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Marquette, Michigan: Pristine Inland Sea

Courtesy of author

Courtesy of author

BY JENNIFER STANLEY

This essay is part of the Great Lakes Review’s Narrative Map project. 

As a lifelong resident of Marquette, Michigan, located on the south shore of Lake Superior, I consider myself fortunate. Wherever I have lived in the city, I have been only moments from the lake, able to see it from outside my front door

Throughout my life, the lake and I have harmonized. As a child, I mimicked its spontaneity, dove in to dodge waves, oblivious to its cold temps. As a teen, I became intimate with its passionate pulse, perfect background for young romance. As an adult, I relived the intoxication of its danger, its wonder, watching over my own child’s fear and wild delight at the force of its storms. As I grow older, I find reliable companionship, the comfort of lifelong friendship in its rhythmic accompaniment during contemplative walks.

Recently, I realized how I have taken this relationship for granted as the result of a trip to the Atlantic coast.

When I first viewed the Atlantic Ocean from a New Jersey boardwalk, I said “It looks like Lake Superior.” This seemed to disappoint my host who knew I’d never seen the ocean, and I think felt deprived of the vicarious experience of my amazement. I explained that it appeared to be not so different from something I see nearly every day. However, as I spent more time getting to know the ocean, I realized the difference.

True, there are obvious similarities between the two bodies, which share vast breadth, unending horizons, but each has unique aspects, better appreciated after experience of the other. The fact that the sea is salt water, the lake fresh, is a difference which is a source of many others, for example, scent. Superior, though it has its own fishy ambience, does not overpower with pungent brine. To the panoramic view, colors differ, the sea being more aqua green than Superior’s robin egg or cobalt blue.

The large turbulent waves of the Atlantic make Superior’s seem clear and hard by contrast.  Under similar weather conditions, breaking waves of the ocean are foamier, spread and hiss a greater distance up the sand, while the sharper-edged waves of Superior seem to shatter and scatter. Because the lake is a smaller body of water, it feels more dense, compact. Ocean water has more space to stretch out, travels a greater distance, seems more diffuse. I hear this in the sounds of surf. While the ocean roars and pounds, the lake glugs, dunks, and gulps. Superior has less predictable shifts in water level, and where the regular tides of the sea litter the beach with shellfish, shells, and sharp mosaic fragments of shells, Lake Superior beaches are awash with pebbles, and agates, and driftwood.

Risks to the swimmer also differ.  There is no danger of jellyfish or shark attacks in fresh water, the most threatening creature likely to be found in the lake a transplant lamprey eel.  More remarkable is the difference in shoreline water temperature. Compared to the oceans moderate temps, Superior’s unmatched frigid bite is a nerve-numbing awakening not for the timid heart. This ultimately protects Superior’s purity, and primarily, it is this characteristic I have most taken for granted.

Marquette may be the most populated area in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, but even so, its beaches, for the most part, in contrast to those I visited on the Atlantic, are generally open to the public at no cost. No purchased pass is required to spend a day or season of days on Superior’s convenient sands.  Yet, on most of those days, one will not find huge concentrated crowds taking advantage of that. In contrast to the popular East Coast beaches I visited on the Atlantic, the public beaches around Marquette are not massed with people, packed like cliché sardines under miles of striped umbrellas.  There are no troupes of solicitous hot-dog vendors, armed patrol guards, enormous bulldozers at daybreak, turning over yesterday’s garbage strewn surface, no airplanes with flying billboards urging the purchase of dinner reservations, no blocks upon blocks of full parking lots, no rows of expensive clubs playing conflicting raucous music.

On the shores of Lake Superior, one is more likely to find a bike path winding through stretches of sparsely populated beachfront pine forest than commercialized entertainment. Even on the most popular Superior beaches, one can easily wander only a short distance to find solitude, privacy, peace.

Certainly, both the northern “Inland Sea” and the Atlantic Ocean are lovely at sunrise, or under the full moon of a July night. Still I have to admit, my visit to the East Coast of the great Atlantic only deepened my preference for the Great Lake above the Mackinac Bridge. I now more fully understand its unique beauty, and more greatly appreciate the privilege of living with it daily.

