When I turned toward Lake Michigan, I was immediately struck by its beauty this day: bands of sapphire, foam green, and light beige, its horizon as definitive as a black line in a coloring book.
The beach was empty with the exception of a woman in a long black coat walking ahead of me and a young woman with her dog. The wind stirred up large waves that rolled onto shore one after another. I sat on the sand at the water’s edge, trying to line up the horizon with the edge of my iPhone, and began snapping shots of the waves, seagulls, the lake, the dog.
After a while, I stood up, dusted off, and walked along the shore. The lady in the black coat was way off in the distance now. At the end of the beach, where the sand met a mass of tall grasses and trees, a young man, big and buff, lay on the sand with his shirt off, his dog next to him. I thought about what it would be like if the young woman and her dog encountered the shirtless young man and his dog.
I left the beach, spilling out onto the sidewalk and passing the woman in the long black coat. I smiled and said hello; she said hello back. The lake’s swaths of blue, green, and beige had grown wider, the blue much darker. I walked toward large white rocks piled up at the water’s edge and took more pictures. The lady in the black coat walked on ahead then stopped. As I stepped back on to the sidewalk, she said something. I took out my earbuds.
“Are you a professional photographer?” she asked.
“Oh, no,” I said, “I’m just taken by the lake’s colors today.”
I explained that I am a writer and like to use my own photographs on my Web site, when they turn out all right.
“That’s marvelous,” she said. Her coat was so long it almost touched the ground. The wind blew her hair and the sun filled her face with light. She was seventy, maybe seventy-five.
“I love to come down here and look at the lake,” she said. “The colors change every day.”
She’s right. I told her about the series of photos I’ve taken of Lake Michigan out of our dining room window, which are framed by the same building below and the same two buildings on either side in every single shot. It’s like looking at a perpetually changing work of art.
“Monet learned to paint looking at the water,” she said. “I would love to come down here and paint, except it’s too cold right now.”
We walked together, talking about art, painting, photography. Every once in a while she would stop and touch my arm to make a point.
“Sometimes I am so taken by the beauty of the lake, I just have to tell someone about it,” she said. “Once, I couldn’t help myself and said to someone, ‘The colors are spectacular today, aren’t they?’ and they looked at me like I was nuts.” She brushed her hair out of her face. “They just don’t see it.”
We walked a little farther together.
“So you take the pictures for yourself,” she said.
“Does your husband like to talk about art and things like this?”
“Yes,” I said, “he does.”
She stopped. “Mine just isn’t interested. I got to the point where I told him ‘I’m not going to wait for you to come down here with me anymore.’ Some things you have to do for yourself. That’s what I’m doing. I do this for me.”
She squeezed my arm. “I cross here,” she said. “I wish you luck with your pictures and writing, dear. Take care.”
“You too.” I thought about giving her my card.
She smiled, her face made even more glorious by the sun. I wanted to hug her. I reached out my hand instead. She didn’t hesitate to slip hers into mine.
“Thank you for talking to me,” I said. “I greatly enjoyed it.”
“Thank you too, dear.”
“I hope to see you down here again sometime soon.”
We let go of each other and parted, she across the boulevard, me up the hill. Halfway up, I was filled with overwhelming love for every woman who has ever nurtured me well: My grandmothers, especially Dot. Miss Gluntz. Jan. Women I’ve encountered for five or thirty minutes and never see again. And on good days, my mother. I wished I’d given the lady in the long black coat my business card. Next time I come to the lake I will look for her and do just that.