Thanks to Stephanie Irwin for sharing her True North with us.
When I was little the car ride up north was long. My grandparents had a cottage in Oscoda and my family drove up from Flint most every weekend in the summers. My mom, brother and I, bags packed, would wait eagerly for my dad to get home from work on Fridays and we’d head out of the driveway only minutes after he’d pulled in. Just when the car ride was getting the best of me I’d hear my mom say, “There it is, the big lake behind the trees!” From the back seat I would sit up tall, crane my neck to the right, focusing on the spaces between the trees and searching for glimpses of blue. It was always exhilarating yet at the same time calming to connect with Lake Huron again.
When I was 12 my grandma sold her cottage but the big lake hadn’t seen the last of me. We would be drawn back together some 30 years later when I was least expecting it. I had never given much serious thought to buying a place up north, I guess figuring I could never afford that kind of luxury, until one day in January of 2006 when what had always been just a romantic notion suddenly became a real possibility. By word of mouth I happened to hear of a little one-bedroom cottage for sale in Au Gres. When I heard the particulars and saw a picture of the view, I don’t know if it all began to blur or if it became perfectly clear. I could do this, by God, I could do this!
When I told my brother I was buying a cottage and that it might be a whole new chapter in my life, he claimed that was an understatement and that it would instead be “a whole new book.” It has indeed been just that. It turns out the cottage is on that stretch of highway where Lake Huron is first visible, a hidden jewel called Hammel Beach. It’s such a treasure that I just can’t keep it to myself. I invite every friend, relative and colleague to visit, hoping they will feel and experience what I do: the fascination with nature’s simple complexities, that it lives and is conscious, and the miraculousness of it all.
The view of the lake isn’t just a sea of blue. There’s White Stone Point to the left, Charity Island straight ahead and Point Lookout to the right where the wealthy from Bay City used to come by boat to vacation 100 years ago. Between Point Lookout and the island is the Gravely Shoal Lighthouse which marks the shipping channel. Day and night, seven days a week, freighters pass by in either direction between Charity and the light. Up the beach is a little tributary flowing into the lake called Silver Drain and there’s actually a cottage built on a bridge over it, between the lake and the highway. That bridge I’m told was on the original road, later replaced by the highway.
I find that I’m a better version of myself at the lake. I read more, write more and paint again. I walk the beach with my camera and meet neighbors. Hammel Beach is my muse. It even feels good to do chores and maintain the place. There’s a hardware store/fudge shop across the road, run by a couple from Ann Arbor who moved north to live their dream. I find that fixing the sink is more palatable when you’ve “got fudge” as their sign says. Nearby is the Cozy Cove Resort run by Martha and Stuart. And up the road a bit is a gas station/ice cream shop owned by my next-door-neighbors. It’s decorated in a tropical motif inside proving even people who live in paradise have their fantasies.
A good friend of mine, as her little boy screamed in delight upon their arrival, said, “Oh I’m in heaven.” I agree. When you see bald eagles soaring by on a regular basis and yet it never becomes commonplace, heavenly is the word. Reflective sunsets make the whole sky pink and blue and lavender, sometimes with a streak of rainbow, long after the sun itself has disappeared. You discover that the lakes have tides that are visible within half an hour’s time. Blue herons feed in the moonlight and the swans sleep out on the water. On a clear day the thumb is visible with the naked eye, even the new wind turbines dotting the horizon. A friend of mine finds a Petoskey stone. You take a tube out to the sandbar and let the waves gently carry you to shore as a loon feeds and her eight black fuzzy babies take turns riding on her back. Children catch tadpoles, build sandcastles and wish they could stay longer.
Stephanie Irwin is a lifelong Michigan resident. She writes essays and has been published in magazines and newspapers. She also takes documentary photographs of the Lake Huron shoreline, several of which have been published as well as sold through the Flint Institute of Arts.