Deep winter demands attention, its face fierce, eyes unrelenting. And along the harbor, where many dreams first birthed in my heart, I do not mind giving in to what it wants.
My shoes are thin, no lining, nor are they equipped for winter Wisconsin elements. I step through sludge, puddles pooling in the parking lot, along the barren walkway that stretches around the maze of fishing docks, long empty of their summer cargo. Small hills of snow curve into ice and my stride knows no difference in a normal street. Chest expands in the cold, feels like warming fire in my bones. Hands search for heat in my pockets, as if holding on tight to this solitude, deserted streets after a dumping of snow.
Lake Michigan, solid and the same as how I left it, leads me down the harbor. It has always been faithful to me. Gray sky bleeds into the water and I remember how I used to step along these very spaces, imagining the brilliance of my life and amazed at the wonder connecting my soul to God through small-town simplicity with a long-standing nautical heritage strewn with stories of shipwrecks, sailing and salt.
Geese bob in the calm of the boxed-in breakwater. Soft chatter between them. A man bundled walks his retriever, narrow snow-shoveled sidewalk lurches us closer. We nod to one another, welded together by our languid paces and shared occupancy of the same stretch of time in this momentary eternity. Then I am alone again, eyes matching the water and eager to memorize the jut of pier, size of spire of lighthouse gleaming like a church steeple. To me, here is no space more holy.
My lighthouse, weather-beaten and anchor of so many memories. Walkway draped with icicles extending from wire rails. It would be stupid to try my luck away from the sure footing of the shore, but I long for the lap of waves against the metal moorings of walkway, jumping cracks and holes in stones, counting my breaths as the path narrows, angle of metal structure gaining size as I draw closer.
Not a day goes by where my soul doesn’t remind me where it’s truly meant to be. Everything is temporary. We must learn to slow down and speak the language of stars.
Once, I stayed out all night, telescope in hand, blanket over my legs, to name and number constellations, usher pale waves from the horizon and welcome the sun to another day. Salted plank of steps brings me back to a world with human inhabitants, to a wooden building held up with glass that houses one of my favorite coffee shops. I slip on the sidewalk, regain loose footing. See my breath carry into the frigid air. Smith Bros. Coffee is warm but noisy, and offers a glimpse of the lake from a small wood table pressed against a window. I wait for two girls to leave and snatch it, stake my claim, spread journal, laptop, and coffee cup along the top. I pay way too much for a grilled cheese and bacon sandwich. The café is crowded, a man and his sons slapping playing cards onto the table, a young girl discussing television shows with a boy with gelled hair and a vacant stare. Noise that combats the quiet of the harbor yards away. But I have a view of the water and a mind rife with words.
I miss this place. I miss the iron sky, the ice wind that curls itself around my form, cups my face like an old friend. The meeting space of seagulls, generating wind beneath their wings. Historical waterfront hotel, brick worn from storms of rain, sleet and sun. Old electric plant puffing plumes of smoke from its stacks, creating its own clouds. Hunched men in parkas, tackle boxes hooked to their hands, poles set against the railing for slow swimming bass. In Kansas, where I’ve now lived for the last few years, everything is landlocked and I have to sleuth to find a splash of water. The lake is slate. Mud from its floor churns with the waves, slashes the rocky shore. Every day it is different, a continuous chameleon. Old men tell fishing tales and give away their love for the water from their appearance—worn cargo pants, rain-splattered jackets and bushy faces hewn with wrinkles.
Thousands of minutes I’ve spent in this town. Eyes drinking in the vast blues, curve of brick in buildings, cracks of alleys where green vines entwined in fire escapes. Scanning the horizon that eventually greets Michigan. The familiar trek past the breakwater, where wind barriers disappear and nothing separates me from the swirling depths closing in, to the lighthouse, water on all sides and I feel like it’s just me in this world, cradled by the lull of the lake and home in my heart. Hours of deep conversation with friends, catching up on life, holding up each other’s hearts to lighten the burden of our scars.
I have ice in my veins that carries me through a new life in the city that burns.
I miss small town, community feel. I want to invest in my people. I want to be home, caring for lives.
Breath. Here it is not foreign. I do not have to remind myself to let air into my lungs, push it out. Here it’s as if my soul slips into its true shape, how it was originally manifested. God, when He knit me together in the fluid cocoon of my mother, knew that from floating space I became, so would my spirit yearn for water, drink from it as the only thing that deeply sustains me. Glint of gray weaving through the window. Breath again in my lungs, spark of sea stone set in my eyes. Gather it like a bouquet of flowers in my mind, to bring back with me to landlocked life ahead, until I can escape back to my nesting ground, my universal resting place. Where I am free, where I pay attention to the winter words of natural order.
Sarah Freymuth writes at the intersection of beauty and the everyday. She has numerous essays and articles published, is the communications manager for a global sports ministry, has an affinity for pour over coffee, and enjoys her simple Midwest life in Wisconsin, especially when she’s on Washington Island. In the in-between moments, she likes to write narrative essays exploring the longings of life and soul at www.sarahfreymuth.com and on Instagram.