Category Archives: Sketches

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.

Battle Creek, Michigan: The Smell of Cereal After Goodbye

Battle Creek PictureBY APRIL KRAGT (Spring Arbor University)

This is the third place winner in the 2017 Narrative Map College Student Writing Contest. 

As a teenager, I cringed at the idea of staying in Battle Creek. I looked down on the people who grew up in Battle Creek, raised their own families in Battle Creek, and sent their kids to the same schools in Battle Creek. I was determined to be different than all of them. I wasn’t going to get stuck in in this place; instead, I was going to depart for college and leave for good, pile my belongings into my tiny blue Saturn, and fly down I-94, never to look back. Really, the city could burn for all I cared, because in my escape of Battle Creek I thought I left a wasteland. I thought I left the rundown buildings, the pathetic mall, the potholed roads.

But that’s not all I left.

I left the smell of cereal on hot mid-summer days…

My friends and I compete with each other, trying to see who can name what type of cereal Kellogg’s is making. The air is sticky and thick with grainy starch and sickly sweet sugar. The first person to recognize this wonderful scent shouts, “Frosted Flakes!” And then, of course, we all pine for a heaping bowl of the stuff; but mouths watering, the taste of the air will have to do.

I left celebrations of the World’s Longest Breakfast Table…

One wonderful day every summer, I wake up much earlier than a kid on break normally does, and I crawl, half asleep, into my dad’s car. We travel downtown for an event called the World’s Longest Breakfast Table, where the streets are flanked with, well, long breakfast tables. My dad and I are energized by the cool morning and the increasing warmth of the sun. We sip coffee, the caffeine sinking into our veins and into our psyches, filling us with euphoria. We navigate swiftly through dense throngs of people, eyeing all the food. We show the world we are multitasking champions because we can walk through a stuffy crowd while balancing our coffee cups in the crooks of our arms, our hands occupied with flimsy paper bowls of cereal. We stuff ourselves silly with a hearty breakfast, mainly the expensive types of cereals my parents can’t justify buying. For me, that cereal is Krave—you know, those crunchy little nuggets with a gooey inside, the ones that come in only two flavors: chocolate and double chocolate. While I polish off my last few bites and begin delightfully slurping the remaining chocolate milk—the best part of the cereal—Dad chows down on some Reese’s Puffs, shoveling mounds into his mouth faster than I can say, “Let’s get some Pop-Tarts.”

I left hot air balloon festivals…

Every year, Battle Creek becomes a launching pad for hot air balloons and their pilots. There are always balloons like Tony the Tiger, Sugar Bear, Post, and others made up of checkered and striped patterns. It’s a tradition for my dad, brother, and I to get into the car and drive to the balloon launch. We always get there early, eager with anticipation. Sometimes, we even wait an entire hour to see the balloons slowly ascend into the sky. Once they finally launch, we pick a balloon we really like, and we “chase it.” With my dad behind the wheel, we follow Tony the Tiger in the car until it lands. This task is more difficult than it sounds. We often get stuck in traffic or take a wrong turn until our balloon is out of sight. Then, we race down back roads until we find it again. Once our balloon lands—in a park, in a parking lot, in someone’s backyard—we “land” there too. This is my favorite part because I get to meet the pilot, who is basically a celebrity to me. He gives me a card that has a picture of the balloon on it, and he signs it. Before we leave, we help the pilot pack up the balloon. When we get home, I place the card with the rest of the thick stash I keep hidden under my bed.

I left the Festival of Lights…

On frosty winter nights, I trek downtown through the snow with my dad and brother, peering at the lights the city puts up every year. We “ooh” and “aw” at snowmen, reindeer, and geese decked out in reds, blues, and greens. Though my heart is joyful, my little fingers are frozen and my nose is snotty, so we walk to a restaurant called Clara’s on the River and sit inside, gratefully gulping down hot chocolate. The warmth sets in, and my bones are joyful, too. Done for the night, we drive back home for bedtime. My dad tucks me into bed, and I whisper, “See you at the lights.” We always say this to each other. We play this game in which we pretend we visit the Festival of Lights in our dreams; we agree to meet each other at a specific light. The next morning I wake up, and over breakfast he grins and tells me, “I saw you at the snowman light.” Thrilled, I lean closer like I’m sharing top secret information and say, “I saw you there, too!”

