What Goes Up Must Come Down: Life in Benzie County

(This article continues a series. Please see the third and second place winners in previous issues of Grand Traverse Journal).

By Genevieve Pomerleau (center), First Place winner in the 2015 Bruce Catton Awards

Go into Frankfort, Michigan, turn west on Forest Avenue, then make a right onto Michigan Avenue, and keep going north until you reach Nipissing Street. Once you’re there, make a left and go to the end. Look to your left, and you’ll find a set of small, mossy stairs that lead to the beach. Go down the steps and walk alongside the water for a short ways north. Eventually, you will come across a small stream coming down from the sloped ground on your right.

In the summer of 2008, when I was seven years old, my brother, our friends, and I spent most of our time at Frankfort’s Lake Michigan beach there, at the stream. We would use the mud to make dams in the stream, then break them up and try to get the water to flow all the way to the lake, and we would climb up into the woods and make forts out of old logs and fallen tree branches.

One day, my friend, Ted (who was ten-years-old at the time) suggested that we climb up the hill- following the water- to see where the stream originated. We positioned ourselves on the right side of the small creek and started up the crumbling clay to the next flat area we knew of.  In hindsight, we probably should have climbed on the left side so that there would have been more trees and bushes to hold onto for support. It wasn’t a very far distance, but when you’re a small child, everything seems a lot larger.

When we reached the miniature plateau, we spent a few minutes trying to get onto the flat ground. A large branch that had fallen a long time ago had caused a buildup of dirt and clay that formed a small cliff. Ted climbed up the branch and clawed onto the top; then held out his hand and pulled me up. We stopped for a moment and watched the stream flow beside us through the little canyon it had created. Across it, there was more flat ground. It was as though someone had taken a giant knife and carved a huge step into the side of the steep hill.  We built most of our forts there. Right below it, the stream split into two; one going down to the area where we spent most of our time; the other smaller one going deeper north into the woods. We then stepped into it and continued upstream that way. We could hang onto tree roots coming out of the sides of the little valley, making our expedition easier.

Eventually, we reached the end (or should I say the beginning?) and found that the start of the creek was a large mud puddle. It was a gray/cream color, but clearish water flowed out of it and down the hill. We knelt down and picked up some of it with our hands. It was squishy, and felt like wet clay. I took a step toward it; then I put a foot on the soft surface. It felt hard enough, so I lifted up my other leg. Immediately, my right foot squelched through the seemingly solid ground and pulled me in with it. Just before the mud and clay completely covered my head, my toes touched the bottom. I wriggled through the murk until I reached the side and Ted pulled me out. We spent a little while playing around with the sludge, jumping in on purpose and almost swimming in the ooze. Eventually we stopped and took a break on dry ground. We both looked like some sort of mud monsters.

Ted suggested that we should keep climbing to see what was at the very top. I agreed, and we began working our way through the thick bushes and trees. After a while, the vegetation broke and we reached a wooden split rail fence. Beyond it was a well- kept yard with a large stone house resting upon it. We hopped over the fence and onto the grass. The sound of a door opening made us both jump. Ted whispered for me to run, and before I knew it we were over the fence and racing down the perilous incline. We sprinted past the mud-hole without stopping and crashed through the woods as if a bull were chasing us. When we came to the flat area, we just kept going, leaping off the cliff without thinking. It seemed a full ten seconds before we hit the ground and continued running. Gasping for air, we splashed through the stream, darted across the beach, and finally dove into the water.

We stayed there, floating in the lake, for what might have been a half-hour. We caught our breath, letting the sun warm our faces, watching the dried clay on our bodies become wet and float off into the water.

Congratulations to Genevieve Pomerleau for her excellent essay, and her first place finish! We look forward to reading more from Genevieve.