt and a sweatshirt, and I felt the air changing.  We made doughboys over hot coals (biscuits wrapped around a stick, roasted until golden and then filled with blueberry goo or honey) and the kids without warm clothes got purple-lipped and hung around too close to their parents, asking for responsible things like long sleeves and dinner on time.  For the first time in months, a wet bathing suit was pretty miserable when the sun ducked behind the clouds.  So, it's upon us.  Fall is coming.  It's even called September now.

But it's okay.  I want to remember the parts of this amazing summer that have been so good to us, and thank Lake Michigan for all her many colors and attitudes and ever-changing temperatures and moods.  When I read in Genesis about the spirit of God brooding and hovering over the waters, I think about this relatively small body of water and how she tips me off my center of gravity every time I expect to see a straight blue line, but get instead a myriad of conditions.  Green and choppy, listless and grey, or white caps in searing aquamarine.  Sometimes the lake is still, soft-blue and clear as glass; sometimes it churns with foam and chalkiness and the best way I know how to describe those waves are furry.  Almost tactile.  Some mid-mornings the birds are diving in the air and the sun is so high that the water glitters like the Mediteranean, distracting all the runners on the bike path.  Other days the fog drops or the heat rises and there's no line between sea and sky, and we hardly glance eastward.  When I was heavy and pregnant and desperate to walk my baby out, the air was so cold it burned.  During those winter months, the lake feels like a toy on layaway.  We barely remember what it is to swim.  If you decide to walk out on the beach, you own the place - except for maybe a gull standing on one foot, smart enough to keep a warm one in rotation.

Of course winter is far from us now, but summer's close is fast approaching.  A few of my favorite lake shots in parting, as a tribute to all this season has been for us:

Probably my favorite day this whole year.  Tenting on the sea wall with Bear, Dust and our nephew Ryland.  Here's sunset at our favorite jumping spot.

A view of the lights on North Beach and our 7-man tent on the pier.

As the sun went down, the stars came out and glimmered for us through the mesh of tarpless tent.

We aren't the kind of people to get out of bed and chase down a sunrise at the lake.  It pretty much has to slap us in the face.  So when we woke up on the wall with the sun, we were forced to watch the show he was putting on.  Suddenly we were giddy, like "Why don't we do this all the time!?"

Bear was pretty giddy too.

Ryland fell in love with our lake
and our boy fell in love with his cousin.

This is where we spent our whole summer, jumping.  Brakes on the stroller, taking turns holding baby.
Dustan made a paddleboard that didn't exactly work for us.  We planned to stand on it, but the arm paddle is all this board will support.  It's still a blast, and quite the arm workout!
It was perfect for little people.
While paddling from the wall back to the beach, he found a bike in the water. 
This boy loved the lake - most of the time.
I think this girl loved the lake all of the time.  She was always smiling.
The only other early morning at the lake was this day that wooed us out of bed to watch the start of a triathalon.  The triangle shapes are big buoys that kept the swimmers on track.

Nick, our most faithful beach companion by far.  He rolled up in his kayak to watch the race with us.

Untouched bikes before the race
The first swimmers were an apparition rising from the water.  The cheering hadn't started so it was silent and ghostly and beautiful.

I love their bodies.

We walked home with our baby kinda quietly.  Both thinking, 'Could I ever do that?'
My favorite night at the lake besides the campout was this night.  The waves were so much fun and I learned to bodysurf properly, thanks to Dustan.  I put my fins on and swam out again and again until I had a blister on my little toe.
It took me over half an hour to comb the seaweed dreds out of my hair.

Panicky, elating, frustratingly tragic and sad day at Lake Michigan.  3 boys got too far out in the waves and were in distress.  A lifeguard pushed the first one onto the rocks, Dustan ran down the wall and dove in for the second one, but the third boy was gone.  The lifeguards pulled Dustan into their search team, but the current was ridiculous.  Willie's body was found days later. 
 We have a new reverence for the water and its power.  A healthy eye-reopener, because it's easy to feel invincible in nature.

Hat weather upon us.

Bearboy with the toytoy.

All of us are trying to get our fill of the beach.

This happens to me every year.  People around me start cooing about pumpkin spiced lattes and fantasy football, and I find myself holding out for Indian Summer - just one more hot snap, making way for a day of sunscreen and sandy swimsuits to last us through the snow piles and 4 o'clock sunsets.  (We've got camping reservations this weekend, so, let it be let it be!)

I'm a summer kind of girl.


  1. :)
    I'm a summer girl too, Bets. Although... this fall/ winter holds a certain wonder for me because it's such a foreign concept- freeze in October, frosts in April?? It is beyond me, how I'll survive these seasons- except choking down lots of hot chocolate and soup, and hovering over my sewing machine for warmth.

  2. Betsy,
    God has blessed you with such a way with words and this blog was
    so beautiful. I love your pics....I love to be near the water and hear the
    waves roll in and out. You are in a beautiful place and so fortunate.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts with the world... Donna M.

  3. What... you guys didn't do the triathlon? I thought you did it all? That's a sweet pic of Bear in his pinstripes.

  4. Your writing is exquisite. Thank you for sharing the incredible beauty of your lake, and for introducing us to everyone and everything that contributed to your amazing summer. Forgive me if I just happen to be one of those folks who smells autumn in the air and has visions of warm apple crisps, caramel hot chocolate, hot soups and chilis dancing in her head. I still believe there will be a BBalkcom book... and I can't wait!

  5. I wasn’t sure if I would make a pilgrimage north this year, I wouldn’t want to put you two through the burden of company and a newborn during the week. But your recap of summer and the photos that followed reminded me of how much I miss you guys. Plus I’m craving the publican and Chicago again.

  6. @Bek - yeah, I will say the alternative would be worse. That is, NOT having a change of season. Warm on Christmas Day would just be too much.

    And have the best recipes.

    Eli! Come visit us! He's so not a newborn anymore. All the hushed shine has worn right off. November is wiiiiide open.


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