After we'd finished eating and all the kids had run and fallen down and cried we continued on the trail. One of the scenic overlooks has a lovely two-level patio and a bunch of elderly people, possibly the same ones from the Horseshoe Curve in Altoona, and a plaque commemorating Pierce Stocking, the lumberjack who worked so hard to build the scenic trail that now guided people around the Sleeping Bear Dunes. (Looking at the many and beautiful trees we had to joke that his heart wasn't really into lumberjacking.) It gives great views of dunes and shore and trees and grasses and people walking along a long trail in the distance that we just didn't have time for.
Something we did have time for was a letterbox, tucked in an awkwardly public location. It was easy to find, and good for that small mercy, but it wasn't very obscured and part of letterboxing is that you shouldn't call attention to yourself lest people investigate the curious little boxes being visited by apparently unconnected people who remove and pass along small items. The best I could offer bunny_hugger, who actually got the box (and later replanted it), was that anyone who did see her --- and a couple cars did drive past --- would assume she was squatting in the trees to pee. Secret hobbies would never occur to them.
We got finally to the top of one of the dunes, to a scenic overlook that's awesomely scenic. It was inspirational. We could see out to the sand and look over the edge to the water below and it looked like we were at the edge of the world. I was hypnotized. If she was less hypnotized that just reflects that she'd been there before and had some idea what to expect. I was taken in its full and awesome splendor. We were something like 450 feet above sea level, and the dune drops off shockingly quickly to the sea, and it's all sand going down that way.
There were people who were walking down the little path to actually set their feet in Lake Michigan. We weren't that crazy. Climbing up any stretch of sand is hard; 450 feet? Never. There was a trail of sorry people who'd gone down foolishly and were staggering their way back up, many of them crab-walking in the hopes of at least better-spreading the exhaustion. We were looking significantly down at soaring birds. There was a guy in a paraglider, sometimes coming between us and the sun, sometimes just floating below us. Where precisely he came from I don't know; how he could land safely --- and we're fairly sure he did --- is another mystery. We stood there in the presence of incredible sand, incredible heights, and just soaked it all in.
This gorgeous sight --- where we also saw that day's chipmunk, and I wonder if it understands what's so compelling about the sand just outside its little woods --- also soaked up time, and probably could have soaked up all the time we had, but we did need to work out how to meet bunny_hugger's brother and his girlfriend, whom we got text-messages from. They'd gone to the beach, and left, and we missed that particular chance to meet them. It was awful that we'd missed them, especially in light of thinking of ways we could have met up first or better scheduled things so as to spend more time with them, but we had set out in the order we did, and spent time awed by nature instead. We'd meet them later.
The Sleeping Bear Dunes have some version of the core dilemma zoos suffer: they can bring people into better understanding of the natural world, at the price of putting the natural world on display where people get get their grubby fingers all over it. Zoos have largely gone over to putting animals in exhibition areas as much like their natural habitats as technology, funding, and the basic ecosystem allow and think carefully about whether a polar bear really should be living in Singapore. The Dunes, well, they're pretty easy to tear up if people crowd over them. But you can hardly look at them without wanting to crowd over them. The compromise is that while most of the dunes are off-limits, there's that awesome bluff on the Pierce Stocking trail, and there's another dune which people are welcome to climb and stomp over and damage with their feet, getting to feel the real world and keeping most of the wonder of nature intact.
Somewhere near the climbable dune was a letterbox and we went out along the trail where we ... got terribly confused. The clues were a little bit elliptical, referencing what seemed to be landmarks in the area like the dune or the division between a clear field and the woods, but we couldn't get any convincing match between any of the clues and what we saw. We set out something like ten minutes to keep looking, and then to give the letterbox up as lost, and had to admit defeat. Later we learned that the trail we were following had recently been renovated, wiping out a significant number of the clue referents. I believe this left us at two letterboxes found for four attempted this trip, which is only disappointing in that the first and the last ones we sought were the failures.
