Sue Beth Balash shares her “Pure Michigan Moment,” a kayak trip in North Bar Lake near Empire, where she searched for the perfect blue so often depicted in her students’ classroom drawings of Michigan waters. If you are interested in trying kayaking out for yourself, check out our beginners guide to kayaking.
I stand next to my kayak with my feet firmly planted in the sand encircling North Bar Lake and for a fleeting moment, I think of my third-grade class.
I wonder why children always reach for the bluest markers, crayons or color pencils when they fill in the waters on their Michigan maps, because not a single drop of it looks blue.
I step into my kayak and paddle into the most alluring green water that I have ever seen. What is it about North Bar Lake that makes it look so far from blue?
As the sun descends, I paddle back to where my husband Mark stands. We pack up the kayaks, take a short walk up the shallow river leading to Lake Michigan, and then paddle out to the lake, something we’ve never done before. Our bright kayaks look like yellow jackets landing on a slab of steel—again, there’s no blue water in sight.
Looking deep into the water, I’m sure I’ll never find the crayons I need to re-create the beauty. I feel the same about the horizon: I couldn’t paint the picture in front of me even if I had a palette of more than a thousand watercolors. And the water looks nothing like the third graders’ pictures hanging on the walls of my classroom.
The journey takes only 50 minutes, even though it seems like the bluffs at Empire never get closer. The view isn’t picture perfect—it’s soul perfect. I don’t need a bright yellow sun or a radiant orange sky. I don’t need piercing blue water or sparkling diamond waves. I scoop up the smoothest silver-gray in my paddle and wish I could keep it just a little while longer.