Rising out of a forest near Michigan City, Indiana is Mount Baldy, a 126-foot sand dune. It seems malapropos of Mother Nature to have placed an enormous mountain of sand in the middle of Indiana, of all places. Indiana from Highway 90: industrial plants spew black smoke, making the humid summer air visible with a greenish tinge; the smell of sulfur assaults your nose for miles; a sign in Gary greets passers-by with an unavoidable and powerfully sardonic message: “Welcome to the Sewer District”. Still, you’re compelled by an uncontrollable urge to reach the top of the colossal mound, the allure of undiscovered treasures too great to be ignored.
Once you’re at the bottom, there’s nowhere to go but up.
It’s a steep climb with no support, your feet sinking into the sand and taking one step away from every three you take. The view from the top wraps its arms around your waist and lifts you up, removing the pain from your muscles and the weight from your feet: the great, deep blue expanse of Lake Michigan over a hundred feet below you. Small children, propelled by gravity and renewed energy, hurl themselves down the comparatively gradual incline towards the lake, splashing into the breaking waves and shrieking at the impact of the bitter cold water.
Once you’re at the top, there’s nowhere to go but down.
I’d separated myself from my family to allow myself to feel the exhilaration of my accomplishment and to reap the rewards. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of seeing the most beautiful sight that’s ever graced your eyes. You can’t imagine anything ever taking its place, and yet inevitably the image fades and something else takes its place in another time, another place, with another version of you looking on. The ignorance of this is bliss. It feels like love.
I’ve edited portions of this experience from my mind. I don’t remember that we were visiting my sister in Chicago for more than just a routine pilgrimage to remind her that her family still existed in a world consumed by the college experience. I don’t remember my parents visiting the seminary. I don’t even remember what my mother said, precisely, that sent my 13-year-old world into an uncontrollable tailspin, except: “Well, they’ve offered me a very good scholarship.” What that meant was that we were leaving St. Louis and moving to Chicago. What that meant is that I’d have to give up everything that was familiar to me. I’d have to abandon friends. I’d have to give up the popularity I had amassed in middle school. I’d have to go to high school alone.
There are no lifeguards at Mount Baldy. Rip currents move along the surface of the water and drag unsuspecting swimmers out to sea at top speed, sweeping the ground from under their feet and reducing the mountainous dune to a mere pile of sand, shrinking in the distance.