My memories of growing up on the shores of Lake Michigan include long summer days in and around the water. I had a summer friend – someone I only saw during a few weeks of overlapping vacation every year – she and I were matched by our grandmothers and spent every sunny day we could on the beach. Our activities were the same from the time we met when we were in fourth grade until we graduated from college.
The days were long in northern Michigan. The sun didn't set until well after 10pm. I remember having freckles across my nose like brown sugar and scabs on my knees like strawberries. Other than sunning ourselves and bobbing around in the water, our favorite occupation was hunting for Petoskey stones. These speckled stones are actually fossils made from coral in a sea that covered North America when dinosaurs roamed the earth. I can't remember a time when I went to the beach and didn't look for Petoskey stones. It is like second nature to be look down for speckled gray rocks while walking in the waves. It's an instinct that I don't remember anyone ever teaching me – I just knew when I had one in my sight.
We got to be so good at collecting rocks that at one point we opened up a rock business outside the post office. We were eight years old. I think we sold ten for a dollar. We made a killing selling stones to all of our grandparents' friends. And throughout our twenties when we were struggling to find our way in the world we often comforted each other with the thought that we could go back into business again.
It has been twenty years since I hunted for Petoskey stones on the shores of Lake Michigan. I returned with my new family last week. The water in the lake was as cold as I remembered, but within minutes it was the perfect temperature as it washed over my sandy feet.
I was able to find Petoskey stones quickly and easily. I was surprised to find out that it wasn't as easy for non-native Michiganders. There were so many pretenders mixed in amongst the stones in the waves. I was thrilled to discover I had a special skill. I can identify a Petoskey rock at three paces. Huzzah! We all went home with non-Petosky treasures. I've a couple of blue stones on my desk, as well as a white one with what I think is the pattern of a dancing horse on it.
It was a blissful day. The sun was high above in a blue sky. The seagulls cried and the waves gently tossed small stones and sand in their wake. I could smell whitefish being smoked in the harbor and I knew as the sun got lower in the sky I would soon be around a table of my beloved family members.
Everything was the same as when I was young, but I took it all for granted then. Now that I'm not there every day, I know what a treasure hunting for Petoskey stones truly is. It it is my little piece of heaven here on earth. If only my Petoskey hunting skills were something that I could put on my resume.
Maybe it's finally time to open the rock shop.