Going back home is so much more than reuniting with my family – it’s reuniting with the environment I grew up in.
Just a half mile down the road from my home is East Bay Park in Traverse City, Michigan, the hub for my siblings, our neighborhood friends and me to gather on a summer night back in 2012.
Now as I walk past the park on a late November morning, it’s a place to recollect those past memories as I watch younger generations fill it with their own experiences.
It’s remarkable the sentiment and change one place can hold.
Every time I come home, I walk past this park. Lake Michigan quietly ripples in, a family of ducks hovers along the shore and occasional neighbors jog by on their daily run.
No matter what time of year – fall, summer, winter or spring – this place brings a sense of calm and rejuvenation to my mind.
I also notice the environmental changes the park has undergone, reminding me our precious Great Lakes are, too, victims of the effects of climate change.
As a child, the water was always warm and shallow, which made it such an exciting place because we could walk out a mile and it would still be up only to our knees.
The beach was thick and soft and squeaked with each stride as we raced to be first in the water.
However, as I grew older and spent less time at the park and less time in Traverse City, the park seemed to dwindle away.
The water became dark, the ground felt mushier and sucked my feet in quickly with each step. The beach became infested with goose droppings and dead alewife and was eventually separated by a pool of water that turned the once-soft squeaky sand into a hard firm surface.
Even the family of ducks disappeared for a few years – it was not the park I once knew.
It saddened me because not only did it feel like those memories were disappearing with the park, but it also wasn’t fit to be the home of new memories for a new generation of kids.
One day on my drive back home from school for the summer, something was different.
The smell of the air and the way the sun reflected off the water made me realize changes had occurred.
Someone had added sand, making the beach once again whole. The goose droppings and dead fish had been cleaned up, the playground had been replenished with wood chips and the family of ducks had returned.
The park was once again as I had always remembered it.
This past summer I had never seen more people gather at the park. Families arrived at 10 a.m. and didn’t leave until 6 p.m. Kayakers and paddle boarders filled the parking lot from dusk until dawn every day of summer.
I believe it’s important to come back to places that make you feel whole, places that remind you of times you were 100% living in the moment and without a worry in the world.
For me, that’s being outside in nature, walking by East Bay Park with a cup of hot coffee in my hands.
Coming home is nostalgic, and there is always something new to see.
However, it’s easy to take it for granted, and watching East Bay Park nearly dwindle away, reminded me of the importance of protecting the natural world, no matter how small a space might be.
Traverse City is a growing city, and I’m lucky to have lived in a place where lakes and parks are in my backyard.
But that’s not the case for everyone, and with every year that goes by and every day that I spend away, I appreciate it even more when I come back.