The pandemic has tested our appetite for spending hours by ourselves. But a long-ago beach memory drifts back as a reminder: There will always be a peace that comes in solitude.
Wilderness State Park

A few years ago, I spent a foggy June morning at Wilderness State Park with my mom. Michigan's western shore is a string of cute towns—all sun and fun and cherries and fudge—but 100 miles north of Traverse City, Wilderness offers something different. Sprawling and undeveloped, it's one of the state's largest parks and feels a bit like a chunk of the wild Upper Peninsula has broken off and floated across the Straits of Mackinac to join the Mitten. After days of shopping, eating and sightseeing along the coast, walking the deserted beach was a meditation.

We slowed down, talked little, observed details. The damp sand was cobbled by clam shells and smooth pebbles in a hundred colors, like jelly beans—licorice black, mint green, melon pink, butter yellow. I snapped photos of the multitude, then hunted for gray speckled ones, hoping to find a Petoskey stone. These local treasures have a circular pattern like dividing cells under a microscope, the fossil fingerprints of ancient coral. No luck (they're rare this far north), but a few pieces of sea glass winked from among the rocks, tumbled by waves, polished by sand, frosted blue and aqua.

Those shards were almost the only sign of humans we saw, aside from a damp sandcastle that slumped by a driftwood log—the archaeological ruin of a past inhabitant. I'm sure some people were tucked away nearby though. Wilderness is one of the relatively few state parks in the Midwest where you can sleep in view of a Great Lake. One of the park's campgrounds is closed for renovation in 2021, but plenty of spots remain where visitors can bed down and wake to the solitude we found as day-trippers that morning.

Eventually, we had company. A pair of loons appeared far on the horizon, where lake and sky melted together, two black dots moving as one. (Mom's a bird-watcher; no doubt I would have missed them.) We stood still, mesmerized, as they paddled closer, trailing V's through the still water. I held my breath and didn't speak, for fear of startling them. But suddenly, having satisfied their own curiosity about us, they veered away, leaving us alone again in the mist.