My second mentor comes to me in the best possible way: Monday afternoon, my day off, a phone call and invitation to go find the Sleeping Bear of Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes. This from poet goddess and memoirist Anne-Marie Oomen, no less—founder of Dunes Review, protector of sacred spaces, and general wise mentor and kind spirit. She’s been a beacon since my first moment of arrival at Interlochen.
I’ll skip the details of the beautiful home she and her husband built, the thought that went into every last grain of wood. I’ll skip the lovely trees on the drive to Empire, brave, silky new-green leaves making their first attempts. I’ll even skip the lovely shawl she loans me for Thursday’s reading.
But what I can’t skip is the drive there, the adventure of finding the bear, and our communing with the “ghost trees” of Michigan’s most famed dunes. That said, our afternoon together is a personal essay waiting to happen, and I won’t attempt it in full here.
It begins when she gives me a bear amulet to keep on my person as we start the dune climb (hard work in full sun, a warm 50 degree day surprising us from our layers of fleece). The next step requires getting lost…in order to find the old dune buggy trail from the 1970’s. Back before these dunes were protected, this was the activity of choice. Fun times or not, these “joy rides” wreaked havoc on the fragile dunes ecosystems as the recreationalists hauled gravel in for makeshift roads. We walk for about 20 minutes, turning around here and there, summiting various dunes, then doubling back again until AMO spots the old two track.
From here, she says, it’s another half hour up and over dunes, through the sun and through the brush, until we get to the spot. On the way, she tells the “official” legend of Sleeping Bear (the Michigan state story) and then she tells other versions, which include various other creatures and morals. She makes sounds of the wind, calls of the bears, and turns around occasionally to reiterate a point. In between the legends, we walk.
I inquire about her books—questions I’ve wanted to ask this author for some time. Before she says anything, I see it…the first stand of ghost trees, brittle trunk-bones spearing the sky like the ribs of a gigantic bear.
What we see next is only for those who make the trek. But suffice it to say we walked the “bones” of the bear to the very edge of the 460-foot drop off. We dangled our legs over the edge toward the glimmering, blue surface of Lake Michigan.
On the walk back, everything had already been said. Yes, we chatted, especially about the craft of writing. But something had changed. And of course, AMO knew what was on my mind when she spoke: “There is indeed something about doing a public reading at Interlochen.”
“Yeah,” I said.
“It’s a Rite of Passage…When I was Writer-in-Residence I felt very fragile the day after my reading. Like I was suddenly known and bare in this very different way.”
“I can imagine…” I said.
Back at her house, AMO gives me a necklace she picked to match the dress for my reading on Thursday night. “If you like it, it’s my gift to you…And if you don’t, it’s no problem. I can take it back. But here. Try this…”
If I like it?…I love it!