These memories continually draw me back to a place I once refused to call home. There’s a reason people use clichés; they’re often true. You never know what you’ve got until it’s gone.

I left my home.

April Kragt is originally from Battle Creek. She is currently an English major at Spring Arbor University, where she tutors in the Writing Center and has been published in the campus literary journal, the Oak Tree Review. 

Paradise, Michigan: A Journey North

2016-10-10 13.23.56BY BENJAMIN KAUFFMAN (Hope College)

This is the second place winner in the 2017 Narrative Map College Student Writing Contest. 

June 12: I’m getting in the car and driving north soon. The road feels like home in a different sort of way than my parent’s house does. It has been good to be with my parents for the summer, but I want to get out of the house. My mother told me it wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t gotten so drunk and I know that, but you’re not really supposed to say it. It didn’t sit quite right with me so I’m going away for a few days.

June 13: I was far north and there was no traffic on U.S. 131. The forest passed on both sides and the clouds were crisp in the three o’clock light. The birches stood out the way a mother’s first few grey hairs do. Some time later, I saw a trailhead and pulled the car to the side of the road. It was an overgrown damp place and I was glad that it was damp and not anything else. A small stream dug its way through the earth the way canyons are made. It was the sort of place where speaking felt irrelevant. I sat without thinking for the first time in awhile.

June 14: Last night, the wind played in the trees as the sun went down. I thought of when I was a child. There was one tree in our front yard, a maple. On hot days, I would go out and lay in its shade and listen to its leaves brush against one another as the backs of hands brush when almost-lovers walk. One August afternoon, a cousin drew the blade of his new jackknife down the full length of the trunk. It looked like a paper cut does on a thumb. As the tree grew, the cut grew, now a two inch-wide gash. I would lay awake at night, thinking about it. The maple still casts a shadow, but it has lost its sapling innocence. I sometimes pray for it by running my fingers across the torn bark. Some things can’t be undone.

June 16: I walked to the west bluffs per the advice of the bloody mary-making bartender at The Gatehouse. The wind welcomed me and reminded me of a day in August years ago, when the sidewalk was littered with green leaves. Huron was below, crashing. The trees of an unknown island were blue in the distance. The Grand Hotel was beautiful and aptly named and looked like a wonderful place to write. The concierge looked like they do in the movies. People dressed in all white were playing croquet on the lawn. A woman at the door of the hotel had a smile that made me want to turn and smile back. My mother has a laugh that makes you want to laugh along. I used to get upset because it seemed like she loved my friends more than she loved me, but I have since learned how she shows her love.

June 17: I got in the car this morning and drove farther north. The signs I passed spoke for this place.

Welcome to God’s country.

Diesel and smoked fish, exit 337.

Adopt-a-Highway: Hugs and kisses from Papa and Gram Skeans.

One sign told me that Trout Lake was 33 miles away and Paradise was 44 miles away. I found there are two Trout Lakes: a body of water and a small town. I think God lives here, in the back of the only store – the Corner Market. A sign boasted of beer, wine, hard liquor and fresh meat. I went in because $3.50 for a bundle of firewood was cheaper than I could get anywhere else. The woman at the counter told me they were out of firewood and that I could go out back and pick some up for free. Better yet, she said, I could swing by the graveyard on my way out of town and gather it there. I decided the dead might need their wood. I passed the graveyard on my way to Paradise.

Ben Kauffman is studying business and English at Hope College. “Up North” is a place that his family has often visited, and where he has found a peace of his own. This is his first publication.

Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse, Michigan: Just Watch

26BY REBEKAH GLUPKER (Grand Valley State University)

This is the first place winner in the 2017 Narrative Map College Student Writing Contest. 

