“Don’t grow up too quickly, lest you forget how much you love the beach.”
— Michelle Held
My first beach experience occurred in the summer of 1959 at the age of one at McClain State Park on the Keweenaw Peninsula (known as the Copper Country) of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula while visiting relatives during the summer. While at the windswept park on the shores of Lake Superior Dad photographs me asleep on the sand under a canopy rigged by Mom to protect from the hot sun; the steady wind off the lake blows my white Scandinavian hair. The drive to the Copper Country from our home near Detroit is a grueling 12 hours requiring numerous stops to gas up and relax as there are six of us: Mom and Dad, Sister Linda, Brothers Tad and David, and I crammed into a 1965 Chevy station wagon. Our first long break comes at the half mark, Mackinaw City at the tip of the Lower Peninsula.
The city established in 1715 with Fort Michilimackinac by the French, then surrendered to the British in 1763, and finally the Americans take possession after the war for independence and today it is a major tourist destination. Here, gentle waves lap along stony beaches under the five-mile long Mackinaw Bridge however; we overlook the picturesque opportunities for those of gift shops, fudge, and an early dinner. The next stop doesn’t occur until Au Train, French for traverse, near Marquette along the southern shores of Lake Superior and once part of an Indian route that connected Lakes Michigan and Superior first used by white man in 1856 for hunting and trapping then the nearby woods were decimated for lumber peaking in 1919. Today, enjoyed by hunters and vacationers from below the bridge (trolls) Au Train is a picturesque rest stop highlighted by the shimmering waters of Lake Superior capturing the imagination drifting it back to the many ships and canoes that once traversed the area. Mom and Dad relax digging bare feet deep into the warm sand while siblings and I climb a rocky cliff (this preferred to swimming in frigid Superior) on the half-moon beach that frames the vastness that is Lake Superior. Once we reach our destination on the Keweenaw, beaches abound on inland lakes and all around its perimeter where Lake Superior roars and waves crash ashore making for thought-provoking strolls and fantastic sunset pictures!
In 1965 Mom and Dad bought into the Detroit Finnish Co-op Summer Camp Association in Wixom, Michigan which provides families of Finnish heritage a place to celebrate all things Finnish three months out of the year with frontage on one lake and outright ownership of a second. Loon Lake is shared with residents of Wixom and consists of boat launches, fishing docks, and swimming areas with most of the latter done off shore on floating docks as the shoreline is mostly grass, no beach to speak of. Sun Lake is private to the association and the more popular of the two with an authentic Finnish sauna on the premises, a concession stand, and a short, wet sandy beach that extends a mere three feet from the water’s edge. No one is concerned though as the grassy area is preferred support for beach chair and BBQ grills! We as a family enjoyed the “Finn Camp” until 1974 when we sold the property to a family looking for the same pleasure found by us and many families past.
Just a few miles north of the hometown of Saint Clair Shores, Michigan lies Metropolitan Beach (now known as Metro Beach Metropark) with its arcades, shuffleboard, boat launches, boardwalk, and wide, groomed beaches but we rarely visit because of The Finn Camp. I do recall though many field trips here in elementary and junior high school as the park has miles of nature trails and today the beaches close more often than they are open due to occasional E-coli contamination of Lake St. Clair.
In 1980 I move to the Pacific Northwest and having grown up around the Great Lakes with rocky shoreline of its’ own nothing prepared me for the spectacular scenery of the Oregon coast. Here huge waves pound gently sloping beaches and steep, rocky cliffs, sneaker waves come out of nowhere, yet people flock to the coast to escape the heat of the city, the city itself, and to gather with friends for a weekend getaway. Two years later an opportunity to move to Southern California living, first, in San Bernardino with miles and miles of rocky beach but no surf then in 1984, chasing a job opening, relocate to Ventura on the Pacific Ocean off famous Highway 101 just south of Santa Barbara. Here the beach sand is dry and hot but at times covered in seaweed but for the most part great for walking the dog, with friends, or joining others on the weekend looking for that golden tan. The water here is a bit chilly (warmer than Lake Superior!) but once use to it difficult to get out of, swimming and surfing with traditional standup board hanging ten or laying with your belly on a Boogie Board to the ride waves. I had a German shepherd named Akbar who loved walks on the beach racing through the water long tongue flapping side-to-side, always bringing some of the beach home on him.
Located just north of the Ventura pier is Surfers Point where windsurfers mix with surfboard enthusiasts to partake in one of Southern California’s best surfing spots and running parallel is a promenade where tourists stroll and couples walk hand in hand along with locals joining in on the tradition of watching the sun sink into the Pacific Ocean. Numerous times I bicycled with friends up the Ventura bike path past numerous oil pumps bringing in the “black gold” just offshore, along the Rincon known as the “Queen of the Coast” for its world-renowned surfing, and private beaches all the way into Santa Barbara where the sand is of a different caliber. In 1987 I drove with friends north on Highway 101 to Monterey, California home to the well photographed “Lone Cyprus” tree and to a beach which loans its’ name to a prestigious golf tournament I thought played in Florida. Well to my astonishment as we walked along pebbles crunched underfoot and it was then I realized that the Pebble Beach Golf Tournament is played here in California on Pebble Beach, that’s amazing!
Today I reside in Camas, Washington and still enjoy going to the beach although here and in Oregon it is “the coast” so instead of “let’s go to the beach” the vernacular is “let’s go to the coast.” The coastline here is rough and treacherous yet there are long stretches of beach good for finding sea treasure, checking out formations that resemble haystacks, even pedal special tricycles, enjoyed by young and old, across the flat sand. Not many people swim due to cold water and sneaker waves (large waves that seem to come from nowhere and catch unwary swimmers washing them out to sea) but the roar and constant pounding of the surf makes up for this. Sadly, when I need a fix of the Pacific Ocean I must drive two hours west instead of just walking there as in Ventura however, there is the mighty Columbian River dividing Washington State from is southern companion, Oregon and traveling eastward the shoreline gets rocky and steep, breathtaking with some manmade beaches. Over the years I have walked across or laid on many seaside or lakeside beaches none better than the others, all equally thought-provoking and popular in their own way. The hot, wide beaches of Southern California have a different appeal then those found taking the brunt of a lake’s furry, the pounding surf of a rocky coast, or crunching under foot. Since that first time back in 1959 beach sand has gotten into my shoes and I cannot shake it free.