You go to the dunes on Saturday. You climb to the top – the biggest dune is greater than anything you’ve ever seen. You climb, and when you get just half the way up you’re level with the tops of the tallest trees below. Then you climb a bit further and turn to look back, and it’s like stepping above the rim of the world. You can’t see forever, but you can see almost that far. Especially once you make it to the top. In one direction, Michigan spreads out like a blanket. Flatter than anything you are used to, and not as beautiful because of that, but still amazing. And you feel like a king, you feel like the wind, you feel bigger than you have ever felt, because you are so small and so still and so high. You could go on forever.
If you turn around and look out the other way, it’s even more beautiful. The dune slopes down for ages, but your depth perception is skewed because the sand is all the same, and it is wind-blown so smooth. You know the slope is steep and long, but from the top, it looks like it would only take a few leaps to reach the edge of the lake. There are more dunes, smaller ones, between you and the water, and some of these are topped by thin groves of trees, wind-stunted and twisted and shining. You walk around the edge of the dune; a long ridge connecting it to the lower mounds. In places, you’re walking on a path barely a foot wide, with steep drops on either side that plunge away sharply into the fullest emptiness you have ever seen. There is nothing between you and the sky, you and the wind, you and the birds that circle nearly on a level with where you stand.
When you decide to leave the ridge and descend into the bowl between the dunes, it’s an adventure. The slope is so steep you can’t walk down easily – you have to run, or slide. Running is the fastest and easiest way, because gravity takes you and before you know it, you’re at the bottom looking up. But if you slow down and try to walk, each stride you take is many feet wide. When you set your foot down the sand rolls beneath you and carries you along, further than you could ever go alone. You feel like you are walking on water.
And the sky so blue above, and cloudless, and free. You feel like dancing, twirling in the clear, empty canvas that is the white sand and leaving a trail of your own across the smoothness. You stand, with the desire to dance, to create, to leave marks, and you know that anything you do will be made nothing, will be wiped clean, will disappear in moments, in heartbeats, in time. You are powerless. You have only a feeling inside, while the wind has everything else. But it doesn’t matter, because when you twirl, the wind twirls with you. You leave your mark written across the sand anyway. When you finally make your way through the foredunes and step onto the beach, the wind has beaten lines of laughter into your face.
The water is cool when it runs over your bare feet. You roll up your jeans and dare the clear cold higher. It washes in to shore, and in to shore, and in to shore, carrying with it the heavy gold-brown of wet sand and the strangeness of the deeps from whence it came. And you feel that no science can ever understand, can ever discover, can ever explain, the wonder. No science can put a label on the massive, towering greatness of the dunes, or the tremble of the sand washing over your feet, or the cold foam on the lake as it rises and falls along the beach. No science can uproot the magic, and no science has the right to try. The language that the wind learned from the stars and taught to the waves is older than the deeps of time, and science cannot hear the words. You believe that science doesn’t even try. It only strives to cover up the strangeness with logic and sense, and make the wonder to fit in a box, to be carried where we will and opened when we please, and named and petted and made a slave to knowledge but not to wisdom. But you know it is so much bigger. There is too much of wonder to be tamed, and you know it never will be. And that wildness makes you glad.
When you return from the water’s edge and make your way once more to the top of the highest dune and turn to look back, the sunlight has turned the water silver. It blends with the sky so that you cannot tell where one ends and the other begins. Perhaps they do not – perhaps they are one. You pick up your shoes and make your way down the hither side of the great mountain of sand, to the forest floor so far below. This time you face the world as you descend – you do not have to turn to see its rim rising to swallow you. By the time you have reached the level ground, you feel small again. But inside, your breath still flutters. Inside, you will long remember the touch of the wind and the laughter of the waves and the song the sky sang to you as you stood on its brink looking out at every thing and every time and every wish of your heart.