Nine Mile Beach

Walking on rocks had a sharp crunching sound as Vicki moved along the beach.  It was also a challenge for her to keep solid footing. The natural beach is very steep and small. No other people were anywhere to be seen. It was noon and the weak sun was high in the sky and it was bright and cloudless. The wind off the Great Lake was crisp and cold. She walked with the rhythm of the waves as they lapped on the shore. The sun had been hidden for several days and in spite of it being cold, it was welcome to feel the sun’s rays on her face.

Her eyes were scanning the horizon for any freighters or small boats. None were there. It felt as if time had frozen. The only signs of man here on this hidden beach were the stairs and handrail that allowed visitors to have safe access. There was also one sign at the foot of the stair indicating that swimming was at one’s own risk.

She liked to visit on lunch hour from her job from time to time when her gastank was full and time not rushed. Today was especially tedious and stressful. Combing the beach after a quick bite of lunch was meditative. She could pretend that the work a day world was thousands of miles away and had no hold on her, at least for the 60 minutes allowed away from the desk and telephone.

The beach was all rocks.  At the water line it was interspersed was scrubby trees along, tall reeds and aquatic plants.  As a girl these water plants in the lake were all called ‘seaweed’ .  There was a narrow band of sand visible where the rock beach ended and the water line began. She looked intently at the stones. She picked up a few here and there and inspected them closely. And tossed them back to the ground. She was looking for fossils. Specific fossils often found in the great lakes, the state stone of Michigan, the Petoskey stone. They were a treat to find. Dry, they took an experienced eye to find the tell-tale pitted dots and the  all over light hexagonal shapes surrounding the dots. When wet, the hexagons stood out more and the ray shooting from the center dot were easily visible. Some fine samples could be polished. She had always wanted to try that but adding a rock tumbler to the budget always seemed frivolous.

Rock collecting was not a new game to her. She collected rocks from wherever she went. Agates from Lake Superior, fossils from Lake Huron, odd shaped stones from the Straight of Mackinaw and Petoskey stones were usually found in Lake Michigan. Where all these rocks went over the years is a good question. Some were lost from her childhood. Some were squirreled away in trinket boxes and cups around the house that were decorative. There was something fascinating about the smooth stones found in water. The fossils make by ancient glaciers left so many interesting impressions in the stone. One prized find as a child was a scallop fossil. She wondered where it went.

She had a few rules about rock collecting as an adult because really there was no place to keep them in her small house. She would keep brightly colored stones, heart shaped stones, full fossils, and Petoskey stones. And anything else that was unusual or caught her eye that day.

After looking often to the shore, to see if any gulls were flying or ships were passing, she looked at her cell phone for the time. A few more minutes, just a few more. Deep breaths of the cold, crisp unpolluted air was drawn deep into her lungs. Fresh water had its own distinct smell. The trees no longer had their bright autumnal colors. The rain knocked down all the deciduous leaves. The evergreens still added color along the shore line in stark contrast against the pale blue sky and deep blue of the water. Gold was spotted in the greens as the tamaracks lost their summer hue.

She imagined what it was like to live here before it was settled by the Europeans. How bleak winter would be and how harsh the winds could be to cope with. It could be a desolate place in the warmer months but winter would be oppressing she guessed.  A duck swam by and reminded her that many animals stayed for those harsh months. Many birds like the geese and gulls would not.

Looking down one last time before grasping the handrail to climb the steep steps to the parking lot, a familiar pattern was spotted on a stone. She picked it up and guessed it was what she was looking for. Just to make sure, Vicki walked to the water and dipped it in. A smile spread across her tired and weary face. It was indeed a Petoskey stone. The clean fresh air cleared her head and the stone was a gift from nature that was encouraging. Maybe the day would go for the better, maybe not but it was good luck to spot that rock before her time at the beach must end.

The rock was dried and carefully placed in her purse. She had a little drawstring bag made of tartan fabric filled with other little items.  Inside was another rock that had “quilter” carved on it, a bit of red and green tartan from her husband’ kilt ….and now the Petoskey stone. A modern day amulet bag that has never been shown to anyone, and she didn’t often take the items out but knew they were there whenever she needed to touch them.

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