Jennifer Stanley is a native of upper Michigan, and has an MA in writing from Northern Michigan University. She has contributed to a variety of publications, including The Marquette Monthly, The Great Lakes Poetry Project Anthology, Above the Bridge Magazine, Country Woman, and The American Poetry Review.

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Squelch

Photo by David Anstiss, courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Photo by David Anstiss, courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

BY ATHENA DIXON

Last night, I remembered playing pitch dark hide and seek in a muddy field, a ruined pair of Air Max 95s, and the joy of black college freshmen running fearless through the night.

I am certain I will never again find that exact pair of sneakers. I’ve seen the blue, orange, and white colorway in stores, but something about them is never quite right. Maybe I’m holding onto a twenty-year-old memory that’s fuzzy at the edges. Or maybe they are the shoes, but now they aren’t as magical.

What is magical was that night, a crisp fall midnight after a day of heavy rain. In one of the many open fields dotting the campus of Kent State University, we ran with reckless abandon, shoes squelching and sticking in the thick mud. We’d congregated in the courtyard of the freshman dorms, dressed in black, our key cards and IDs slung beneath our shirts on lanyards.

Trekking from the lighted pathways of Stewart Hall, we’d unplugged ourselves from the lure of Yahoo! chat rooms and the newness of an Internet we had never experienced at home. What wonder and joy was a 24/7 computer lab? The lot of us would line the far wall four at a time and slip on the masks of usernames and ask A/S/L?

But that night, when the tentative cross country flirting had died down, we chose to retreat to our individual rooms to change into black t-shirts, sweatpants, and beanies. What a sight we must have been, a bevy of black kids marching across the field to a set of low bleachers. There is no recollection of how we chose teams or what exactly the rules were, but I do remember the sound of our laughter pealing out across the night and the chill that pressed down from above.

We sprinted and dove and rolled in a field torn up by intramural leagues, oblivious to the mud and the wetness seeping into our skin. Sometimes, we tackled each other into the juicier plots of grass and lay there backs flush against the earth, staring up into the Ohio sky. And soon, the group of us were side by side in the night, chests rising and breath clouding above our heads.

We rested there until oxygen pushed back into our lungs and then it was time for another sprint across the field, another squelch of shoes in the mud. We tore through the darkness until there was no more energy to pick up the heaviness of our feet or our bodies from the ground. So we found ourselves on the low bleachers again, the steam rising from our shoulders like spirits to heaven. The laughter still pealing out across the distance bounced back to us from the brick dormitories.

Save the bobbing beam of an officer’s flashlight, we would have stayed there throughout the night, a collection of newly minted clay statues set out to dry. In the morning there were Sunday breakfast buffets at one of the food halls. Monday would bring class and campus jobs. That Saturday night, however, was an endless stream of thighs pressed together, shoulders bumping, the splitting of groups until two figures walked towards the dorms alone.  What was left of that magic was a muddy pair of Air Max 95s, coated to the ankles, left drying next a door and a memory twenty years later whispering Ready. Set. Go. 

Athena Dixon is a poet and essayist. Her work has appeared in various journals both online and in print. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and is a Callaloo fellow. Her chapbook, Way Station, is forthcoming from Winged City Press. Athena is Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Linden Avenue Literary Journal. Originally from Northeast Ohio, she now writes, edits, and resides in Philadelphia. 

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Michigan Bestseller list for July 2017

ALL BOOKS FOR JULY 2017

1) Daniel Silva, “House of Spies” (HarperCollins Publishers)

2) Patricia Polacco, “The Blessing Cup: A Companion to The Keeping Quilt” (Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster)

3) Karen Dionne, “The Marsh King’s Daughter: A Novel” (G.P. Putnam’s Sons)

4) Patricia Polacco, “Meteor!” (Puffin Books/Penguin Books)

5) Patricia Polacco, “The Keeping Quilt” (Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster)

6) Patricia Polacco, “Just in Time, Abraham Lincoln: A chilling journey through time to the Civil War” (Puffin Books/Simon & Schuster)

7) Ann Patchett, “Commonwealth: A Novel” (HarperCollins Publishers)

8) Patricia Polacco, “Thank You, Mr. Falker” (Philomel Books/Penguin Books)

9) Julie Buntin, “Marlena: A Novel” (Henry Holt and Co./Macmillan)

