Although Kathleen Stachowski now resides in Montana, the Great Lakes, and Lake Michigan in particular, will always hold a special place in her heart. Born and raised in Michigan City, Ind. near Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Stachowski’s life has always been tied to the dunes and the lake.
Her childhood was filled with family trips to the lake and the dunes, seeing it then as a place of both wonder and solace.
“The dunes had a truly wild feel in those days and not many people went there,” she recalled. “When big storms with the north wind would arrive, my folks would bundle us into the car and we’d head to the municipal lakefront and park where the waves could wash over the car. What a thrill that was! It ended in short order once dad realized that sand was scouring the car’s finish. A particularly fond memory is lying in bed on hot, summer nights listening to the fog horn sound…a reminder that the lake and the lighthouse were ever-present. All through high school and since, I’ve spent many hours, in company and alone, walking out on the pier to the lighthouse and sitting on its strong foundation. Yes, there’s a huge metaphor in there.”
The dunes acted as a place of refuge and comfort, as well.
“The day my dad died, I single-mindedly headed for the comfort of the dunes, where a young, whitetail buck with velvet antlers appeared on the sand to observe me,” she said. “I’d never seen a deer out on the sand before that. Yes, it was a sign for sure, and a gift from the dunes.”
Stachowski moved away from Indiana in 1994 to teach, while also becoming involved in animal rights advocacy. Lake Michigan and the Indiana Dunes never left her. Today she continues to return to the dunes and lakeshore, often working to clean up litter that poses a threat to beach wildlife.
“As an activist for animals, I know the suffering and death caused when animals and birds ingest plastic and balloons and become tangled in ribbon and fishing line; picking up the worst of it is a small offering to the place and the birds who’ve given me so much,” she said. “I credit my early exposure to the lakefront and dunes for my ongoing love of wild places, including the public lands and wilderness activism I’ve had many opportunities to engage in.”