adventure, childhood, Creator, Forest, God, Growing Up, Lake Michigan, Lessons from the Wilderness, Nature, Peace, Pirate, Uncategorized, wilderness

A Pirate Still Lives Here

We left Trout Creek this week and moved back to the bluff. This is where I spent all but two summers since a child, atop a 150’ sand cliff with its face to the setting sun. From up here, Lake Michigan is grand and wide and shimmering. And though my grandparents bought this land 55 years ago, there is evidence from area artifacts that it was part of a network of hunting grounds for the ancients since the last ice age retreated north.

My grandparents built a cottage in the woods, and my brother and I slept and played to the steady rhythm of waves, wind, car ferry whistles, and Coast Guard foghorns. Here, our imaginations ran feral, with no television or telephone, and very few rules (compared to our city life) except to be home at the stated hour, to NEVER disturb mother if she was napping, and to remember that our behavior in public wore the family name. We had some drawing paper, a few dog-eared books, and a well-worn deck of cards that sat on a sunny windowsill underneath a moth-eaten Yahtzee cup. Every finished box of Jay’s potato chips was carefully deconstructed and laid flat to create a new board game. We made our own rules, we settled our own disagreements, and we laughed each other to sleep in the bunk beds’ sandy sheets. We became and remain best friends.

On a grand ash tree at the edge of the bluff, I flew my pirate flag, bought with birthday money and a sense of delight. (I still have it.) My brother had a telescope which we used to keep charge of this coast, vigilantly spying on fisherman, ore boats, and beachcombers. Here we learned to shoot with bow and arrow, how to tie bowlines, to know the language of woodland birdsong, to read the cats paw winds, and to name the constellations. We buried treasure, hooted up barred owls, hunted salamanders, found morel mushrooms, and haunted the cemetery where our father now lies. Here too I met my future husband when we were five, had my first argument with my parents, and developed what was to become a lifelong love of the conspicuous, God-breathed beauty that we call Nature.

This is not a big place, but it gave me a big heart and a curious mind.

In the sunrise of my life I ran barefoot and carefree, careful to mind the elders, but happy to be a child. Now all but one of those elders is gone, and I find myself here, under the same tree canopy, looking out at the same expanse of water and sky. I may be closer to the sunset of my own life, but I still have a telescope. The pirate in me will never die.

~J.A.P. Walton

6 thoughts on “A Pirate Still Lives Here”

  1. Oh Julie-thank you for sharing this beautiful article about your childhood in Michigan. I read it and said to myself – I can remember some of those wonderful days of my youth-I have never missed a summer-some times only for two of three days-but that was enough to keep me going for another year. Absolutely Awesome!!!


    1. Thanks for reading it Beth. We often fail to understand that most of our treasures are already inside of us. Crystal Lake, Lake Michigan, swimming lessons at the CSA, operettas, choir, Sunday church, bright sails along the boat beach, cherry pie, beach picnics, petoskey hunting , and the fresh wind of freedom that being allowed to roam instilled (un-adult-ed and within reason) are memories I treasure deeply.


  2. I enjoyed reading every word of this. We were lucky enough to know your parents (?) Lou and Barb – we are the last cabin on Ness – next to Bruce and Linda Campbell – we have been coming up every year for 46 years and now can give our grandchildren the unique and beautiful bluff experience.


    1. Thanks Nancy. You must be of the Thompson clan? Yes, it is a blessed place to come back to year after year. My dad is gone, and my mom too unwell to travel… she misses it very mightily. Thanks for reading!


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