10) Colleen Coble, “Beneath Copper Falls: A Rock Harbor Novel” (HarperCollins Publishers)Screen Shot 2017-08-23 at 11.18.54 AM

U.P. FOR JULY 2017

1) Karen Dionne, “The Marsh King’s Daughter: A Novel” (G.P. Putnam’s Sons)

2) Colleen Coble, “Beneath Copper Falls: A Rock Harbor Novel” (HarperCollins Publishers)

3) Roxane Gay, “Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body” (HarperCollins Publishers)

4) Kath Usitalo, “100 Things to Do in the Upper Peninsula Before You Die” (Reedy Press)

5) Adam Schuitema, “The Things We Do That Make No Sense: Stories” (Switchgrass Books)

6) John Smolens, “Wolf’s Mouth: A Novel” (Michigan State University Press)

7) Dan Egan, “The Death and Life of the Great Lakes” (W.W. Norton & Company)

8) Louise Erdrich,  “LaRose: A Novel” (HarperCollins Publishers)

9) Russell M. Magnaghi, “Prohibition in the Upper Peninsula: Booze & Bootleggers on the Border” (The History Press)

10) Charlie LeDuff, “Detroit: An American Autopsy” (Penguin Books) [tie]

10) Ronald Riekki, “And Here: 100 Years of Upper Peninsula Writing, 1917-2017” (Michigan State University Press) [tie]

The Michigan Bestseller List for July 2017 lists books about Michigan topics, written by Michigan authors, and/or published by Michigan publishers, compiled by Ron Riekki from fifteen Michigan bookstores: Bookbug in Kalamazoo, www.bookbugkalamazoo.com; Brilliant Books in Traverse City, http://www.brilliant-books.net/; Dog Ears Books in Northport,www.dogearsbooks.net/; Island Bookstore in Mackinaw City and on Mackinac Island, http://www.islandbookstore.com/; Kazoo Books in Kalamazoo,http://www.kazoobooks.com/; Michigan News Agency in Kalamazoo, www.michigannews.biz/; Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor, nicolasbooks.com; North Wind Books in Hancock, https://bookstore.finlandia.edu/; Pages Bookshop in Detroit, www.pagesbkshop.com/; Saturn Booksellers in Gaylord, www.saturnbooksellers.com; Schuler Books & Music in Grand Rapids, Lansing, and Okemos, schulerbooks.com; and Snowbound Books in Marquette, http://www.snowboundbooks.com/.

Windsor, Ontario: Mount Francis

Windsor Star Demo (2013)BY CASSANDRA CAVERHILL

This essay is part of the Great Lakes Review’s Narrative Map project.

For fourteen weeks
the grasses grew
so high they turned
to accidental prairies.

The union tossed bottles
and wire hangers
into the parks
to stop residents
from mowing down
their wages, confronting
scabs in the fields
as they pushed
through the tangles.

The artists threw
seed bombs
into empty lots and
erected official-looking
habitat signs along the edges,
hoping that the wildflowers
would stay once
the dust of
mediation settled.

On Central Ave
the picketers chain-smoked
along a trash heap
dubbed Mount Francis,
after the mayor—
a businessman

balancing budgets
post-recession—
while squawking seagulls
circled above signs sporting
“No 2-tiers!”
“No takeaways!”

As the auto factories
hemorrhaged jobs,
folks flocked west
to the oil sands,
leaving those who remained
to undercut each other
for what was left of
the middle,
collecting garbage
for a dollar per bag.

It took a hundred-and-one days
for resentments to peak,
for the divisions sown
to overrun the parks,
the pools, the pavement.

It took a hundred-and-two-days
for the politicians
to trim the wilderness
back into a shape
that could be
controlled;

for the workers
to take their concessions
and clear the streets
of rot and rats; and

for the pundits
to market our descent
as a model for cities
being bled dry.

Cassandra Caverhill is a poet from Windsor, Ontario. She currently lives and writes in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

EARRINGS

Earrings by Leslie Brown imageBY LESLIE BROWN

I never been on this part of Hastings Street. This part is not like Grandma’s street. Maybe it’s different here cause all the buildings come up to the sidewalk, and the street starts right next to the sidewalk, so the only place that grass has to grow is between the sidewalk’s cracks.

