Archives for posts with tag: #torchlake


Gentle sway

Sun warming

Wind whispering

Breeze tickling

Sunlight dappling leaves

Waves licking

Sails rippling

Coffee brewing

Bacon sizzling

“Come on in, breakfast is ready!”


“And we are nearly ready to go.  The sisters have assumed their positions around the pot, each with cup in hand.  We have Oreo Cookie cup, New Orleans Jazz Fest cup, and rounding it out, there is 70s Flower Child mug.  It looks like a great day for coffee, don’t you think, Skip?”

“I do think so, Bob.  The participants are gathered around the Mr. Coffee, and all eyes are on the pot.  And these eyes are not pretty, Bob.  We have Oreo Cookie cup with the blood shot, red, swollen eyes of way too much fun last night.  Next to her, we have Jazz Fest, and these eyes are flying at half mast this morning.  Not sure how competitive this one is going to be able to be at this hour.  Flower Child looks like the perkiest of the bunch.  She seems rested and relaxed.  Those two other cups are going to have a run for their money with Flower Child in the mix.”

“Well, Skip, looks can be deceiving.  I never underestimate a tired, hungover woman when coffee is involved.  I remember once… Wait!  It looks like… Yes, the drip has stopped.  The drip has stopped, and we are off to the races!”

“Flower Child reaches out toward the pot as the last sputter of drip empties into its 12 cup receptacle.  It’s Flower Child at the start, but wait!  Here comes Oreo Cookie with a shockingly quick box out!  Flower Child crashes loudly against the cabinets.  Jazz Fest seems dazed by all of the ruckus and leans against the counter to gather herself. Flower Child attempts to recapture her position, but it is too late.  Oreo Cookie has swept in and grabbed that first cup of liquid sanity. It looks like Oreo Cookie is our winner, Bob.”

“Hold on, Skip.  There seems to be a commotion coming from the kitchen.  Oreo Cookie has taken that first, delicious sip.  Her face is screwed up in horror. What could possibly be happening down there?  It appears that Oreo Cookie is yelling something.  Let’s see if we can make it out.”

“All right.  Which one of you A**holes made decaf?!”

“Come on!  It’s right up here, past the clay bank,” Tommy shouted over his shoulder as the rest of us scampered behind on the trail.

“Gramma said that her name is Emily,” said Betz.

“I don’t see why we have to go down there.  What if she’s weird.   Then we have to pretend to be friends with a weird girl all summer,” Laura grumbled pulling up the rear.

“I’ll bet she’s nice.  Gramma says she’s our age.  We might really like her,” I chimed in.

“Nice try.  I doubt it.  I’ll bet she’s super weird and she’ll mess everything up.”

“Lighten up, Laura,” Betz said as we entered the clearing past the clay bank. “There’s the house.  Fancy, huh?”

We all looked in wonder at the A-framed structure rising up before us.  It was a far cry from our little cottage and certainly different from the sleeping cabin that Grampa ‘Kay built in 1940. That’s where we kids slept all summer.

“They have carpet!” Betz marveled gesturing toward the remnants left alongside the house.

“Shag,” whispered Tommy. We were accustomed to linoleum flooring.  Practical because of the beach sand and pine needles that hitchhiked on our bare feet to invade the floor of the cottage. Gramma waged a constant battle against the assault.

“OK, let’s get this over with,” Laura said walking up to the side door.  The front of the house was one giant window facing the lake, so the side door seemed like the right place to knock.  And knock, she did, with the rest of us crowding behind her.

A surly teen opened the door.  “Ya?” she said one hand on her hip.

“Can Emily come out and play?” Betz asked.

“There’s no Emily here,” replied the girl, and she abruptly turned and closed the door.  We stood in astonished silence on the porch.  Maybe Gramma was wrong.  Maybe there was no girl our age in the A-frame.

“Well, that’s just great,” Laura said sarcastically.  “Now what?”
“Back to the cottage for lunch, I guess.” I said heading back down the trail.  The others turned to follow me.

“Hey!” We all turned in unison toward the voice.  “I’m Amy.  Where you guys just at my house looking for me?”

Little did we know, that this moment would change our summers at the lake forever.


“Tommy!  Toss me Richie Rich.  I haven’t read that one.”   I reach my grubby, s’more covered fingers toward the comic, but I am too late.

“Forget it, I’m not done with that stack yet.  Read Little Lotta,” Tommy smirked.  “That’s more your speed anyway,” he said twisting away from me using his back as a barrier against my grubby grab.

Laura flipped over in her sleeping bag, so that she was now facing the top of the tent.  Her mouse brown hair poked out of the top of the bag in an any-which-way it wants, no rules, manner that made me wonder how much of it was hair, and how much was pine tar and dirt. “Will you guys shut up?  I’m trying to read, here.”  Betz moved the flashlight so that she could better see her Hot Stuff comic. She was not about to get dragged into any bickering, so she kept to herself.  Amy giggled in the corner with a pile of Little Dot and her friends.  Amy didn’t need any of us to have a good time.  Her nickname was Polka Dot, so she thought that all of the Little Dot comics were written about her.  Her wild, curly brown hair, not so much framed her face, as allowed it to exist within it.  Her laughter was contagious, so quiet giggles were appropriate for settling us in for the night.

