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lakeshore

The forecast called for rain for most of the six days we stayed in the Michiana dunes along the southeast shore of Lake Michigan, but rain only fell during the first night, and the next morning dawned fresh and breezy. When we arrived on the shore that first morning the waves that greeted us the previous afternoon continued to crash against the shore loudly and strongly, enough for some body surfing for those not minding the chill. Every day afterward the wind slowed, the waves calmed, the water warmed, the sky cleared, until the last two days provided a lake so still that the lapping against the shore made barely a whisper. The temperatures every day were warm enough for a first week in August not to need a shirt or wrap, and cool enough in the reflected sunrays against the white sand never to feel oppressively hot. Out of twenty-five years of spending a week or two on the dune area beaches, I do not remember such a stretch of opportunities for beachcombing, resting, reading, swimming, sunbathing, or anything else we were prepared to do in or near the water.

Not a trace of alewives showed up on the beach, which in the early years of our visits met us in smelly die-off by the thousands. They hadn’t invaded the Great Lakes until the St. Lawrence Seaway made their incursion from the Atlantic possible in the 1950’s, when I paid my first visit, but the lake trout had also disappeared through over-fishing, so the alewives didn’t have any predators until Coho and Chinook salmon were brought into Lake Michigan. As those game fish became established, the alewife die-off slowly subsided, and the beaches depended on the cleanliness of their human occupants. Apart from an occasional piece of trash arriving with the waves, the Michiana shores were clean, and the users kept them so. An active storm season had left evidence along the tide zone, where a strip of heavier rocks interrupted the smooth sand of the beach. That rocky border, from two to ten feet wide, made the approach to the water a little painful for those of us with tender feet. We either walked gingerly through that zone, or we wore our sandals and beach slippers into the water. Either way the journey was worth it, as the lake water became unusually clear and warm during those days.

Even in such mild weather, every day proved different for those of us living on the beach. From noisy to nearly silent, from heavy waves to barely a ripple, from cloudy to clear skies, from cold water to warm, each day brought its variations. Never was it easy to leave the beach on the last day of our scheduled time. This year brought no difference at all in that respect.

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