Feeling waves of peace on returning to L. Michigan

Posted: September 14, 2008

Every year, when August turns to September, my husband and I pack our car, grab our dog, and head for Lake Michigan. A deep sense of relaxation comes over me as I put my car in gear and head for the Pennsylvania Turnpike. I share the narrow roads with tractor-trailers and, reaching Michigan, pass through Ann Arbor's game-day traffic without a single moan or complaint, because I know what awaits me at the end of our GPS-navigated route: inner peace.

I grew up going to Ludington, Mich., every summer, no matter where I lived - Arkansas, Maryland, the Carolinas, and the Philadelphia region. The things I loved about this quaint little lake town as a child, staying in my grandparents' house, are the same things I love about it as an adult:

The House of Flavors, which boasts a "Super Pig Dinner" with seven scoops of ice cream and a coveted button that says "I made a Pig of myself . . ." for those who polish off all seven scoops.

The art galleries, with talent beyond expectation and prices that make you look twice.

The shops, owned and operated by Midwesterners, who have an ease about them that slows your pace.

The North Breakwater Lighthouse at Stearns Beach, which guides the SS Badger safely in from Wisconsin each night.

The sand dunes that line Lake Michigan, creating both a climbing challenge and a breathtaking backdrop.

But as an adult, my appreciation has grown beyond my childhood memories. There is a peace that comes over me when Ludington Avenue ends and the vastness of Lake Michigan comes into view.

I roll down my car windows and take a deep breath of the fresh, cool air that rolls off the lake. There is something about the beauty of the dunes and the way the moon looks as it casts its reflection across the calm water that slows me down internally and causes me to take a step back and reflect.

I walk a little slower and talk a little less. I appreciate simple things, such as an early morning walk, when the dew is still fresh on the hydrangeas, and the lake is so calm you can see the multicolored rocks smoothed by years of water flow.

I attribute the quiet connection to the simple, crisp beauty of the area, to the pull of the lake and the way the Badger sounds its horn as it approaches the lighthouse each night. My husband and I hold hands a little longer and linger on park benches that we might otherwise pass by.

Lake Michigan serves as a reflection of life. It roars with intensity and returns to a quiet calm that makes you strain to hear the waves as they wash along the soft, white sand. It is both simple and complicated, each component adding to its mystery and its beauty.

It is where I go to return to myself, and when it releases me, I am ready to return home, to the buzz of the city and the life that I love.

Sara Helms Gray lives in Wallingford, Delaware County.

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