Discovering the profound on the sea, lakeshore under the stars

By Helen Haskell Remien

We first met Steve under a sky filled with stars on the island of Oahu. His face crinkled into a smile as he scooted over, inviting us to sit next to him on a wall dividing beach from resort.  At first, my husband Cam and I said little to this lithe man dressed in khaki pants and a porkpie hat—just small talk about the size of the crowd and our good luck at having seats for the fireworks that would soon light up this stretch of Waikiki Beach.
I’m not sure how the three of us moved from the shallow water of small talk to the depths of connection, but, once it happened, we found ourselves eagerly talking.  Cam and I shared that we lived in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula; Steve told us that he had grown up in Wisconsin and that he loved the U.P. for the wildness of the land and lakes. He now lived in a small town south of Santa Barbara.  We told him we had flown to Oahu for the weekend on a whim, and we asked him about his own flight.  That’s when everything turned topsy-turvy and sea-wavy.
Steve hadn’t flown to Honolulu at all. He had set sail from California in a twenty-eight-foot Cape Dory sailboat, and, after four weeks at sea, he had landed at the marina next to our resort. His boat had a broken boom and ripped sails, but Steve retained an ocean of enthusiasm for this trip, which was his post-retirement dream. He’d been in Hawaii for several weeks waiting for a new boom to be shipped and the seas to settle so that he could sail back to Santa Barbara.
Honestly, if Steve had told us he had climbed Everest, I don’t think I would have been as mesmerized.  I tried to fathom it, the sea with its constant wind and waves, and the wide-open sky, just sea and sky—and Steve in his twenty-eight-foot boat.  He told us of flying fish and occasional seabirds that skimmed close to the water’s surface, one bird at a time, then, at night, a pair settling together into the darkness.  And the darkness!  It wasn’t dark at all.  We followed Steve’s gaze as he pointed up to the red-glowing planet that hung above the palms.  “In the middle of the sea,” Steve told us, “Mars lights the entire sky.”
It might have been then, as I envisioned one sweet man alone with the whole of sea and nighttime sky, that I felt a shudder, the crown-of-the-head tingle that rises within me when I’m in the midst of something big.  I reached into my pocket, pulled out a wave-washed stone I had gathered weeks earlier along the shore of Superior at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, and I handed it to Steve.  He rubbed his fingers over its surface and I told him it was a talisman, that we would be sending him love, fair winds, safe passage.  He wanted to know about Pictured Rocks, the beach where the stone had been found.
It was shortly after moving to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, over thirty-five years ago, when our boys were toddlers, that Cam and I first camped at Pictured Rocks.  We pitched our tent in a spot nestled under pines above the dunes at Twelve Mile Beach, cooked our dinner over fire, tucked our sons under blankets, and, together, from the top of the bank, watched the scarlet sun dip down behind the wide horizon.  Then, in the growing darkness, I slipped to the beach—and stood there transfixed.  I remember it still, the bigness of it all, the sound of waves thrashing the shore and the infinite sky filled with stars.  And me alone, on this twelve-mile stretch of sand.  I felt God that night, whatever God might be, bigger, grander than everything—and me, less significant than I had ever felt, but more significant than I could imagine.
We saw Steve the next evening, sitting in the same place, and we told him we’d be leaving in the morning, that it had been a highlight to meet him, to hear his story.  He’d be leaving too, he said.  The winds were favorable—and the stone from Superior was tucked in a safe place.  He promised to let us know when he was once again on solid ground.  As the sun rose the next day, walking the beach one last time, we caught a glimpse on the horizon of a small boat, a Cape Dory.
“Godspeed!” we hollered, wiping tears away, sensing that Steve, rollicking in the waves, was already on solid ground.

• Spend time under a night sky near a large body of water. Let the experience have its way with you.
• Fill a tub with hot water and sea salt, and remember that we are made of the sea.

Contributor’s Note: Helen Haskell Remien lives in Marquette County with her husband Cam where she writes, teaches yoga/creativity workshops, and is proprietor of Joy Center.
“The Gift of Water” columns are offered by the Northern Great Lakes Water Stewards and the Cedar Tree Institute, joined in an interfaith effort to help preserve, protect and sanctify the waters of the Upper Peninsula.

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