The scene was a familiar one, each of us head bent over a comic.  It’s what we did in the summer.  There was no TV to watch, and there were only so many times that we could read the same few Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books that were in the shack.  The comic book scene was familiar, though the tent was not.  We had begged our parents to let us spend the night out in front of the cottage in Great-Uncle Mertz’ army tent.  After an unusual amount of begging, we ultimately got the go-ahead and started setting it up.

It took forever to get it up and prepped for our adventure.  I’m not sure what we expected, but when you are 10, and sleeping outdoors with your best friends all night, the world is your oyster.  The adventure came with the rush of independence, the sense that for the next ten hours, we were in charge.  If we wanted to stay up all night and read, no one would be there to stop us, and if Old Man Marker’s ghost decided to pay us a visit…no one would be there to protect us.

The tent was ancient, army green canvas and fit all five of us with room left over to house a tribe of Pygmies.  Once up, its gaping, musty, mouth revealed a coated canvas floor that crinkled as we began staking our claims with sleeping bags and piles of Harvey, DC, and Action Comics.

Dinner had been perch that Grampa ‘Kay had caught that morning with Mertz. It was delicious and pared with a three bean and onion salad that Gramma ‘Kay had made. Yummy as it all was, it would prove to be the potential unraveling of our adventure.


The road was so dark, that she nearly missed the driveway.  There was no moon and the sky was lightly overcast, giving the woods an eerie shimmer. She drove slowly down the dirt driveway, lowering the windows to listen to the woods.  As the tires crunched a rhythm into the sand and pine needles, Sarah listened to the world outside.  Night critters rustled the leaves of the trees lining the way.  In the next drive, an owl called out a greeting.  The scent of pine and moist leaves filled her nose and her memory.  This driveway had always led to safety, to love, companionship, to family.  There was always a sense of excitement and adventure when Sarah approached the cottage, but tonight it was different.  Tonight was not like any other night at the lake.

She pulled carefully into the sandy drive in front of the back door.  The cottage, dark and too quiet, held back its welcome.  Closing the door lightly behind her, Sarah walked around the side of the house toward the front porch, toward the lake.  The lake finally welcomed her, its waves licking the shore in short, repetitive ticks.  She crossed the front yard to the steps of the dock and followed them down to the shore.  She was part of the darkness, now, part of the sand and pine and water.

Sarah sat down on the steps and hugged her knees.  Her blonde hair, hastily pulled into a messy ponytail, had no moonlight to reflect it’s golden hues.  She shivered slightly in her light sweater as she looked out onto the dark of the lake. Eventually, she would have to unpack the car. Eventually, she would have to go into the house and get things started. Eventually…she thought, as she sat in quiet contemplation on a wooden step, on a dark, Northern Michigan night, staring out over the water that had born witness to her entire life. What came before and what would come after settled in the depths of the cold, clear water.

The cool, off shore breeze carried with it the faces and voices of long ago. Sarah sat for a moment and let those memories fill the quiet around her.


When I was a kid, summer nights at Torch Lake were punctuated by thousands of fireflies. They would parade out of the darkness, exclamation points of soft, warm light marching toward the flickering glow of the campfire. Like sisters, cousins, parents, and grandparents, they seemed to swarm around the perimeter of the fire to share a connection, a story, or a laugh. Perhaps they were drawn to the warmth of the fire, or by the strength of the bonds that developed around that worn out brick circle fire pit.

Over the years, the numbers have dwindled…both of family and fireflies. The campfire seems to have let their spirits go, embers adrift on a breeze toward the water. Some losses you kind of expect, like Grandma and Grandpa. Grandparents die; even grade school kids know and accept this. But others come as a surprise. None of us were prepared for Marty’s death. He was one of us. There is comfort in the fact that he died at the lake, but he died in the winter…alone. No fireflies to gather around him and guide his spirit out over the water. Just Marty and his bottle. I suppose we should have seen it coming. ZAP! One soft, warm light extinguished.

When we were young, we chased the fireflies around the outside of the brick circle fire pit where our elders gathered, sharing whiskey sours, stories, and laughter. We were filthy and sweaty, but we didn’t care, and the fireflies didn’t seem to mind much either. We would capture them briefly in our small, grubby hands and giggle as they tickled our palms. We never put them in a jar because Tommy, Marty’s younger brother, thought it was cruel, and everyone loved Tommy too much to hurt his feelings. Occasionally the dance with our luminous partners was interrupted when a roar of laughter cut in from the brick circle. Someone had shared a good story. I suspected it was my father, Bob. He learned at Grandpa ‘Kay’s knee that the truth should never get in the way of a good story. We have all come to believe that.

