WARNING: This post describes what might have been the best day of my life. Get ready for some happiness, here!
Last weekend, Justin and I traveled to the distant land of Holland. Not the country. It's a small Michigan town nestled on Lake Michigan, with another much smaller lake also connected to it. Two lakes. One boat. Two kayaks. One dog. Two Dunes. One extremely high energy Carly...
Kayaking is simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying. Every time a large wave came by, I cursed the boat whose wake I was battling and silently said a tiny prayer. Lord, please do not let me tip over.
We were out in the kayaks for an hour or so. Half way through, my shoulders were burning. But the moment we turned around, everything changed. Funny how being on the home stretch can bring a smile to your face. Granted, the waves were still terrifying... but I was getting a good workout (reason to smile # 1) and I was almost home (reason to smile # 2).
To further capitalize on the sun and natural landscape... and to make a bright, sunny day on the lake even more romantic... Justin and I decided to pack a lunch and take the boat to the dunes.
With the water level so low, the boat was anchored out farther from the dock than usual. I've got to give Justin some credit and thanks here for carrying me to the boat. Then carrying the cooler. Then carrying my camera bag and our bag of sun screen, etc. And then the dog. I'm cracking up at the looks on their faces. It's as though he's carrying her to the top of Mt. Everest (which we later climbed... see below).
Dunes. I'd seen them before in Indiana. This was a whole different story entirely. I'm not convinced that these images even capture the height and magnificence of the dunes.
Justin referred to this particular area as the bowl. Instead of the large dune pushing right up to the water, there is a smaller dune with a huge (and not visible in this picture) bowl of dunes behind it.
The openness. The beauty. How could I ever find this in a city? Never.
And how could this high-energy pup ever find this much free space to run around in while in the city? Never.
We hiked up the first set of dunes. I'll be honest and admit that I had to stop a few times. This was almost encouraging for me, because it signaled that, on top of being in a beautiful place and getting some great sun, I was also getting a great workout.
Climbing the dunes was like being on a stairmaster... but instead of stairs, the sand is moving, sucking your feet in, and slowly falling backwards, as though an avalanche of soft, white sand is threatening to take you away with it. Not the easiest thing to climb. Again, this made me extremely happy. I love a good challenge.
Hazel had a similar experience. She would sprint part of the dune, then stop and sit, slide a bit, and start again.
She brought up a ball... which she promptly set down (you can do that on flat land, so why not?).
It immediately began rolling down the steep dunes. She watched it with a funny look on her face for about 30 seconds... then, shortly after I snapped this image, she took off after the ball.
How high were we? It's hard to do the height and steepness of the dunes justice in pictures. Here's how far away Justin was, while he stood down below. I'm pretty sure this was taken when I wasn't even at the top yet. See the tiny little human? Don't forget that he's 6 foot 7...
He then sprinted up after me. Show off. :)
Once at the top of the first dune, we were amazed by the view. One side was a panoramic view of Lake Michigan. Boats coming in to land at the dunes. On the other was a magnificent view of trees and dunes.
Suddenly, we looked up into a tree to see a wooden box. I figured it was a geocache and wanted to open it.
Turns out, it was a love letter! Someone had left it high up in the tree. What a climb their lover must have to do to find it someday, if they already haven't...
The front of the box was intricately carved. Someone spent some loving hours on this box. So cute to find.
We moved away from the lovers' box and hiked along the top of a few dunes. Some of the dunes were covered in what felt like a forest... giving the illusion of a desert on one side but a forest on the other. Opposites!
I should preface the next image by informing you that, no, I am not naked. I'm wearing the same swim suit I am in all the other pictures. Yet somehow, it doesn't quite show.
On the back side of the first dune, we could see various trails climbing high up into other dunes. The wall of sand on the right was so steep that I figured I probably wasn't even capable of climbing it.
Justin jumped/climbed/ran down into the center of the sand "bowl."
And, standing on one of the dunes, here's all I could see of him and Hazel. Click on the image to zoom in... I swear that's an extremely tall human being down there.
Before climbing the highest dunes, we had a bare bones picnic. By bare bones, I mean one huge spinach/strawberry/walnut/feta salad, which we split, and two Stellas... which we couldn't open, so we switched to trusty old Miller Lite.
After the picnic is where my personal version of this story really gets good. You might have to be a little sentimental to enjoy it. And we decided to leave the camera behind in order to make the extremely steep hike unscathed, so there are no visuals to help me tell the tale. Just my recollection.
We began hiking up the tallest dune. It took us about 20-30 minutes and, for me, was pure challenge. Every step I took required some serious internal coaxing. About half way up the dune, I stopped and turned my head to see what was behind me. I was already so high above the earth that I could actually see up and over the previous dune. I could see the beautiful, blue water of Lake Michigan and the dark green vegetation on other dunes. It was majestic. So suddenly, I raised my hands high in the air, and started to pray. To thank God for the moment I was having. To tell Him what a wonderful job I think He did and how beautiful everything was. To tell Him how happy I was in that moment and how much I loved Him.
Then, when I looked back at the dune, I was reminded that I was only half way through the journey. Every step was difficult. I felt God urging me to keep going, to make it to the top of the dune. So I kept pushing.
And then, near the top, I broke into a (very painful) sprint. I ran the last 10 yards and finally reached the top. I was greeted with one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. To one side, the bright blue ocean. But on the other side of the dune was something I couldn't have seen without finishing the climb. Miles of wilderness. Natural beauty, the way Michigan was made, long before we put up buildings and took down trees. Miles of tall trees, steep hills, and small lakes. All seemingly untouched.
Just as some lover had left the "I Love You" note in a small, wooden box, God had left that precious sight for me. To tell me that He loved me. Just as the lover would have had to hike the dune to reach the wooden box, I had to make a journey to find my gift. And, just as one of the lovers must have spent countless hours painstakingly carving the intricate details on the box, God had created something intricately detailed for us.
I stood there for quite a while. Breathing. Sinking it in. Tearing up a little bit. With sunglasses on and no one around but Justin and the dog to see, tears were easy and almost invisible. I just stood there, appreciating the beauty of the gift I felt I had just been given. And every time I felt a gust of wind, I really did feel like God was hugging me.
When it was finally time to head out, I turned around and waved goodbye...
And we made our way back to the house, where I could tell that we had timed the day perfectly. Suddenly, a huge storm rolled in.
And, at the end of the day, I felt just like Justin's dog. On the way out to the dunes, Hazel had been anxious and couldn't seem to calm down. Justin had turned to me and said, "Just wait until you see how she looks on the way back. It's like a different dog."
And sure enough, on the way back, instead of anxious and unable to relax, Hazel seemed content and calm.
Content and calm is just how I felt. And, if you know me, that, in itself, is quite a feat. :)
See you tomorrow!