I settle down on the beach near the Old Mackinaw Point Lighthouse and take my camera out of its protective case. The sun has just begun to set over Lake Michigan, the first tendrils of pink reaching across the sky, and I want to capture the moment.

I stand for a better angle and take a couple photos, then sit back down to make sure I’ve gotten the lighting right. I adjust the camera settings and stand to try again. This quickly becomes a pattern; I want to get the perfect picture, but each new one is better than the last. After a few minutes, an elderly man shuffles up to me. He is wearing worn suspenders over his faded plaid shirt, and he adjusts them before lowering himself to the sand with a grunt.

“You can’t get the sunset with that thing,” he says, gesturing to my camera.

I clutch it protectively to my chest to shield it from his criticism. It’s old, sure, but it still works just fine.

The man grins. “I mean the sunset’s not just about the colors,” he says. “Sunsets are experiences. To see a sunset, truly see it, you’ve got to put the camera down and just watch.”

I can’t stop the skeptical look that spreads over my face, and he chuckles.

“Trust me, it’s worth it,” he says.

I shrug. Why not? I think. I’ll have other chances to take pictures.

“Okay,” I tell him and lower my camera. I dig my feet into the sand to feel the cool grains between my toes, and I watch the sun set.

The soft pink gradually expands to fill the whole sky, bleeding into the streaks of brilliant orange that appear. Then the clouds ignite, a slow burn that begins at the horizon and spreads to the nearby sky until it is blazing red, silhouetting the Mackinac Bridge in front of it. The waves beat rhythmically against the shore and a sudden gust of wind whips at my hair. All the sensations build in my chest, creating an urgency I don’t quite understand.

The sun begins to disappear below the horizon, slipping lower with every passing minute. The sky softens, and the world begins to calm. The waves lap more gently at the shore and a soft breeze kisses my skin, bringing with it the comforting scent of the lake.

My hands lie slack in my lap, and the camera has slipped off to the side, forgotten. I let out a breath I hadn’t realized I was holding. A sense of peace replaces the urgency, as though I’ve found the answer to a question I don’t remember asking.

The elderly man nudges my arm with his elbow. “Yeah,” he says, “you get it now.”

And so I sit on the beach while the sky fades to deep blue, then black, until the mosquitos start biting and the water sparkles with the reflection of the lights on the bridge.

Often sunsets make me feel tiny and insignificant, unworthy to witness their glory; but tonight I feel like I’m part of something amazing.

My camera beeps nearby, reminding me of its presence.

Power off? the screen asks.

Yes, I confirm, and smile.

Rebekah Glupker is a Writing major at Grand Valley State University. She has spent a week in the Mackinaw City area with her family every summer for as long as she can remember, and its beauty inspires much of her writing. She has not yet been published, but is currently readying several pieces for submission to school publications. 

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Seul Choix Point, Michigan: Of Shells and Strata, Time and Terrain

Screenshot 2017-01-29 08.53.27BY ROBERT ROOT

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

I’ve been tracking the Niagara Escarpment, a geologic formation that arcs from Wisconsin through upper Michigan and Ontario past Niagara Falls into western New York. In the Upper Peninsula, Seul Choix Point interrupts a long stretch of Lake Michigan shoreline, between the Garden Peninsula on the west and the Mackinac Bridge on the east. The name comes either from French explorers who thought the point the only choice–“seul choix”—for shelter between Mackinac Island and Green Bay or from a distortion of an Ojibwa word, “shashoweg,” the straight line. As my wife and I approach, I ignore college French lessons and use the local pronunciation, “Sis-shwa.” I want to see the way the Niagara Cuesta slides under Lake Michigan here.

Passing the Seul Choix Lighthouse to reach a path through the trees to the shoreline, we emerge onto a broad flat rock beach, its surface uneven but mostly uniform. Shrubs and grasses grow in crevasses and deeper indentations are filled with either lake water or layers of small white shells. We weave our way toward the water across eroded strata, broken chunks of flat rock lying in small pools or in the midst of shells. Dark mosses spill over cracks and fractures. Just offshore glacial erratics rise above the waves. It’s an overcast morning, and the waves match the grayness of the clouds and the grayness of the rocks.