These little family traditions endure the passing of fireflies. They endure because they are beyond flesh and bone. They live in the sand, and the flames, and the water. They live in the fabric of Torch Lake. They live in the threads from which the fabric of our lives are woven. It’s these little family customs that wrap around you, a superhero’s cape, protection from the world.

Over time, some of the voices around the fire pit have been quieted, or replaced. Grandma and Grandpa ‘Kay passed years ago, but their humor and good nature live on in us, and in our children. The number of chairs by the fire is finite, so one must be vacated for others to join. The perimeter, where the children and fireflies romp is infinite, bound only by the woods and the water.

Whiskey sours gave way to boxed wine when my cousins and I moved from the perimeter of the circle to premium fire pit seating years ago. We sat there this summer, laughing and sharing our lives in the days before the celebration of our parents’ birthdays. Aunt Liz, and my mom, Rita, would be 80 this year, and Bob, 85. It was truly a wonderful excuse for a party. We gathered, the cousins and my sisters, around the fire and planned a celebration of lives well lived. Rita, Bob and Liz weren’t at the lake yet, so a few of our children snuck into the circle and tried on their chairs for size. They stayed for a while, but were drawn back to the perimeter by calls from down the lake that promised to be more entertaining than an evening with the old folks. We watched them leave, their flashlights reminiscent of the glow that once punctuated the night when fireflies were abundant.

Auntie Liz arrived at last. She took her place by the fire that night and we laughed, and shared, and bonded. We spoke of our year and of the year ahead. We spoke of the past and of the future. We made plans and shared dreams. I found comfort in the filling of the chairs. Only two remained empty.

A few days later, Mom called to tell us Dad was in the hospital. They wouldn’t be making the party. They wouldn’t be making the trip out at all this year. That night, after everyone else had wandered off to bed, I found myself staring off into the darkness around the fire in search of fireflies, but there were none. In the distance, I heard the children splashing in the lake, and perhaps the hoot of an owl, but I saw no fireflies. When my focus returned to the fire pit, the empty chairs stared back as if to challenge me. I closed my eyes against the image and tried to imagine this fire without my parents, I tried to imagine this lake without my parents, and I tried to imagine my life without my parents. My eyes closed tight, spilled tears like a slow and steady rain, soaking my cheeks and the front of my shirt. I bowed my head and said a prayer of thanks. Thanks for my family, my life, and this place.

When I opened my eyes, I saw, in the distance the faint glow of flashlights and the far away sounds of joyful noise. The kids were headed back from down the lake, their flashlights bouncing through the dark like glow-in-the-dark rubber balls bouncing randomly off one tree and to the next. I took a moment to collect myself and headed toward the cottage. Facing the house, away from the fire, I saw two fireflies dancing by the porch light. I made my way toward the light and the fireflies, but as I did, I gazed over my shoulder to see our kids laughing, and sharing, and bonding… seated happily in the chairs by the worn out brick circle fire pit.

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PART ONE: Take a pad of paper and a pen or pencil. Go outside and look around. Write

a paragraph describing your surroundings.

The sun shines down on the lake creating shimmers of diamonds on the water. They dance and shimmy as the water wanders gently toward the north shore. The air is crisp and cool, cleansed by the previous night’s gentle rainfall. Ferns scattered across the pine needle blanket lawn wave good morning to the day ahead.

Inside I hear the hum of NPR through the static on the ancient radio, occasionally punctuated by the clatter of my mother putting away last night’s clean dishes. My dad hollers from the bathroom in frustration, “I can’t find my toothpaste, Rita!”

PART TWO: Now, you are a lost six year-old child. Rewrite the same description from

this point of view.

I wander toward the porch of this big house. My footsteps crunch the pine needles beneath my feet. Woodland creatures skittle in the woods behind me, and in the distance, a bird I don’t recognize calls out to its mate. Maybe someone here can help me find my way home. As I round the corner of the house toward the porch, the lake stretches out in front of me. Diamonds! There are diamonds on this lake! Surely in a place this grand, someone can help me find my way home.

Now, you are a satisfied housecat. Rewrite the same description from this

point of view.

This sun is perfect. I intend to sit in this very spot all day long. From here, I can watch the diamonds on the water dance, and keep my eyes peeled for critters trying to get at my people. I’ll teach them to go after what’s mine! This is MY house, my people, my sun, and my porch. What’s that? I tilt my head and sniff the gentle breeze. Chipmunk. He’ll stay away, if he knows what’s good for him. Even those crumbs under the table are mine. Satisfied that he has noticed me and will keep a respectful distance, I curl my head beneath my tail and fall contentedly to sleep.

Now, you are a fifteen year-old whose parents just announced they are

divorcing. Rewrite the same description from this point of view.

The breeze picks up momentum and slaps me in the face with her cool, crisp hand. I plop down on the porch steps and stare out over the water. The diamonds on the lake, which usually bring me comfort, seem to laugh at me. “Grow up, kid!” They seem to say. “Lake diamonds aren’t real. We are just the sun reflected on shifting water. Like your life, we look one way, but are another. We are false, just like your family. Try to touch us and we vanish under the waves. Just like your family.”