Moonrise on the Michigan Dune: A Friday Sonnet

Two weeks ago, on my last Sunday with Circle of Hope as pastor, the congregation organized some time for storytelling and blessing to send my family off with love. Thanks to Rob Lairmore, especially, for organizing. Dani Vazquez told a story about our time together at the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in July of 2019. It reminded me of a poem I wrote about a holy encounter I had in the dark with the moon and the water on that trip. This account of the Legend of Sleeping Bear Dunes from the National Park Service website gives context to this trance-like experience with mysterium tremendum I tried to capture in the sonnet below. May you be captured by unthought thoughts and mysteries beyond you, my friends.

The Anishinaabek are made up of the Odawa/Ottawa, Ojibwe/Chippewa and Potawatami/Bode’wadmi, and their rich history is intertwined with our own. The very name “Sleeping Bear” is derived from an oral tradition of the Ojibwe, passed down through the generations.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore gets its name from one dune in particular—the Mother Bear. Perched along the edge of the large dune that towers above Lake Michigan, this dune, at one time, resembled a sleeping bear. The Ashininaabek used the Mother Bear as a landmark. They tell a story about how she came to be there.

Once, long ago, in the land called Wisconsin across the great lake, there was terrible hunger and many people died. A bear and two little cubs were trying to leave that place and come around the lake where there would be more food.

They walked for many days on the beach together, but after a while the two little cubs began to whimper with hunger, and so the bear decided to swim across the rest of the lake.

They waded into the water, one cub on each side of the bear, and they swam off into the lake a long way. After a while the cubs began to get very tired, and so the bear said, “Try hard, the land is not very far.” And very soon they did come in sight of land.

But gradually the cubs got weaker, and only ten miles away, one cub sank into the water. Soon after, the other also drowned.

The bear’s heart was broken, but she could do nothing. She waded ashore and lay down, looking out on the water where her cubs had died. Eventually, both of them came to the surface as two little islands, and so the bear still lies there atop the dunes, looking after her children.

an Anishinaabe (Odawa/Ottawa, Ojibway/Chippewa and Potawatomi) oral tradition of a sacred place within their homelands in the Great Lakes.

And now my sonnet

Moonrise on the Michigan Dune 
For Dani and Israel and the Manitou of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore 

I couldn’t keep my clothes on, no, not there — 
Awakened by a moon that made me ache 
And dream so deep for long-dead sleeping bears. 
With wind-wrought waves across the beach, the lake 
Embraced me with a thought that was not mine, 
And soon I found my body bare. The moon 
Had dressed herself in orange so fine designed 
To work with holy joy, the stars, and dunes 
To dunk me long before I waded in. 
The manitous were out there in the cold, 
Unseen yet clearly, they had bade me swim. 
I yielded to the moon-words I was told, 
“Please touch a thing more real than ‘how it goes’ 
And try on liquid moonbeams for your clothes.” 

You can listen to me read it here

A picture poorly captured of that very moon

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