Waves tumble across the surface of Lake Michigan, creating a constant thrum that provides background music for an afternoon of writing. It’s taken me a few days to derive comfort from this intrusive sound in what is an otherwise a peaceful setting.
Water striking a sandy beach isn’t a common sight in my world of soybean fields and slow-moving rivers. Sitting here, at the intersection of three tall windows that afford a panoramic view of the lake, has caused me to consider whether my view of the world at large will be altered when I return to Indiana farmland.
We are a product of the company we keep, and I think that must also include our physical environment. I remember the thrilling and frightening freedom I felt standing at the edge of The Grand Canyon. The expanse of it made me brave as I stepped out for a robust hike on the canyon trails. In the same way, standing at the edge of a wooded path can carry me into quiet contemplation as I wind my way through trees.
I am drawn to water. It’s always been so. I feel more alive when there is moving water within view. One of the features that I love most about the little farm my husband and I bought months before our wedding is the spring-fed creek that runs year-around along our driveway. I can hear the creek bubbling and tumbling over rocks and roots whenever I walk out our front door. It’s a constant sight and sound that gives a specific character and essence to our rural life.
So here, yards from the narrow strip of beach that holds back the tumbling surf, there’s been an awakening of sorts. Not just to the sound of surf, wind and moving water, but also to the beauty of women from diverse backgrounds who carry in their hearts a love of language. The hours we’ve gathered in a circle before a roaring fire to break open the gift of words has opened a door into their worlds.
Our days at the lakeshore have been but a moment stolen from a busy life occupied with family, work, responsibilities and other equally worthwhile activity. But perhaps we’ll each carry a broader view of life back into our everyday worlds.
I have photographs of the lake that will remind me of this respite, though I know it won’t be the same as being here. Still, I hope the images might inspire me to look at life from a different angle, even when I’m sitting on my porch across from the bean field or catching a view of red barns through the window by my desk.
I’ll also carry home with me photos of the women I’ve come to know in our retreat from the world. They’ve inspired and expanded me during meals around the table, words shared amidst tears, songs lifted in harmony, laughter ringing in the rafters, hikes through dunes rising above the shore.
If we are indeed defined by the company we keep, the waves and the water, the smiles, tears and stories have left their mark and I’m driving home tomorrow a different woman.