The climbable dune, though: this was a huge pile of sand, going up apparently forever, and one that bunny_hugger and her brother used to climb and tell stories about people who climbed it all the way to seeing Lake Michigan. A parade of people making their way up was there. What appeared to be a high school track team used it in a mass race up as far as they could get. We tromped our way up, and up, and up through sand that looked almost Martian in its pink-orange and blue-black shadows. We got awesome views of the way we came, but not over top of the peak and into the Great Lake beyond. I tried going up what I thought the last little hill, so I could at least see what was past. It wasn't the last little hill. There appeared to be as much hill left as we'd already climbed.
No time, we couldn't keep going all the way to the Great Lake. Besides, we were high enough. It was time to do something that every child brought up the dune does, something I'd been looking forward to for ages. With bunny_hugger at the ready too, I secured my camera.
You know what it is like running downhill? Keep running, ever farther, on the sand, dropping far beneath you, sand collapsing under your footfalls. Run without worrying so about losing control and falling over --- you'll drop just a few feet and roll into sand if you do --- and with that inherently unnerving amusement-park thrill of going to the edge of losing control and stepping just back from it, maybe.
I didn't lose control, but I did keep running, on and on and past the end of the dune until the momentum kept me trotting at our car, at the base of the hill, and turning around and flopping across the car hood, all the energy of the long climb exhausted.
We also tried poking into the gift shop --- hoping for a Christmas tree ornament or the like for the Sleeping Bear Dunes --- but they'd already closed by the time we got there. There was a door open around back, but the woman there was just tinkering with something on the office computer and embarrassed that we were poking around back.
We went for the evening to Empire City, and to Joe's Friendly Tavern, a bar where bunny_hugger's family often went when she was a child, so this was a chance for me and for her brother's girlfriend to be woven into that tapestry of memory.
After a short wait at the bar where we all got root beers, I'm pretty sure some local version, we sat and found that the bar had modestly upgraded their food and general ambiance. Perhaps the biggest thing is they'd expanded their definitely-vegetarian options from just a sandwich to a slightly different sandwich and some kind of cake patty. They still have just the one dessert to offer, but it's changed now to a seven-layer cake that's large enough to use as shelter; the four of us would split it.
Many of the conversations among the four of us had a similar template of bunny_hugger and her brother sharing reminiscences of how the area used to be and comparing it to the modern experiences and this gave us no end of things to talk about, especially at spots like this with long family history. I'm not sure who it was noticed that the tavern did still have a pinball machine --- Tales from the Crypt --- but it let us move after dinner to a couple rounds played among the four of us. (Slight complication: the pinball uses a launcher, rather than a plunger, and the button to trigger the launch wasn't working, so the game would just send the ball into play when it decided it had waited long enough, adding a reflexive surprise to the start of each ball.) And, as if an occult hand were trying to artfully arrange things, the digital jukebox beside the pinball had Walk The Moon's anthem of being defiantly young in summer, ``Anna Sun'', which it played … well, almost loud enough to hear if you were standing right next to it. The sentiment was there, anyway.
We hugged and said goodnights; they were figuring to maybe go to the Indian casino in the area, and we were figuring to drive home the next day. If lucky we'd meet up again over the weekend, before they had to fly back to New York City. If not, not.
We got back to our hotel for our final night there. The stick insect which had been on our door's light for two nights running had moved down to the next door. The cooler was still so cool as to have ice in both bags, one of which was a couple days old at this point. That's quite a cooler.
Trivia: It appears to have been the idea of Manny Gerard, in 1979, to get a license for Space Invaders to be adapted to the Atari Video Computer System, the earliest recorded arcade game licensed for home play. Source: The Ultimate History of Video Games, Steven L Kent.
Currently Reading: Sodom By The Sea: An Affectionate History of Coney Island, Oliver Pilat.
PS: Reading the Comics, October 8, 2013 ... remember the comics?