It was an amazing day. Today was the third time this summer I’ve been to the beach in Grand Haven, where I live on the eastern shores of Lake Michigan. The others were both really nice days,- good just to get out of the house, into the sun and sand and water. Today though, today was the “quintessential” beach day. As I came over the dune on my walk down to the water, it was like another world: the sand and dune grass in the foreground, the lake, blue/green where it was shallow, and the blue that gives blue it’s feeling stretching to the horizon that looked pale in comparison. There was enough surf to bring up white foam on the waves as they gathered toward the shore. The air smelled of lake (not fish) and hot sand, with the ever-present aroma of suntan lotion carried on the breeze. The sky, blue and cloudless, promised a hot day, but there was such a great lake breeze-just enough to cool and refresh. It’s Coast Guard Week in Grand Haven, aka Coast Guard City, U.S.A., the city council not withstanding, so this normally quiet, known only to natives, secluded beach was busy and festive.
There is a large, bright green alligator near my feet, –abandoned by a child who is now building sand castles with her dad in favor of riding the waves with the kayakers, paddle boarders, and body surfers. The water is still cold, but with waves like this, who can stay out? (I can). A boy runs by; I don’t really see him, but hear the particular scrunch of the sand, smell his tropical sunscreen. The surf, the gulls, the shrieks of children jumping the waves; I can close my eyes and just listen, just be another grain of sand on the vast seashore.
I turned the calendar page to August this morning. In these days when I treasure summer and dread winter, a season I used to love but now carries too much unpleasant history, the turn to August represents what I already know. Feel. Hear, smell in the air when I work in the garden–summer has passed its prime and is getting old. The changing insect noises, the August heat that is sultry but somehow less fervent than July, the twilight hours happening before we go to bed rather than after. The blueberry u-pick that I go to will close after next week. I’m canning salsa, checking the pears for ripeness, bringing in gladiola blooms. These all signal an urgency to me, to now enjoy the sunshine that is left.
This summer the closure is even more pronounced, more significant. Twenty-eight years ago my parents bought a small cottage on a really huge spring-fed pond in the hills of western New York. Lake Demon, to be precise (good luck finding it on a map). My kids know no other summer vacation spot other than a couple of extended treks that took us from there to Acadia in Maine. They’ve learned to swim, sail, paddle a canoe on that lake. Pond. The son who made his first trip there at 5 weeks of age brought his fiancée (now bride) two summers ago. It has been the place we go to spend time with my parents, read, laugh, eat really well (thanks, Mom), and be refreshed. Countless games of UNO, then Hands and Feet, stories and songs by the fire, Mike’s marshmallow concoctions, games of rolling down the hill, fishing, canoeing, swimming til dark, watching the stars and planets fill the clear night sky – homework and sporting events and television would be crowding our evenings again all too soon; the cottage was a different life, a welcome respite, especially for my husband. Just trust me on that one; we won’t go into how badly he needs his vacations! One late night trip back from my parents’ house in town found us all out of the car at the top of a hill (which feels like the top of the world out there), on a cold, clear night, mesmerized by the dance of Aurora borealis across the sky. Have you ever seen them, in person? Worth the price of admission. Yes, the cottage is rustic, it’s old, a haven for mice in winter and ants in summer, but for our family, the cottage is vacation. The cottage is iconic in its own right. (Does your cottage/lake house have a red leather couch)?
We all understand the reasons for the sale, for letting go. It is 600 miles away, too far to make many trips per year, so the burden of maintenance has fallen on my parents, who have unselfishly carried it, I guess because it is their nature or maybe also the pleasure of all those summer afternoons holding babes in the shade may have something to do with it. We went for 25 summers in a row, starting when our oldest was just a toddler. When weddings began to dot the summer landscape, stealing the vacation time, we could feel the change begin. This summer, our plans to go early didn’t pan out, and as the plan for the sale began to materialize, it became easier to not go back that one last time, knowing it would be the one last time.
Where there is nothing that can be done to change the inevitable, those things that must accompany the passing of time and the processes of aging, the only consolation is hope. Knowing that the whole creation groans, waits with eager longing for the day when “the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption [and decay] and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21), that in Christ all things will be redeemed, made new, made incorruptible-that is my hope. That’s the day that I am waiting for. That’s the day that I am longing for.