Romantic: Reflecting the emotional or imaginative charm of what is heroic, adventurous, remote, mysterious, or idealized--often in recalling the past.
I owe the inspiration for so many of the characters and incidents in Uncle Arctica to the multitude of people I've had the pleasure, and displeasure of knowing throughout my five decades, and to all of the outlandish things that have happened along the way. The tale I am about to relate would provide the setting for a pivotal chapter in my novel Uncle Arctica. It’s a memory I will cherish for the rest of my days.
Ten years ago, I was happy to have had the frequent and particularly good company of two extraordinary teenagers -- Erik and Kristen Rachel. They were the eldest of four children, and always game for whatever adventure their eccentric, middle-aged mentor might have in store for them.
We had escaped to the Indiana Dunes, on Lake Michigan. I had picked them up -- twenty minutes late -- in my red '75 Nova. It had a full, black roof, and everything about it -- down to the way it smelled -- just plain felt like 1975. We made the National lake shore ten minutes ahead of schedule.
The kids had never been to the ocean, nor anything remotely like it. The Lakeshore was an epiphany to them: nothing but sand, sea, and blue sky. It was a bright, hot day and the place was packed. The wind was light, so there was no surf. Chicago looked like stubble on the horizon. I charged straight into the water -- hat, clothes, and all. Erik followed. Rachel, being sensible, changed into her swimsuit. The water was perfect! We swam a long time and incurred the ire of the lifeguards several times, by drifting too far out - it was glorious!
We ate lunch, loafed on the beach, then resolved to ascend Mt. Tom. We strained up the white, sand slope barefoot and greeted a happy family of Mexicans near the summit. They seemed favorably impressed by my authentic, vintage La Playa vest and our cheerful greeting of them in their native tongue. Our trek went on and on. We visited the marsh with its boardwalk, and enjoyed many striking marvels of nature while steadfastly ignoring the sky-- which was growing ever darker. We kidded ourselves for the next couple of miles that the occasional, distant rumbles were jets from Chicago O'Hare. We finally ended out eastern leg, turned north and reached the summit of the great dunes overlooking Lake Michigan. The sky was black – oh man, was it black! We huddled together and took a selfie with that angry, inky sky looming behind our silly grins.
We descended the dune, but stopped short of the beach -- where there was certainly surf now. The howling wind sent ten-foot breakers roaring ashore; lightning stabbed the stygian lake, thunder exploded, rain and sand stung our faces. It was a scene of wild, primal power and chaos, desolation and danger. A blinding bolt of white fire snaked through the air directly overhead, cracking the sky with a sound like bad news on judgement day. There were startled shouts of profanity as we scrambled back up the rough, steep slope. We raced westward along the crests and down into the blowouts, battered by slanting sheets of rain and that stinging wind-blown sand. It was pure, absolute adventure -- and we loved every perilous moment of it! We made the next trailhead and, sheltering in the forest, pulled out a pathetic little umbrella and map. It would be four miles back to the car.
The storm finally diminished, and Erik, now wearing only shorts and a black leather fedora, took my vest to stop his shivering. Rachel and I shared the umbrella, which did little more than keep the rain out of our eyes. Eventually we reached a nature center, and turned in to get a drink and warm up. Erik drew not a few stares and smirks.
At last, we reached our parking lot. Down on the beach, all was still. The crowds had fled. The sky was yet a great black vault. We waded into the calm water, and stood silently. In the west, the clouds opened a little and the sun appeared, orange and flat, turning that part of the sky into a soaring canyon of lurid purple and red. Shafts of splendor tumbled down to illuminate Chicago, on the far shore. A freighter sat a mile out, her smoke ascending straight up to the sully the newly purified air.
One by one, without a word, we waded ashore and returned to the car. It is so very hard to leave a scene like that; to step out of a painting that you were just a part of, the last strokes of which are not even dry -- after living an adventure that is now just a rollicking, good tale.
Night fell as we rolled down I-65, the old Nova’s hood reflecting a highway galaxy of tail lights, turn signals, barricades, street lights, and overhead signs. Erik had not brought anything to change into. He rode alone in the back seat all the way to Lafayette, wearing nothing but a black, leather fedora on his head, and my safari hat on his lap. At the Outback, we guzzled down six pitchers of water before dinner arrived. We realized that we'd hiked eight miles, barefoot, on sand, with only a brief slurp out of a fountain.
The years have flown by, and the kids have gone on to live their own adventures. Kristen attended the birth of my daughter, and went on to become a Registered Nurse, and a spritely Irish-step dancer. It is rumored that in recent years Erik was seen in a mob that had stolen all of restroom-stall doors in Germany; was spotted luxuriating at a mud bath festival in South Korea; and nearly discovered on a strictly off-the-record tour of a Russian warship in Vladivostok, which only cost him three bottles of vodka.
I can’t wait to read his adventure novel!