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Buffalo, New York: A lake forgotten—a performance renewed

BY SHANNON TRAPHAGEN 

This essay is part of the Great Lakes Review’s Narrative Map project. img_9947-2

Mine is a watery world. Mirages that swell the tales of fisherman as distant sailboats and canoes glide along the edge of a lake forgotten. Lake Erie, at the edge of Buffalo, NY is a fragment of the world that is just now rejoining the mass of lakes surrounding it; showcasing its great comeback.

Sitting on a hollowed out log as laps of water dance near my toes, I gaze at the once putrid green water, now cyan. Its color revived, restoring the glory days of what once was considered one of the grandest vacation destination in America. Inviting visitors, storefronts, corporate investors, restaurants and beachgoers back to a city once labeled a dying part of the Rust Belt. You shall find no rust here. Nothing but clear blue skies, River Birch’s and American Hornbeams, soft white sand, skyscraper-sized fans that harness free energy, and a soft northerly breeze that reminds me of our closest neighbor. As the fan blades rotate in the distance, so gigantic they seem inches from me, I watch a haze of hot summer air lift, removing the veil that covered the city landscape moments before. The lifting of the veil, a dinner bell of sorts to surfers across the city as they descend suddenly upon the tranquil beach for which I sit. Surfers in Buffalo, NY? Technically they are Kite-boarders, but add the waves of Lake Erie and what culminates is a sport of beauty—kite-surfing. It’s an interesting tango between wind, water, human, and machine. I marvel as I watch, in awe of their talent. Beyond them is the vast lake where boaters, canoeists, fishermen, yogis, and sunbathers all gather; everyone taking advantage of Act 1 in a new play where our lake is the star.

A faint smell of the aquatic underworld combines with the tantalizing smells of a taco truck stationed nearby. People lining up to get a taste of their latest creation, or eat one of their popular fish tacos—insert irony here.

Further down the coastline, the lake wraps around the Golden Gate city, breathing new life into a downtown district that was beginning to petrify. Awash with new vibrancy, color, and youth, the harbor bears witness to fitness fanatics, a booming food culture, and artists and musicians all leaving their mark on the city’s revitalization. Yogi’s jump at the chance to workout on the water, balancing on water mats. The old and young seem joyous as they paddle the canal on water bikes. Old steel grain elevators showcase a bit of Vegas with its silos lighting up in multi-colors along Route 5 at night time. Artist’s renderings are displayed along the canal; murals depicting stories of our great comeback and the lake that made it possible. Enormous Adirondack chairs, in their bright greens, whites, blues, and oranges, are staggered under trees, providing a safe haven from the summer sun. Children excitedly play in a sandpit built just for them. How many of them have played in the sand before, in the heart of the city, I wonder?

It wasn’t long ago that the canal was just a stagnant body of water, having once-upon-a-time provided the city with the means for electric power. It was 1901; the era of Nikola Tesla and an age of renaissance for Buffalo. Harnessing the power of the water and electricity, Buffalo showcased, in dramatic fashion, the Pan-American Exposition. However it didn’t take long for Buffalo to slowly descend into a downward spiral of lost opportunity and decay. The lake waited, patiently, for the city and surrounding suburbs, to remember its strength and beauty. It could provide—we just needed to let it.

Snaking my way west down route 5 toward home, past the grain elevators mini-Vegas light show, I roll down my window, taking in the cool night air, listening as gentle waves hit the shoreline. Tree frogs begin their nightly lullaby with cicadas on harmony, and the lake gives its curtain call for another job well done; another show well performed.

Shannon Traphagen is currently the Associate Publisher at Buffalo Healthy Living Magazine and an international freelance writer. She writes essays, fiction, food reviews, inspirational articles and articles on the great outdoors. She also writes and records for radio, and gives motivational speeches. She sits on the Board of Directors for the Hamburg Chamber, a committee members for the Hamburg Tourism Committee, and a Board of Directors member for the WNY American Heart Association. Find her online here. 

