Tag Archives: Lake Michigan

Naming the Lakeshore

We recently returned from a visit to one of our favorite places, Lake Michigan’s southeastern tip–New Buffalo, the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Warren Dunes … everything between St. Joseph, Michigan and Gary, Indiana. On this visit we spent most of our time in New Buffalo, but also returned to Mt. Baldy and hiked through “Inland Marsh” for the first time.

Everywhere one turns, in the region, there’s some ugliness to be found. Past and future industrial failures. Expenditures of obnoxious wealth on equally terrible taste. Casinos. The great lake, however, remains and the dunes persist.

Although we did not meet each other at the lake, my wife and I have visited this region with semi-regularity for over two decades. We typically visit in less-than-pleasant weather. Visiting is cheaper in the off season and, more importantly, the place can be fairly empty. Therefore, scars and all, the lakeshore landscape is ours, a shared geography, a place in our time.

This time, the weather was windy and cool (in 40s). Warm enough to run outside (the daylight helps too) which I have not done there in at least 5 years. While my wife read a book, the kids thrashed in the pool, and I took off for any easy 10k, out-and-back.

From the road, beach front property looks smaller. Perhaps the builders turn the “big face” of the house to the lake, makes sense. Additionally, from the road view, there are cars, trees, trash receptacles, fences, tennis courts, and far too many “keep out” signs—possessions shrink in the clutter.

Many of the homes display cute names, sometimes above the door or on specially made signs in the sandy yards, but usually at the foot of the driveway, above, on or just under the mailbox.

The Gingerbread House, Stones Throw, Trelawney Place.

Why do people name houses and farms? I live in a nameless house. Before we moved in, the previous owners lived in a nameless house. Before that, another (probably nameless) house stood here amid urban decay. Today, our street in Indianapolis is too nice for us; the house is new, but I wouldn’t dare name it. There’s some violence in naming property (one “Christens” a vessel with broken glass) and, more so, vanity. Perhaps folks with the money to purchase vacation property, feel they can afford some vanity.

When I was a very small child my parents dreamed of purchasing a farm in Kentucky. I remember the dreamy sketches my mother drew–a barn, a mailbox, a wooden sign. The name? Apple Blossom Farm? Apple Tree Farm? I’m not so sure. Not long after naming my infant sister, they found and purchased a cheap stretch of clay and limestone. The yard, house, chicken shack, barn and sheds were brimming with the empty whisky bottles of the widower who had died there. I have no memory of the sign. Did my parents name the farm?

Homes and farms are suitably named when the name rises, like any word, from the common parlance. When your neighbors’ grandchildren call your house the Sand Castle, go ahead and commission some fancy signage.

Kilshannig, Tig Na Loch, Villa Alba, Kel-Sie Kottage!

I suppose I’m curmudgeonly harping on about fond dreams, little gestures of whimsy, the hopes and romances of the fortunate nouveau riche. No one likes a covetous whinger. But let hide in irony:

“O God, O Venus, O Mercury, patron of thieves,
Give me in due time, I beseech you, a little tobacco-shop”

(Ezra Pound, Lake Isle)

Vanity. I feel safer, I suppose, in not displaying my hopes for a future of peace and continued good fortune, respite. Instead, I write poems no one will read. My hopes hidden in double-speak. Lines falling into oblivion. Like this–cryptic, trailing off. Formless, meaning pixilated.

The owners of one of the beach-front homes used a wood slab, cut from the oval end of a great log, bark still intact. They burned, there, the words “Shifting Sands” and propped the sign against one of several, still standing trees. I hope the proud and wealthy owners of Shifting Sands are simply braver souls. I imagine they looked irony straight in the face and said, “Yes, fortune, I’m building this house on a sand dune. Should it be here when I die, let Sotheby’s auction the place to the highest bidder.”

I hope, nonetheless, to take many, many more walks, to trespass there again and again, with my wife on these same shifting sands.