Even in this heat, there are a lot of people on the street around here: People are standing in front of buildings fanning themselves, playing checkers, or just standing around and gossiping. Ladies and girls standing on the street, all made-up red lips, like the ladies in the movies, fixed-up for a party. There was one lady who didn’t have on make-up. Her hair was messed up, and her face was puffy; she looked sad.

Sometimes Grandma and me have to step into the street to get around the people. I don’t think they were trying to keep us off their street. They just didn’t have no other place to be, the sidewalks around here is just too skinny for people to be sitting and for people to be walking.

Even the cars on the street act funny, the people driving them didn’t seem in a hurry. I saw a car stop near the ladies and the sad looking lady went over to the car and lean against its door, and talked to the person inside. Then she opened the door and got into it.

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Dear Ms. Ainsley

BY JOEL STREICKER

April 2, 2003

Ms. Wendy Ainsley

Greenmoor Country Club

Winnetka, Ill.

Dear Ms. Ainsley,

I wanted to phone you after receiving your voice message last Thursday but thought it would be better if I wrote as I can put my feelings down better on paper. I purposely didn’t call either because of the guilt I felt for leaving such a rude message on your voice mail. I sincerely hope you can forgive me ‘cause I’m not a bad guy. I’ve been married for almost 56 years to the same blond girl I met after I got out of the Navy in 1946; I helped raise three great children the oldest just retired from Warner Brothers record Co. as their Senior VP, in charge of business and legal affairs; A Cum Laude student at Harvard University; a daughter who was rated the best attorney at the U.S. Government Legal Office in Portland, Oregon; the youngest son an anthropologist and an instructor at Stanford University. So what I’m saying is, I must of done something right although they didn’t get the brains from me; they all came from the blonde. I majored in football, baseball, and tennis in high school and college.

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Michigan Bestseller List for May 2017

Screen Shot 2017-06-21 at 12.29.04 PM1) Dan Egan, “The Death and Life of the Great Lakes” (W.W. Norton & Company)

2) David Maraniss, “Once in a Great City: A Detroit Story” (Simon & Schuster)

3) Steve Hamilton, “Exit Strategy: A Nick Mason Novel” (G.P. Putnam’s Sons)

4) Sarah Shoemaker, “Mr. Rochester: A Novel” (Grand Central Publishing)

5) Josh Malerman, “Black Mad Wheel: A Novel” (Ecco/HarperCollins Publishers)

6) Viola Shipman, “the hope chest: A Novel” (Thomas Dunne Books/Macmillan)

7) Betsy Bird, “Funny Girl: Funniest. Stories. EVER.” (Viking Books for Young Readers)

8) Michel Arnaud, “Detroit: The Dream is Now—The Design, Art, and Resurgence of an American City” (Harry N. Abrams)

9) Steve Hamilton, “The Second Life of Nick Mason” (G.P. Putnam’s Sons)

10) Adam Schuitema, “The Things We Do That Make No Sense: Stories” (Switchgrass Books)

 

Upper Peninsula Bestseller List for May 2017

1) Dan Egan, “The Death and Life of the Great Lakes” (W.W. Norton & Company)

2) Steve Hamilton, “Exit Strategy: A Nick Mason Novel” (G.P. Putnam’s Sons)

3) Steve Hamilton, “The Second Life of Nick Mason” (G.P. Putnam’s Sons)

4) Adam Schuitema, “The Things We Do That Make No Sense: Stories” (Switchgrass Books)

5) Jim Harrison, “A Really Big Lunch: Meditations on Food and Life from the Roving Gourmand” (Grove Press)

6) Steve Hamilton, “A Cold Day in Paradise” (St. Martin’s Press)

7) Kath Usitalo, “100 Things to Do in the Upper Peninsula Before You Die” (Reedy Press)

8) Jack Driscoll, “Goat Fish and the Lover’s Knot” (Wayne State University Press)

9) Louise Erdrich, “LaRose: A Novel” (HarperCollins Publishing)

9) Ernest Hemingway, “The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway” (Scribner/Simon & Schuster)

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Grandville, Michigan: The Rose Room

BY CARLY SHISLER (Grand Valley State University)

StemsThis essay was an honorable mention in the 2017 Narrative Map College Student Writing Contest. 

