Michigan Dunes Camping Trip — Part Two

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Conquering Sand
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We three were so excited to hit the big dune on the first full day of our camping trip that we set off unprepared. After our morning of playing by the water’s edge, we headed north along the beach toward the largest of the three dunes, sans drinking water or backpacks to hold our jackets should we need to shed them. But what a view and what a day. It had been almost twenty years since we were last there, so I’d forgotten about how beautifully the sand ripples along the beach from the wind.
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I don’t recall whether or not these sand-guard fences were there last time we were. I assume they are down close to the water to preserve the beaches… keep them from becoming one with the dunes on the other side. I almost walked past these rustic barriers without any regard. But then someone’s pink garment caught my eye, blowing in the wind as if it had been on its way to another place and became snagged on one of the fence slats, so I stopped to capture it and the story of the wind it was telling so well. That’s when Brac and Isaac noticed a small gap in the fence. To Isaac, it was more than just a broken slat. It was the space that seemed tailor-made for his face to peek through… where he could speak to us, from the other side, of treasures he found in the sand. To me, it was the picture-perfect window with which to frame his beautiful face.
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We wandered near the fence for a time, enjoying the sand and sun and scoping out the distant dune we were about to scale, as if we could bolster our resolve to ascend to the top if we just looked at it a minute or two more. Hang-gliders swirling around the top of the dune were the true adventurers, though. We watched them soar and told ourselves that if they could bravely fly up there above this dune, then we could certainly climb it.
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Rarely was I in step with the boys. They had no time to stop and appreciate all there was for me to photograph. And I had no desire not to. Lingering behind was a gift. Not only could I photograph Michigan’s nature… I could photograph these two bonding together in it. Isaac was having the time of his life. I could tell just by the way he ran… it’s a different sort of run children have when they’re having that kind of fun. And Brac was enjoying it every bit as much. His enjoyment was more in the observing… seeing his own miniature version of his self enjoying this place the way he would have at that age. Wherever Brac went, Isaac closely and enthusiastically followed.
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It’s difficult to see tiny them down there ▼ at the base of the dune, but when they were good and ready, I watched them prepare for a long walk up, checking their shoes, laces, pant legs and determination.
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Every once in awhile, I’d catch up enough to get the good shots. These next two are among my absolute favorites.
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And every once in awhile, I’d stop again… to capture all the details, because every few steps brought a new and equally interesting view. I made sure to look back as much as I did up and to my sides. Looking back, after all, was where that water was. Seeing it from a higher vantage point was something I had looked forward to all morning. The beauty of this day was filling me up. I can’t describe how peaceful it is there. But I have a feeling the photos can. The quietness seen in them is exactly what you could feel on your skin that day, clean down to your soul. Truly. Pure Michigan is the state’s motto. Pure is just the right word.
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Having almost caught up to the guys again, I was able to get another favorite photo of the day (below). If I’m being honest, I couldn’t quite see whether or not this next shot would turn out, because the sun was so bright. I literally pointed my camera toward them and blindly shot. It wasn’t until we got back to the campsite later that night that I realized the photo had turned out. We’d reached the about-four-fifths-of-the-way-up point here. We were all tired and struggling, but still determined to get to the top. I mean, we couldn’t turn back now. This dune is a lot taller and steeper than it looks in photos. Our feet sunk with every step, making the the climb even more difficult. So I was proud of how far we’d climbed, especially proud of Isaac’s endurance. Then again, at our age, his endurance level probably matched ours more closely than one would think.
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I was so close now, but before I could climb the rest of the dune, there was still so much to capture. So my climbing buddies left me behind once again. They soon finished and waited patiently for me at the top so that I could get more photos of the remaining views along the way. I wasn’t sure I’d be climbing it again on our trip, so I took my chance while I had it. Looking at the photos now, I remember every detail of every view as if I was there just yesterday. This is why we do photography, no? Now they’re my keepsakes of days so rare, just the way photos keep memory of ordinary rest-of-the-year days.
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The view from the top looking back was all that I hoped… satisfying, rewarding and beautiful.
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I’ve mentioned a few favorite photos of the day in this post, but this next one is by far my favorite photo… of the entire trip. I’m not even exactly sure why, but I love every single thing about this photo. I think it has mostly to do with the contented expressions on Brac’s and Isaac’s faces. By the time I took this, they’d had time to rest after their climb. I do believe they felt accomplished and invigorated by their first trip up the dune. And it shows in their countenance. It’s just one of those once-in-a-lifetime photos to me. It’s not Mt. Everest and we’re not in the Himalayas. But it’s our exotic getaway-equivalent. A stepping stone, perhaps, to bigger and better things that are to come as Isaac grows older. It was our first real adventure with him. And it was perfect. And that’s just what this photo says…
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We lingered atop the dune for at least a good hour more. Plenty of other climbers shared it with us, but everyone was of the same mind… respectfully quiet and observant so as to treat every other guest as if the dune was theirs alone. So it felt like community and solitude, somehow both at the same time. To say we enjoyed those moments up there as a family would be understating it. Before the afternoon could get away from us, we were finally ready to head back to camp for some old-fashioned camp food and to rest so that we could come back later in the evening to enjoy the sunset from this same spot. What a high (literally) we’d be leaving on. The first half of day one was good.

Just so good.
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(See Part One of our camping trip here.)

Allons! whoever you are, come travel with me!
Traveling with me, you find what never tires.

The earth never tires;
The earth is rude, silent, incomprehensible at first—Nature is rude and incomprehensible at first;
Be not discouraged—keep on—there are divine things, well envelop’d;
I swear to you there are divine things more beautiful than words can tell.

Allons! we must not stop here!
However sweet these laid-up stores—however convenient this dwelling, we cannot remain here;
However shelter’d this port, and however calm these waters, we must not anchor here;
However welcome the hospitality that surrounds us, we are permitted to receive it but a little while.

—Walt Whitman