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Marquette, Michigan: Landing

BY ANDREA HOYT

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

Our lives play out indoors. We are caged animals and mostly we like it t10399593_1074358783762_7630_nhis way. The sensations of earthly dependence have left our bodies but they linger somewhere else, and we resent the wind in the trees for being such a tease. But we had a beach once. It wasn’t exactly ours but we seemed to credit ourselves with its presence. It was ours but we did not buy it and we did not make it. We did not grind the sand that sloped so slowly into the cold Superior. We did not mold the sandstone into cliffs and paint them wildly with mineral powders. We were not here 500 million years ago.  But we have descended the gentle slopes, uncomfortable and exposed, waiting for the water to rise and rescue us from our ambivalence. We have seen the light of our fires thrown against the cliffs. We have kissed each other while the Aurora Borealis blazed above us. And often we were drunk. And on those nights Superior was gentler and we could feel our bare bodies become small and tight beneath the water as we darted from rock to rock. We felt that to fly could not be better than this.

There are other people on our beach now and they’ve had to pay for the privilege, five dollars I’m told. I imagine them removing their shoes, rolling up their pants, and loitering on the threshold, bouncing forward and back with the waves. This makes them feel youthful and they’re grateful for it. They comment on the frigid water and its bigness. A lake and not an ocean! Eventually they roll their pants up even higher, so high that it squeezes their calves painfully. They regret not wearing shorts but what does it matter if their pants get a little wet? Later, at home, they open one of the good bottles of wine. They can still feel the bitter Superior around their ankles. Their skin is tight and cold to the touch, but their limbs are light as they linger in the kitchen, raised, unawares, to the tips of their toes on the linoleum.

Andrea Hoyt is a writer living in Fort Collins, Colorado where she edits several magazines. 

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Kirk Park, Michigan: The Beach at Lake Michigan

BY ALAN HARRIS

100_1402This essay is part of the Great Lakes Review’s Narrative Map project. 

Grandpa is usually quite the talker. There are only two things in the world that I know of that keeps him from talking to anybody and everybody still above ground—sleep and going to the beach.

“Who does he think he’s talking to?” Dad asked.

“Why don’t you get off your beach towel and ask him?” Mom replied.

It was the first Saturday of summer. We drove an hour to get to Lake Michigan. The endless water reminds people of the ocean, especially Grandpa.

“I’m not asking the old man anything,” Dad said. “He always keeps to himself when we go to the beach. Been that way for as long as I remember.”

I hear the ocean’s cleaner than any lake. I don’t know. I’m probably the only 11 year old that’s never seen the sea. Grandpa’s been to shores all over the world, places with funny names like Iwo Jima and Ford Island.

“Oh, that’s right. Talking to fathers doesn’t run in your family,” Mom said.

Lake Michigan was cold but the sun kept us warm. The beach smelled like sun tan lotion. The waves whispered whatever secrets they whisper while the seagulls chirp insults at each other or about us.

“He started that tradition,” Dad replied.

Mom looked around the beach like she was searching for someone. “That explains it.”

As a ladybug landed on my nose, a seagull swooped over my head trying to grab a Kit Kat out of my hand. While Mom and Dad kept talking, I thought to myself, Explains what?

“Explains what?” Dad asked.

Mom smiled, put her big sunglasses on and stretched out on a towel. Grandpa continued to keep close watch over the water, mumbling to himself. My little sister was showing off her stupid gymnastics as she walked by him—on her hands. Grandpa and I ignored her.

“Stop ignoring me,” Dad said to Mom. “Explains what?”

Mom answered as the sunshine lit up her face. “It explains why your oldest son isn’t here to enjoy the beach—with his father.”

Big brother Rob stayed at home again this year. He never goes with us to the beach anymore. He pretty much never goes on any family outings—unless Dad stays home. Grandpa stood at the shoreline for a good hour allowing the waves to gain ground on his toes, only to watch the water retreat again and again. When his quiet conversation with the wind finally wrapped up, Grandpa began walking up and down the beach like he was patrolling a perimeter. Marching up and down the beach as though waiting for orders to stand down. While Grandpa marched, my sister decided to prove just how annoying she could be. Shelby kicked sand all over my towel—even got on my Kit Kat. At Lake Michigan cartwheels are just a messy way to show off.

