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30 August 2016

Memories of Lake Michigan

I grew up in Saint Joseph, Michigan, a small town on the shore of Lake Michigan. I remember going away to college in Tennessee, and suddenly, the absence of The Lake became palpable to me. I had taken it, in all its grandeur, for granted for all of my first 19 years. I was reminded of this a couple weeks ago listening to one of my favorite podcasts, The Writer's Almanac, as is part of my daily morning routine:
Heather McHugh..., born in San Diego, California (1948). She said: "I have always lived on waterfronts. If you live on the edge of an enormous mountain or an enormous body of water, it's harder to think of yourself as being so important. That seems useful to me, spiritually."
My experience of The Lake wasn't quite as McHugh describes it. For me, it was less humbling than it was confining or, perhaps, embracing. In Middle Tennessee, I had 360 degrees in which to possibly travel; in St. Joe, I had roughly half that. Instead of feeling limiting, it felt comforting. I knew that there were possibilities out there, but as a youth, I did not have to bear the anxiety that can come from the overwhelming sense of endless possibilities.

The allegory is not lost on me here, that hometowns can be simultaneously nurturing and limiting and that college opens one to an expanse of unimagined opportunities. My experience, though, was much more material and much less transcendent. I simply felt The Lake.

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