Kelley hoisted the door open and a ding promptly followed. We peered around the empty shop, the vacancy of other people was unimportant because we felt welcomed into a room with only flowers. The scents met our noses with a cooling effect, almost like when mint Chapstick encounters lips. Our eyes were pleased with the blurred view of different hues coming from every which way. Without focusing in on a specific flower, the room looked like an abstract painting. We were stopped in the doorway taking it all in.

“This place is so cute,” Kelley spoke softly to me as she reached out stroking the petals of this grand, crimson, wonderfully fresh Chrysanthemum.

“I’ve never been to a place like this,” I claimed, sharing my awe. Kelley and I didn’t have much to our lives in Michigan but school and lacrosse. It wasn’t our home. This was the first place in Michigan I felt undoubtedly comfortable and serene.

The silence inhabiting the shop hushed us and forced our other senses. We waded through the aisles admiring the bushels and blobs of color that surrounded us. We took in the gentle scents of lavender, sage, and dirt creating the perfect blend. We took our time admiring the bundles of flowers, no two alike or the same. The stems already cut and the thorns already pricked. The room began to open up as we saw the flowers each individually and instead of them consuming us.

I started to think about Michigan in terms of why I was there and why I hadn’t decided to let go of where I came from. Michigan was completely foreign to me. Walking through those aisles, my mind kept flashing back to my hometown. I saw the downtown lights flooding the street sides as I looked at the ceiling lamps. I noticed some flower cutters on a back table and it took me back to hot sweltering days of poking and prodding the trees in our yard. My mind raced back and forth from my home to this new place, finally calming as another door came into my sight.

I curiously shifted towards the door. Grasping the handle, which felt like a car door in the middle of February, we shuffled through the door and into the chilled room letting the door collapse behind us. It was a long, narrow hallway-type room. Our pupils grew about two sizes bigger and mirrored the wall of colors before me. They weren’t mixed together this time though; the blues were in one place, the reds were bunched together, and the pinks covered their own space too. This was the rose room, filled to the brim and covered wall to wall with fresh roses giving us a sense of tranquility and relinquishing a bit of their purpose to us. We were in a trance. Time stood still.

We weren’t even acknowledging the presence of each other anymore, standing next to one another as if we were ghosts. I began to move forward, planting one foot at a time. Rooted in one place, I noticed a smaller clump of roses. An off-white base, almost cream, topped with a deep red color. The petals were big and full like the in drawings you see of roses. Perfectly imperfect in the way the petals seemed to fit together, like a puzzle. I reached for it touching the smooth stem between my fingers, feeling a chill run up my arm and then down my spine. I held that rose as I continued down the narrow hallway. I felt like Alice, but instead of Wonderland, I was in a room of roses that towered over me. The next rose I grasped was a vibrant, yet subtle yellow rose, and I kept wandering. The room seemed to continue forever. A new flower popping up as soon as I would turn the other way. Each flower represented another tie to this place, another memory for my mind to escape to. Something I desperately wanted away from home.

I ended up with enough roses to fill at least five vases. I could go on to describe each rose individually, as they each seemed to possess their own personality. We walked out the door, flowers in hand and grins extending beyond our faces. Nothing else at that moment mattered. My mind was numb with happiness and was content where it was. There was no curious racing from state to state. In fact, I still have the flowers. A bit duller and shrunk, but perfectly frozen in their state of beauty. I still think about that day every time I look at the roses. An insignificant day in the grand scheme of things, yet still holds power over me. I had found a place that manifested joy in the present rather than force a memory from the past.

Carly Shisler is a student-athlete at Grand Valley State University seeking a degree in Marketing with an Advertising and Public Relations minor. She was born and raised in Naperville, IL and came to Michigan to play lacrosse. She loves to write as a hobby and hopes to continue using writing within her future career. 

Grand Rapids, Michigan: First Lessons on Lost Things

scluttBY PATRICIA SCHLUTT  (Aquinas College)

This essay was an honorable mention in the 2017 Narrative Map College Student Writing Contest. 

Setting courses for sailboats taught the boy about scars: the lake was a gouge in the earth, the sailboats left fluid white gashes in the water which healed in moments, red punctures and bruises bloomed across his forearms as he fought to right the masts of boats that overturned on blustering mornings.

In the budding sun, before the sailors arrived, the eastern sky sang with blues and reds. With a push-broom he cleaned the docks, alone, pushing seaweed and goose shit into the water, where it broke through the surface and then disappeared.

