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Dunes and Old Bones // Vacation Musings

(Psst: Hey there! There’s a photo collage below.)

I just got back from a whirlwind trip and am steeping in that post-vaca haze. I close my eyes and the vignettes find me. I see seagulls and old, sandy cigarettes. An empty beachfront hotel that looks straight out of an art deco murder mystery. Chocolate cherry ice cream and a desolate dune with a chilling drop. Ugh. It was three sweet days of escape from to-dos and routine, days that sharpened my dulled senses and siphoned default excuses from my soul. I need to get away like this more often.

Old bones that still feel warm.

Our trip began in Muskegon, Michigan, a small, weathered town on Lake Michigan’s shore. The town feels like an old wardrobe in a long-forgotten attic—strong bones, the smell of its history as pervasive (and curiously inviting) as aged walnut and mothballs. The colors are faded, the contents in need of tending, but you can’t help but want to step inside and explore.

For me it’s the massive, abandoned factories with hundreds of sand-caked windows. We drive by ’em and I just want to smudge away the dirt and peer within for a look. I want to image these giant buildings with the old bones as they were when they crawled with life. The people who must have wandered their halls like blood cells in veins, the machines that groaned and cranked like iron lungs. How could something that was once so alive fall so silent? So still? And how could you not want to lay a hand on its bricks now and bless it with your touch, a little of your own life. As if to say, keep going! You’re still standing. That’s amazing!

I didn’t get to touch a broken factory, but I walked the halls of an old hotel. From the outside, the place looked neglected and bruised from Lake Michigan’s unrelenting winds. But there were cars in the parking lot, and the kids needed a bathroom break…

We opened the doors and my heart found my throat. Like a theater from another time, large posters lined the walls of a ramped entrance. Further in, the space opened to several large event rooms and a staircase that stood like the building’s spine. The whole place was dark and damp, and the odd person quickly slipped into shadowed rooms here and there. I don’t know where they were going or where they disappeared to, but they let us be as we ushered the kids to a restroom.

Stripping my mind.

The heat was thick so we grabbed some ice cream, headed to a beach, and staked our tent in the sand. I imagine the magic is easily lost to those who walk sandy beaches regularly, but to us midwestern folks, it’s as close to heaven on earth as you can get. Trillions of tiny, glassy beads between your toes. Natural white noise to drown the restless mind. A symphony of sounds, with the kind of resonance that strikes your heartstrings and opens your eyes and forces you to acknowledge that you’re alive. It’s shocking and soothing and electrifying and mesmerizing. And then there’s the moment your body hits the water.

I don’t think I could describe how much I love cold water. I need it. It’s hypnotic. Euphoric. When I was lying on the operating table during my childrens’ births, cut open in bright rooms, I kept calm by imagining myself floating in icy water. It’s so grounding to me.

As far as actually floating in cold water goes—when the shock dissolves and I’m left with my limbs numbed, I feel held. I feel held by that icy-hot bite that constricts me from every angle. The water strips my mind clean and drowns my constant, incessant anxiety. Drifting in cold water is one of the only times I truly feel anxiety-free these days. I’m a kid again in Massachusetts—brave, wild, impulsive. Unafraid to be cold.

The edge of the world.

The next day, we trekked an hour north to a remote beach and discovered a new kind of heaven. We picnicked beneath pines and birches atop an ancient sand dune. The forest was soft—not like the ones from my childhood with the gnarled oaks and diseased ashes. This one was from a fairytale, with brilliant white bark and blue-green foliage that shimmered in the lake wind, gently. Softly.

At the forest’s edge, the dune had collapsed straight down, down…swallowed by the waves far below. And the lake itself was its own kind of ocean, stretched like a glittering spread of turquoise and marine blue across the hazy horizon. We spent an hour eating grapes and sandwiches, completely shocked to have such a dreamy place to ourselves.

I found some time alone atop that dune. I walked as far as I could before coming to a hidden path marked “private property”. That path alone could have stolen my attention (and will perhaps inspire a short story?), but I had my recording equipment and a job to do. I hit record and collected the white noise symphony that was the waves, the rustling leaves, the birds and crickets. I stood roughly four feet from the dune’s edge, listening. It was me and a little grass and then…nothing. Nothing but a blue canvas far below, far beyond, and far above. How the hell is this real?

