Monday, November 16, 2009

Empire Beach, Sleeping Bear Dunes

Every once in a great while we take a trip for the fun of it. Because we do art shows we spend a lot of time on the road, and so when we have "time off" we generally want to stay home. But our last show was a month ago and we were starting to get itchy to do a little traveling, so we hooked up with our friend Karin, who lives in Traverse City in northern Michigan.

Perhaps I am biased because I've lived here my whole life, but I think Michigan is a spectacularly beautiful state. We have 11,000 lakes, 3,288 miles of shoreline (second only to Alaska) on four Great Lakes, and a variety of terrain from the (almost) mountains of the western U.P. to the marsh lands of the southeast. Four hundred foot sand dunes can be found along the Lake Michigan shoreline. Thousands of square miles of wetlands provide a haven for waterfowl, and the state hosts a rare type of wetland called a fen. There's boreal forest in the north, hardwood forest and stands of old-growth white pine and white cedar 400 to 500 years old. We even have prairie in the southwest part of the state.

I don't have a particular favorite when it comes to scenery or habitat, but just about any time I have a chance, I head for Lake Michigan.

Lake Michigan has some of the most wonderful beaches I've ever seen. Being on the west side of the state and catching the prevailing winds, huge dunes have formed along the shoreline. Great swaths of dune grass, dried to a golden hue, sway and rustle along the dunes. The winds drive the waves too, and the constant rush of water upon shore is soothing and meditative.

Empire Beach hosts one of the best views from shore of the sleeping giant herself, "The Bear".

Ojibwe legend tells of a mother bear and her two cubs who escaped a great fire on the far shore of Lake Michigan by swimming out into the lake. The cubs were young and not strong enough to make it all the way across. Her cubs became the Manitou Islands (South Manitou is just visible on the left side of the photo below, on the horizon) while she became the dune on the shore of the great lake, forever waiting for her cubs to arrive.

I don't think there's a more poignant story out there. Many have retold and illustrated the tale, including my partner Lori Taylor, who also won an Artist-in-Residence at Sleeping Bear in 2007. This is one of her illustrations below.

I love the big water, its moods, its history, its stories. Ever changing yet ever the same, constant in its motion, shifting, collapsing, advancing and receding. I could have sat there for hours, getting lost in the sounds and smells on that warm November afternoon. But there were others places to visit, other waters to explore, so we had to move on, unlike the mother bear, forever perched upon the shore, waiting patiently for her cubs.

Happy 50th Birthday, Lori.


  1. Really enjoyed your photos...a lovely trip down Memory Lane for one of the most perfect holidays my husband and I ever had was in Michigan...all the way up, from Detroit to the Northern Peninsula...and we felt like we were driving thru one fabulous post card after another...really enjoyed one evening, rented a cabin by the lake, bought some German sausage, and ate outside, watching the lake...and slept like logs in that fresh live in a little slice of heaven...also, Happy Thanksgiving!

  2. Love your photo of when the light hit the bluffs. Am looking forward to seeing some of the river and marsh shots you took the same day. I too get weepy eyed when I think of the mama bear waiting for her cubs to return. I guess I am biased too, a biased weepy northern girl with a deep affection for Leelanau County and her hypnotic waves and drifting sands dotted with petoskey stones.