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Sunday, August 26, 2006: Personal: Return to Beaver Island

        Just got back from Beaver Island and am still trying to get over the changes to the shoreline. Some times I think I visit the cottage just to walk the north shore beach.  For forty years, the walk has been the ‘great unbroken tradition’.


        Forty years ago, you should have seen the pristine beach. Sections of sand and small stones edged the shoreline; bits of beach grass valiantly fought to establish its domain a short distance from the tree line. Summer cottages were nestled far back behind a tree line of dense vegetation, and from the beach one could only see evidence of human habitation when directly in line with whatever small path lead discretely back to a cottage. Otherwise, one could imagine walking an uncharted shoreline. Alone on the beach, one had only gulls, terns and sandpipers for company, the seabirds lingering close enough to seem friendly, moving just enough to keep out of reach.

        I jealously guarded the privacy of these walks, for it was my unwinding time---I listened to the gulls’ piercing cries above waves lapping or crashing against the shore; felt the breeze off the water (there is almost always wind on the north shore) as the air, cool and moisture-laden whipped about me, tugging at my clothes and lifting my hair. I drank in the view of undisturbed shoreline, indulged in the sensation of wet sand or warm rocks on bare feet, relaxed into the leisurely pace, knowing my thoughts were sorting themselves back into harmony. Ah, the anticipation each year as I headed down to the beloved beach, wondering what I might recognize from previous years, what new treasures I might discover.

        Some years as I walked, I noticed large rocks that appeared in the significantly changed coastline, the waves having shifted sands to new locations. Some years, I saw the giant rocks buried up again, so that only the smooth flat tops remained. The distance from the tree line to the shore ebbed and flowed dependant on lake levels. Each change brought out new curves in the shoreline, new sandbars, new areas where familiar beach weeds could reach their tendrils out across the sand.

        I’d walked the shore the summer that thousands of cormorants swept in and claimed the waters off Beaver Island, darkening the skies for fifteen or even thirty minutes every time the huge flocks passed by in early morning. A sight both amazing and terrifying, the sheer number of birds threatened to annihilate fish populations; the DNR (Department of Natural Resources) and the Beaver Island community joined forces to bring the cormorant numbers under control, so that eventually, the few cormorant birds that remained seemed lonely and out of place.

        I’d walked the beach the year the gull virus struck, killing large numbers of my shoreline friends; it was a year of silent grieving each time I stepped over the remnants of bones, wing sections or whole birds washed up on the beach. There was no stopping the virus; it had to just play itself out. There was no knowing if the gulls would ever rebuild their numbers. (They did).

        Despite a long history of watching change, I don’t think I ever had the emotional reaction to changes the way I did this year. Much of my feeling revolves around old cottages being bought up by new owners. God help us, these newcomers seem as out of place and destructive to the north shore as cormorants had, years back.

        Gone are the old cabins, along with much of the trees. Huge half million to one million dollar modern homes take their place, squatting as close to the shoreline as legally permitted, filling the length and breadth of most properties with a style more appropriate to the suburbs. Here now reside the new breed of owners who love central air-conditioning, two-story glass windows, massive decks, and an unobstructed view of the lake. The first few houses could be ignored but the number increases relentlessly.

        Whereas the old residents were careful each night to carry up belongings from the beach, these new owners feel comfortable leaving beach chairs, kids’ toys, kayaks and coolers near the water’s edge. I passed by the remnants of almost a dozen burned-out firecrackers, and could only hope it signaled a belated celebration with visiting grandchildren. I’d hate to think the owners had left the trash of July 4th until this late in August.

        Where were the seabirds this year? That was another change. I saw one lone gull on my walk. The beach was taken over by crows, black and menacing figures that seemed out of place on a shoreline. Crows were everywhere on the island this year and no one can explain why. I’d hear sounds I never associated with any crow (or other bird) and would look to the beach to find the dark creatures squabbling amongst themselves, though I could not say whether it was over territory or food.

        Is this a temporary change? The island has gone through its cycles, over-populated with rabbits (and then coyotes to eat the rabbits), deer, and even wild turkey. A particular population swells, spilling onto roads, beaches, and back yards; then, after a few years of over-running their territory, the species vanish from sight, disappearing perhaps back into remote forestland. Will the same cycle occur with the crows? I am amazed at myself, at my resentment of the way they dominate the island.

       The permanent and long-time residents shake their heads, wistfully reminiscing of older days, when miles of undisturbed shoreline and the cry of gulls could so easily melt away stress and lift the heart. Where is the cry of the gull to mourn the passage of time? We shake our heads and turn away, carrying the cries of ivory birds in our hearts.

To be continued........ 

Posted on Sunday, August 26, 2007 at 11:49AM by Registered CommenterThe Skeptical Mystic | CommentsPost a Comment

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