There us peace in the familiar sounds of summer at Shoreacres.
The Northwestern train keeping to its schedule.
Bank Swallows calling to their colony as they swoop to and from nests pockmarking the sandy bluff wall.
The harbor’s baritone foghorn warning boats buried in Lake Michigan’s mist.
Even the sailors at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center to the north chime in, drilling up and down the parade grounds.
Singing and rhyming.
Voices hovering in the air like ancient tribal chants.
Laying on the lawn overlooking the lake, I close my eyes and ease into the familiar sound of the sailors’ strong, low voices.
And the marching band practicing its spirited battle hymns.
Miles away, but strong and clear.
Carried to my ears by the lake winds cutting through the thick, moist air that smells of fresh cut lawn and freshwater fish.
Sun-filled days of climbing up and down the bluff where the path used to be before the lake rose and stole chunks of land, leaving little but swallow holes and sand – and killer cool ledges for daring leaps by reckless kids who take to the skies, then aim for the beach, landing in the soft, thick sand below – hot on the surface, but damp and cool just inches beneath.
Wriggling my toes further into the moist earth, I try to recapture the wind knocked out of me in the landing, until voices from above goad me into action and I’m forced forward again, down the soft, crumbling bluff, to a rugged line of boulders Dad had dropped on the beach in his failed fight against this infamously wicked lake.
Then one by one, into the water and waves we wade, trying to dislodge sand from our swimsuits and butt cracks. Feeling the lake’s strong, cold undertow at our feet and the strong, hot sun on our heads.
Watching our Lab, Heather, joyously and tirelessly swim after a stick bobbing on the waves.
Then up to the top we head to bound down again.
Long summer days invade the nights, inspiring late nights of Ghost in the Graveyard and Sardines and a world of hiding places scattered around our acres and outbuildings, where we squat amid the fireflies’ ambitious flickering and whisper above the crickets and cicadas charging the atmosphere with their measured, mesmerizing songs.
Reminding me that I am never really alone.
Standing at the edge of the bluff on the Fourth of July, with the comforts of home just steps away, we watch the fireworks displays from Chicago to Waukegan, “Ooohing” and “Ahhing”, mimicking the faraway crowds and slapping at mosquitoes determined to disturb our private celebration.
Mom unfreezes boxes of brats and burgers to feed a small army, which eventually arrives with empty stomachs and pockets full of bottle rockets, sparklers and Roman candles ample enough to light the skies and the lake, and disturb our quiet neighbors long after the distant festivities have ended.
But the best displays I witness from the brink are the summer thunderstorms rolling over the Great Lake, and the lightening exploding in sky-wide, silver-white bolts and bursts.
I feel fortunate.
On gentler nights when the moon is full and bright and we can see our way down the bluff to the beach, my siblings and I wade into the vast, still water.
First, up to our knees. Then our bellies. Then our chests.
Eventually emboldened by the bright moonlight and calm, glassy water, I swim further from the shore and my companions.
Through strange patches of warm in the perpetually cold, inland water.
Scanning the dark stretch of water in front of me and turning to see the sparsely lit shoreline now well behind me, the calm in my mind begins to churn and I begin to worry about what lurks just below my feet – and in those warm patches – and start paddling madly toward the beach and the nearest sibling.
Not stopping until I’m close enough to feel the sand below my feet, or see a smile in the moonlight.
Finding enormous comfort and calm in the motion of another’s treading water.
In their laughter.
In their teasing.
These are the endless days spent layered in sand and sun tan oil. Brown and blissful.
These are the days of sleeping well into the afternoon, or until the smell of breakfast cooking below wafts into my room…
or my class schedule arrives in the mail all too soon.