The summers of my youth were spent on the shores of Florida and, later, North Carolina. On more days than I could count, I fell into bed exhausted, skin slightly pink, salt residue recently rinsed off, the smell of Coppertone never far away. Some days, I would dive again and again into the waves, body surfing back to shore. Others, I wandered along the sand, gazing at the horizon and dreaming of the world beyond. When I moved north for college, my New England friends introduced me to the Vineyard and Nantucket, whose beautiful shores confirmed what I’d always known: there is nothing quite like the ocean. I’ve been in love with it for as long as I can remember.
When my husband and I were contemplating a move to Michigan, his boss-to-be took us around town for a day, and then insisted we end our trip with a visit to Lake Michigan. “Wait until you see the dunes,” said this Wisconsin native, and I think my eyes may have accidentally rolled back in my head. When you grow up with the ocean at your back door, a lake is unlikely to impress.
And it didn’t. Well, it’s big, okay, I’ll give him that. And the sand was awfully nice; soft and white. But the waves were small and what’s a day at the beach without the salt?
Time ticked on and our short stay in Michigan turned into eight years. During that time, I discovered many beaches along the shores of the “big lake” and I loved to take the kids for an afternoon. A lake, I found, is a bit less stressful with small children, given the significantly smaller waves. And a salt-free lake, I found, is a bit easier to clean off of wiggly boys before they run through the house. A lake, I decided, is better, much better than nothing. And so we bought a cottage near a lake, the big one, and I savor every moment we spent there.
Okay, fine. Not every moment. Today, for example, I quite enjoyed our trip to the beach. But “savored,” well, no. Today—with an air temperature of about 64 degrees—the boys ran to the ice-cold lake and jumped and yelped and giggled their heads off. These boys of mine, who don’t know about the warm, wonderfully warm, beach water of my childhood, think this is great fun. Watching them laugh made me laugh. Still, I was almost shivering, sitting there with my towel wrapped around me like a blanket and I couldn’t help, for just a moment, wishing for the ocean of the south.