I plan to make another song/nature track out of the sounds I collected. To be continued.

Sifting through the memories is just as sweet.

Our last day, we packed and headed home, but not before stopping at a small cafe. Part of the thrill of traveling is finding the local food gems. For me at least, it’s nature and food that stay with me years after returning from a trip, so I love discovering awesome hole-in-the-walls as much as I do remote beaches.

I sipped my dirty chai across from G, the kiddos happily eating their very own granola parfaits—and then a little bittersweet end-of-trip reflection started to hit. Nothing was more sweet than that moment with them, in that cafe. Nothing was more pure than my kids’ laughter as the waves crashed into us beneath a sweltering sun. Nothing was so amusing as how diligently we all scraped for fossilized corals and Petosky stones, for hours, in frigid waters. Nothing was more touching than drifting to sleep beside G, watching my kids already snoozing soundly after those long, adventurous days.

Fuck. These trips are gold.

Thank you.

I’ll leave you with a gallery of a few of the photos I snapped during the trip. Thank you for being here today, for perusing my memories and for connecting with me in this virtual journal. How crazy is it that we can connect through a screen like this?

Hoping your summer is balmy and bright!

– Sam


Ink and Chords
The Songs I Lived For

My World Is Grey


  • Nicole Smith
    July 7, 2023 at 9:10 pm

    What an awesome trip. Love the pictures. Your kids are so little. I love the idea of you pulling up one of the abandoned warehouses or factories and peering in. I hope your soul feel restored for a bit.

    • Samantha Burgett
      July 20, 2023 at 8:50 pm

      Hey Nicole! (Sorry to just now get back to you on this one.) It was definitely a wonderful reset from day-to-day life. Already back to routine now, but I’m grateful for the photos and memories! Hope all is well in your world! ♡

  • Bridgette
    July 19, 2023 at 4:55 pm

    There’s nothing more transformative than a good adventurous vacation. That old hotel sounds like the kind of place I’d want to visit, and I too would LOVE to explore abandoned places. There’s an old house I pass frequently when I travel and I want so badly to break in and peer into what’s left. How cool would it be to sort through the remains of a house or an old hospital?

    I was fascinated by your description of being in icy water. I’ve only done that a few times, as I have a fear of my body freezing up and drowning, but I’ve found it to be wonderfully freeing. You make me want to do it again.

    • Samantha Burgett
      July 20, 2023 at 8:43 pm

      Hi Bridgette! Hope things are going well in your corner of the world. 🙂

      Haha, I feel that same attraction for old, worn houses! It’d be like reading a journal and getting a peak at what life was like for the people within. And the cold water is an interesting one for me too—I probably should have clarified more! I’ve tried to replicate the experience at home in the shower or in the bathtub, but my brain does NOT accept it and can’t take the full-body cold here at home. I have always rinsed my hair in cold water and do enjoy it on my head, though. But out there in the open water…there’s just something about being completely held by that startling, icy water. It’s humbling!

  • Tom
    August 24, 2023 at 9:30 am

    Love the golden sunny haze of those precious memories – great wave of mystery and nostalgia here 🙂 Glad you managed to have such a fun time out in Mother Nature!

    • Samantha Burgett
      August 30, 2023 at 2:34 pm

      Thank you for your kind thoughts, Tom! It was a trip I’m still thinking of as Summer’s end nears. Hope all is well in your world!

  • Tamara
    September 23, 2023 at 4:28 pm

    “When I was lying on the operating table during my childrens’ births, cut open in bright rooms, I kept calm by imagining myself floating in icy water.” I love your way with words. You can tell you are a poet and, apparently, a photographer as well. Beautiful pictures and a mesmerizing recall of what seems to be quite an adventure.

    • Samantha Burgett
      September 25, 2023 at 10:10 am

      Thank you for the kind words! This was our first proper vacation with the kiddos, and these memories will definitely have a special place in my heart. ❤️


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