In the name of nostalgia I did some light trespassing last weekend.

Growing up, my family used to rent a cottage on Lake Michigan near Port Sheldon, and my memories of the cottage make up a large portion of my childhood memories. The cottage itself was small and quaint in the shadow of the power plant, with peeling salmon paint and a splintering porch.

No matter. As far as I was concerned, it was straight out of a fairytale. A lot of my memories center on physical sensations—sand underfoot, sticking to linoleum floors, the smooth pages of Paddle to the Sea and Emily and the Golden Acorn, the tickling of beach grass, the heft of binoculars with which to spy horizon-hugging sailboats, the ragged friction of a rope swing. 

Although we stopped going to the cottage sometime after my parents divorced when I was in middle school, my longing isn’t for my family as it was then (not for no reason did I have to cut contact with my dad in adulthood), but rather for the physical place. 

And so, in search of the tangible that had lived on in my intangible memory, I decided I’d go back and see if things were as I remembered them. 

The cottage is in a gated association, so I couldn’t just walk in. Instead, I drove to the public beach just north of the association and spent some time there. I read and swam despite the cloudy skies and cool water. After a while, I went on a beach walk, intending on reaching and walking the length of the pier (with hopefully a couple glimpses of the cottage on the way there). 

The first thing I noticed was the erosion. I’d known that the lakeshore had faced significant erosion over the last decade, but I hadn’t stopped to consider that it could touch this sacred place of my childhood memories—but of course it could. The beach itself didn’t look anything like how I remembered, although the dunes were still high enough that I couldn’t quite see the cottage from the beach.

I continued on to the pier, and there was another change. The pipes from the power plant that ran alongside the pier were updated from the dark, rusting ones to new, light grey ones. The pier was also fully fenced off, so I couldn’t even walk on it (I decided actually jumping a fence would draw too much attention). Denied my original plans, I decided to walk into the association and see how much I could remember. 

I was surprised both by how much I remembered, and how much I didn’t remember. Some of the physical sensations of walking on the pebbly streets or jumping from rock to rock on the channel came back to me, but I almost got lost on the back streets, despite my years of biking and scootering up and down them. 

I did manage to find my way, but unfortunately there were cars parked outside the cottage, so I couldn’t get a closer look (let me assure you that I would have stopped short of actually breaking and entering). For now, at least, the actual building will have to live on in my memory.

And perhaps that is better. Perhaps I should have thought about it a bit more before I took my trip down memory lane. I hadn’t thought about how disconcerting the gaps in my memory would be, how I almost seemed to have a harder time recalling things now that I was back in the physical place, how I tried to reconcile what I was seeing with what I remembered. 

Now I wonder if I made a mistake in going, if I’ve accidentally overwritten some of my childhood memories of the cottage with my adult memories. I’m not sure, but maybe it would have been better to leave my memories of the cottage where they had lived so well for so many years, tucked away in a shining corner of my mind.

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