A stormy night on a wind-swept shoreline with friends
Sandblasted - Storm Cottage
Illustration by Glenn Wolff

We spent the night with our friends Betsy and Eric in a cottage they had rented on the shore of Lake Michigan near Point Betsie. The cottage was a 1950s-era Cape Cod perched on a dune a pebble toss from the waves breaking on the beach. The lap siding was sandblasted smooth and worn to the color of driftwood, and even the furniture inside seemed polished by sand.

There was a fireplace in the living room and an intimate kitchen where two people could work together if they didn’t mind bumping elbows. I like to cook, but that evening, I was content to sit on the deck outside with Eric and drink wine and watch the sun go down, while the women prepared dinner. Eric and I would do the dishes, of course. First, we would have to wipe the counters with a damp rag to get the sand off.

It was a hot night, so Gail and I slept with the window open in our upstairs bedroom. Late in the night, around 2 a.m., I was awakened by flashes of lightning and detonations of thunder. I sat up in bed and discovered the wind had come up strong and was blowing a fine mist of rain through the screen. I sat in front of it and let the mist coat my face and watched the waves breaking below. Whitecaps give off a lot of light. I hadn’t realized how much.

Then lightning flashed over the lake, and for a moment, the entire world was visible. It was chaos out there. Waves rushed toward us in trains, their white tops streaming like banners and horses’ manes. They fell and burst into froth and rushed to the foot of the dune. It felt precarious to be there, in that little cottage balanced on the dunes, about to be swept away by waves.

I went downstairs and found rain spraying through screens on every window, even on the lee side of the house. The roof was leaking, too, and puddles had collected on the hardwood floor in the living room. I shut the windows and went to the kitchen for pans to catch the dripping water and towels to sop up the puddles. Then I sat in a chair by the front window and watched the storm some more.

In the morning, the four of us sat on the deck drinking coffee and watching the lake. We laughed about how easy it is for water and sand to infiltrate a house. The storm had moved inland by then and the clouds were in tatters. The wind had diminished, but not by much, and waves still pounded the shore. Each big breaker struck with a sonorous thump that we could feel through our feet. At some point, Betsy said she wanted to spend every day for the rest of her life on the shore of Lake Michigan.

I asked her why.

“For the drama,” she said. “I’m a sucker for drama.”

Reflections columnist Jerry Dennis is the author of such award-winning books as “The Living Great Lakes,” “The Bird in the Waterfall,” and “A Walk in the Animal Kingdom.”

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