Sleeping Bear Dunes

I must apologize for not posting even a single summary description of my INCREDIBLE artist residency at Isle Royale, but the summer has slipped away. Following that STELLAR experience, a short trip to “camp” on the Yellowdog Plains turned into a major stay. I recently returned to Minnesota for a week, to connect with friends and repack, drove to Wisconsin to see my folks, and now I’m here in Michigan again; now at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

After an abnormally early 4 am departure from the farm in Wisconsin (unheard of for a poet!), I had a truly serene drive through Upper Michigan. I think I was in Escanaba before anyone else woke up. The trip over the Mackinaw Bridge was smooth sailing — a few thunderstorms had passed to the south just before I reached “Lower Michigan.” I put that in quotes because everything is relative. Folks from the cities at the BOTTOM of Michigan call this area “Northern Michigan” but also “Lower Peninsula.” It can get confusing. They say the Sleeping Bear Dunes are located in the “Western” area of “the Lower Peninsula of Northern Michigan.” In my head, Northern Michigan still means a view of Lake Superior!

My home base for this residency is Tweedle Farm. My studio is set up in a sunroom off the big open kitchen. My time is very much my own, here. The October light is wonderful — soft, diffused, muted colors. The fields have turned amber, gold, rust, russet, maize, ochre, umber. Some of the maples, basswoods and dune grass are brilliant sap-green, while others are blazing up into crimsons and yellows. So far I’ve been busy writing, sketching, and exploring the area around Empire, including an old tree farm on the bluff behind my farmhouse, the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, Cottonwood Trail, north as far as Glen Arbor and Glen Haven, and south as far as Frankfort, Point Betsie, Platte River area, etc.

As always, serendipity is on my side. I’ve already stumbled into several awesome spots and situations. Yesterday, for example, I saw HUNDREDS of huge King salmon swimming upstream in the shallow Platte River, heading in from Lake Michigan, to spawn. The river is shallow and gravel-sand bottomed. Just up from where I first spotted them, they were impounded at a DNR/NPS weir — the fish-gates were closed across the river, and those huge fish were absolutely roiling thick in the water, all fins and shadows and undulating tails. Tomorrow I’ll go back to see eggs and fish being harvested.

The park’s short interpretive film, shown at the visitor center, talks about the native legend that explains the creation of the “Sleeping Bear Dune” (a visible named feature of the park’s headlands) and the twin Manitou Islands. In the legend, a mother bear swims across the Lake to safety but here cubs lag behind. She waits and waits, but her cubs never make it. She falls asleep on the shore, and becomes the Dune, a slumbering, grieving mother bear. The islands are raised up to mark the bear cubs graves. The film ends with the thought that what we experience as “reality” — the land, our lives, every detail — is just the elaborate dream of the sleeping bear. I really found this a profound and moving idea, one with echoes in several world religions and even reflected in philosophies into the nature of “reality” and “time.” My own dreams have been incredibly vivid lately. I’ll try to pay closer attention to them.

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