During a race once, a sailor dropped his watch into the lake as he rounded a buoy and made his way to the finish. The sailor called across the wind to him, not wanting to cede the race. “My watch fell! Find my watch!” he bellowed toward the crash boat, where the motor idled and the boy watched for wrongdoing or danger. The boy revved over to check. After the water cleared, he could see the watch, beneath the surface, sinking, sinking. There was no way for him to get to it. It was going to make its way to the bottom, where things seldom change or heal, where seaweed undulates and where mysterious creatures click and mutter among the mud and the other lost things which remain forever lost.

Scar #3

It was in the grey shadow of winter that I smoked my first blunt. When Victoria and I walked with friends to the high school to catch a bus, she pulled me aside and shook my hand, passing it to me then. It was at once a satire and a serious event.

An hour later I pulled on my winter boots and walked to the backwoods alone. The sun had split the sky open and the snow was dressed in a sheet of pearly ice, reflecting the light of the afternoon. My fingers fumbled out the old mint tin, opened it, and unclasped the dusky smell of weed and peppermint. There it was: she had even rolled it for me, which was good because I didn’t know how, not then. My toes tapped the ice as I looked up from the tin and the dead pines behind me to the bushes and vines that form the rest of the woods. Birds hummed and chirped from the trees. The sun blazed over snow. I reached out to touch the Great Old Tree which marks the dividing line between Forest Explored and Forest Unexplorable.

The Great Old Tree was my sister’s favorite tree. It was a hearty, fat evergreen with low branches that were easy to climb and nest in. Squirrels pockmarked the boughs with stores of nuts and leafy needles. Its trunk was weighty, grey, lined with black and brown. It is the last tree before the forest is overrun with intertwining bushes and vines too thick to walk through without a machete.

The trunk was surprisingly warm and streaked with lichen. Somewhere far off, a motor gurgled to life. I pulled my fingers back from the bark, extracted the blunt from the tin, and fumbled for my matches. The tiny flame blossomed. If I had looked into that fire, I would have seen my life- tiny, but full and bright- burning there, full of beginnings.

(I was setting myself on fire. And I burned so bright.)

*

Fat old carp circle think that the paper you tear up is bread, so they circle beneath the knoll they stand on. She leans against a tree, he rips little chunks out of the syllabus, balls them up, and chucks them into the lake. It is the last day of class. The sun is high, golden, and hot.

As he throws, he asks about time. “Have you ever thought about our sense of time? We both have a sense of what time is right to move, to speak…” She shifts her weight off the tree, steps out toward the lake. He steps forward, his feet shifting to point toward the library, over the backs of circling carp. After a moment’s pause, he adds, “See? We know without thinking, without speaking, to move. It’s time to adjust.”

She is thinking that she doesn’t want their times to be connected. She already loves somebody. She thinks he does, too.

“I really hope it works out for you:” the chorus of a friendship, then a signature at the bottom of group emails, and finally a note at the bottom of the syllabus he will give to all his students.

Patricia Schlutt is a recent graduate of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids where she studied Community Leadership, Theology, and Writing. She has been published in The Albion Review, The Louisville Review, Hanging Loose Magazine, and the Aquinas College Sampler. She grew up in Michigan, where she fell in love with the forests, beaches, and the rich family history that imbues the landscape around her. In her studies she explored activism, community organizing, immigration, family, religion, whole foods and the intersections between those subjects. She looks forward to a life of continued learning as she travels, works on farms, and writes her way across Michigan and the world.

Saugatuck Dunes, Michigan: A Sweet Beginning at the Bitter End Coffeehouse

ShanleyBY SYDNEY SHANLEY (Grand Valley State University)

This essay was an honorable mention in the 2017 Narrative Map College Student Writing Contest. 

The exterior looked how I felt: dirty red brick, tired neon signs, a dead tree, and a lot of ashtrays. Every time I went, the routine was the same but the faces always changed. A bunch of strangers chainsmoking outside, bonding over bummed cigarettes and borrowed lighters. Huddled together on the most painful metal chairs ever created, there was an an intimacy only possible between two and six o’clock in the morning. It was the stomping ground for self-proclaimed philosophers and recluse savants; my favorites being the sidewalk savior, the socialist hermit, the flighty poet, and the cloaked artist.

