You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime…*

This weekend, I returned to a Lake Huron beach what I took away a year ago.

Back from whence they came

Back from whence they came. St.Ignace beach; Mackinac Island in background.

As an adult, the Catholicism I was raised with has failed to feed me spiritually. So I’ve found myself looking more often for signals and meaning in the natural world. More than a decade ago, I found this one on another U.P. beach: Dad rock

I was camping on Grand Island with my to-be husband, less than six months after my dad’s death. He had met Mike, but was too sick from cancer to get to know him. I interpreted this rock, left on a picnic table at our campsite, the carbon-on-carbon inscription barely visible, as a subtle spiritual nod of paternal approval. And I’ve hung onto it all these years.

So, 2012, St. Ignace beach with my now-husband and two kids. The similar, peanut butter color contrasted with the varying surfaces of the four rocks seemed like a perfect metaphor for our family. Mike is the biggest, smoothest rock on the left, symbolizing his easygoing personality. I’m next to him, with one sharp notch, signifying how I’m fine until I’m pushed to my edge. Owen is next, with the most ridges and facets, just like his rigid personality. Audrey is last, mostly smooth, but with a few divots, like any kid trying to grow up.

I really liked that metaphor. For the past year, those rocks rattled around the console of our station wagon. I even replicated it in the fall, in the medium of chestnuts lined up on a kitchen shelf. You can probably guess who the spiky shell is:

One of these things is not like the other ones.

One of these things is not like the other ones.

By March, though, the metaphor began to feel tired. Audrey, then four and a half, was in a rough phase, resisting school, clinging to her lovey and me like she hadn’t since age 2. “You’re the easy one,” I kept thinking.  “Oh, no. You don’t get to be difficult, too.”

Not exactly fair to a four-year-old. Modifying the metaphor, I decided maybe we could rotate rock identities. Owen, who was then in a smooth phase, didn’t always have to be the rigid one.

Some time after that, I concluded the metaphor no longer worked at all. (Perhaps it was the leading edge of this latest spin through the lathe of life.) Or, rather, it no longer served the spiritual purpose I sought, the comfort and reassurance a la the Dad rock, that led me to pick them up in the first place.

Thus, on our annual vacation to the Straits last weekend, I put them back (and composted the chestnuts.) Ten minutes after I lined them up on the log, they were gone, snatched either by a wave or a kid.

Even though they no longer helped me, the empty log made me feel forlorn. I prowled the beach, looking for something else to take, something that feeds my soul now. I did.

Birch scroll

The native peoples of the Straits used birch bark as scrolls. On scraps like these, they shared stories, preserved history, taught lessons. As a writer, my tools are modern, but my purpose is the same. I like that it’s white and flexible, not hard and unyielding, like the rocks. Thank you, Great Spirit/Mother Nature/Naiades/God. I got what I need.


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