But with or without little sisters, with or without my family not-talking to each other, I love the beach at Lake Michigan—and I’m not the only one. I’ve noticed how ladybugs love the beach. Seagulls, who have never seen the sea, they love the beach too. It’s even possible that Grandpa loves the beach as much or more than any of us, despite his retreat into silence. The look in his glass eye, as it reflected the lake, looked to me like love. But still there was something in his good eye that made me cautious. Eleven-year-olds might not be right all the time. What I saw in that good eye of his could have gone either way. If not love it might have been something closer to fear. Either way, I’ve never seen love or fear that deep in a good eye.

Maybe he was looking for something that was supposed to wash up on shore. Or he might just of been remembering something or someone just beyond the horizon—maybe both.  But nothing floated to shore this year. Nothing ever does. The only shadows upon the waves belonged to seagulls swooping towards us like fighter planes.

“Ooooh, look at the pretty birdie,” my sister pointed out with her toes as she stood on her head.

The white bird swooped in low from the water right at her.

“That’s a seagull, Stupid,” I said, as politely as a big brother can.

Grandpa squinted with his good eye as though he had recognized something—something he’d been waiting for. Standing bravely at attention before the seagull’s descent, Grandpa finally spoke up.

“That’s a strafing pattern,” he said softly.

“What’s a chafing pattern?” my sister asked. But Grandpa didn’t answer. He looked over at Dad, then the rest of us. He looked around at the ladybugs, seagulls and once again at the waves crawling across the peaceful sand—advancing on our position. I figured that whatever was on his mind had nothing to do with who’s talking to whom. There were hidden sights and sounds all around him. But none of us could see nor hear any of it. Not Dad. Not Mom. And Shelby never would. But Grandpa’s glass eye—now that’s another story. The glass eye sees everything. Everything that’s there, was there, and ever will be.

The glass eye saw all it wanted to see of Lake Michigan. Grandpa surveyed the sky in all directions before cautiously retreating to the safety of the parking lot.

Alan Harris is a 61 year-old hospice volunteer who assists patients in writing stories, letters and poetry. Harris is the 2011 recipient of the Stephen H. Tudor Scholarship in Creative Writing, the 2014 John Clare Poetry Prize, and the 2015 Tompkins Poetry Award from Wayne State University. In addition he is the father of seven, grandfather of seven, as well as a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee.

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Garrettsville, Ohio: Indian Summer

BY CAMERON GORMAN

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

indian_summerHeat shimmers off of the lake, creating a strange in-between place that catches my thoughts and turns them into prayers for iced tea. The sun falls onto my dark hair, heating it to a fiery length.

I am floating there, suspended in the green-clear water, my legs pumping above the silt that sucks at my feet below. The fish turn in their lazy circles, watching, silent observers to my grandmother’s satisfaction as she turns her head upwards.

The rays catch her gently cragged face as she floats by me, her inner tube’s plastic surface crashing against the translucent waves as a ship breaks water. Her nose is high, it’s the Indian blood. Her hair falls delicately down her shoulders, the stark white of January cooling the stifling air.

I paddle harder against the distance and grasp her hand, slick with duckweed. The light spills over the top of her hair, gilding her expression as her eyes fly open.

I remember when we were both younger. Springtime, Easter, when I still wore dresses and she still painted her nails, dark red like blood. We looked for bones in the forest, muddy and filled with something unpinnable- fast butterfly wings.

She smiles and closes her eyes once more, the water lapping at both of us from the center of the lake. It bubbles up from somewhere underground, the sweet smell of the earth in its core.

It is cool against my body, but our arms extend across the translucent space and ignite.

Cameron Gorman is currently a student at Kent State University in Ohio. She works for the student-run newspaper and spends all of her free time writing. Her work will also appear in Work Literary Magazine in October.