One night, about a week into my college career at Grand Valley, it was the usual spread of characters. The flighty poet feverishly sold his views on prostitution to the unfortunate crowd who trapped themselves in one of his political ravings. His unassuming, effeminate demeanor always quickly unraveled in his mania. His fiery locks consuming his glasses. Darting eyes filled with equal parts excitement and desperation.

Listening in, unimpressed, was the socialist hermit. Even in his dilapidated Cubs slippers and stained pajama pants, he held a silent power over all the other pseudo-intellectuals. His best friend, the sidewalk savior, was always too busy trying to convert, pray with, or heal strangers to pay attention to anything but God. Not interested in his almighty powers, I wandered over to the cloaked artist. His small frame was always hidden by a massive pleather, floor-length coat, and I had never heard him speak, so his mystery was either very forced or completely accidental. While asking him to draw me a pinup, a lost-looking, visibly drunk man appeared, moaning loudly of a “bleeding heart.”

The sidewalk savior jumped at the sound of anguish, immediately offering to heal the stranger. After a long debate between the atheists, the spiritualists, and the Catholic, the moaning man seemed to have calmed down, or at least sobered up a little. Exchanging smokes, the Hermit, the Poet, the Moaner, and I began exchanging “what-ifs”: “What if we go to the lookout right now?” “What if we go to the zoo?” “What if we go to the dunes?” At five o’clock in the morning, they all seemed equally absurd, but none of us wanted to split up our newfound alliance of misfits. So like any insane person would, I agreed to drive an hour to the Saugatuck Dunes with three bizarre men I had known for only a few days.

An eager trek to the water instantly turned into an exhausted limp, because climbing up vertical piles of sand is exactly as hard as it sounds. I watched, amazed, as the Moaner and the Poet hopped up the infinitely reaching, eroded facade with ease, each step springing up from the sinking sand as if they defied gravity. In the darkness, I struggled to follow their figures, relying on the bouncing orange glow of a phone light. It hypnotized me, burning into the darkness, cutting through the sharp angles of the impending shadows. As the pair disappeared behind the mound, taking the light with them, I sat on the edge of absolute darkness. It felt like if I took a step I would fall into the abyss, doomed to fall forever towards the water, to watch the waves lap but to never feel them. In an attempt to ground myself in reality, I filled my lungs with the dank lake air. I watched the sand swallow my toes while the reeds tickled my legs, while the outlines of clouds drifted over the soft, omnipresent glow of the moon. I felt totally absorbed, like grains of sand were replacing each cell of my body.

I hazily glanced back towards the orange glow as the Moaner and the Poet emerged from the dunes. We clumsily trickled our way down to the beach. It all felt so vaguely nostalgic, like I had been there in a past life. Bouncing across the wet sand, giggling with the Moaner, chasing after the Poet, it felt like I had found a long-lost family I never knew I lost. Drained, I sat next to the Hermit, who had been oddly silent while the rest of us jabbered and danced in euphoria. I asked if something was wrong, and he replied in one of his cryptic mantras, “I would never want to be anywhere else but where I happen to be.” I saw the same tranquility in his eyes that I felt. The other two joined us, and we let the water wash over our pants. But it was not enough, the water was calling, and we went running. Laughing, screaming, howling, I met the water with glee, and it met me with a splash to the face. Weighed down by my soaked clothes, I had never felt lighter.

I settled into the sand, away from the others, lulled by the ebb and flow of the waves until it matched my heartbeat. In the obscurity of night, amongst the stillness, it resembled a surreal wasteland of a world lost long ago, with us being the only survivors. Expecting devastating loneliness, I was met only with a sense of wholeness. We had conquered the unsuspecting night. And as the sky became flushed with pink, the water bursting with lavender, I knew reality would set in again. In an attempt to hang onto the sweet, somber kiss of night, we all left the beach, gliding over the sand like shadows. When we all came out of our trances, I asked, “Do we exchange information or let fate take over?” and the Moaner reassured me, “I have no doubt that we will find each other again.”

I hoped that the feeling surging through me was being reflected, mending the Moaner’s bleeding heart.

Sydney Shanley is a freshman at Grand Valley State and hasn’t decided a major. She loves the beaches in Michigan because she’s from Fort Wayne, Indiana.