For the last 31 Augusts, my family and five other Oak Park families have gone for a week’s vacation at Watervale, a beautiful spot on Lake Michigan near Frankfort, Mich.
Our initial band of 12 adults has grown over these many years. Surprisingly, many of our children, and recently our grandchildren, join us in the same place at the same time each August. Watervale is where my second son met the love of his life when they were teenagers. Watervale is where my good friend Don died of a heart attack on a terrible day none of us will ever forget.
Like the ancient explorers who used time and the stars to find their way, this yearly retreat helps us remember where in life we were, where we are and perhaps where we will be. Watervale is a philosopher’s paradise. We swim at The Big Beach. We climb Baldy, the giant sand dune. We look forward to the BBQ and hayride. We pick blueberries. We walk the same paths. And we gather to watch the sun sink into Lake Michigan at the end of each day.
Every year I climb Baldy. This year, because I have lost weight, the ascent was easier, but I wonder when I will no longer be able to do so. It wasn’t that long ago that my mother-in-law made that climb before a stroke and a broken hip confined her to a wheelchair.
This year I spent considerable time on the beach with Lily and Ava, my little granddaughters. I reveled in the moment when the waves crashed against them in my arms, and they came up sputtering, torn between joy and fear, just like their father and uncles so many years earlier on that very same beach.
Each year I come away from Watervale with a renewed appreciation of the natural world. I am affirmed in my decision to put family at the center of my life. I grasp how very fortunate I am. Perhaps most importantly, I understand that life is filled with possibility, and it is up to me to make the most of it.
So maybe I will climb Baldy when I’m 80. And maybe, some August, I will play with Lily’s children and Ava’s children on the beach at Watervale.