Just prior to the Crimean war there were great plans to establish a harbour on this small stretch of Lake Erie beach. The entire scheme was under capitalized and the depression that followed the war didn’t help. A pier and a warehouse were eventually built and up until 1867 the beach was a small but busy shipping center. The 500 foot long, 30 foot wide pier fell into disrepair and by 1890 was thought to be too unsafe for use. Eventually a concrete pier was built (around 1900) for the use of local fishermen. Following the path of its predecessor it too was abandoned. Nothing remains but the concrete pillars that made up the foundation of that pier and an old dirt road labeled as a dead-end that runs back up a hill to join the gravel road above.
The prodigal son has a friend who lives with her family beside the gravel road that ends at the top of that hill. Her father remembers when that dirt road was still maintained by the township and ran from the beach along what are now crumbling clay cliffs. The road has narrowed with the seasons, fading into muddy ditches on either side. The trees stoop from above to create a narrow tunnel as the weeds and undergrowth creep across its nonexistent shoulders. With only room enough to allow the passage of one vehicle the road is to be traveled at one’s own risk. Each season brings a different face to this narrow strip of land that resides between the cliffs and waves.
In the fall the beach alternates between madness and sanity. A sane day will find the water lapping gently on the beach. The sky is blue and the air is crisp as the wind caresses the sandy shore. With little to no warning the slow death of summer may overwhelm the beach and madness ensues. The beach is frenzied by stormy winds that whip up the waves and fling icy spray off the waters. Overhead Canadian geese heading to warmer climes mingle their voices with the sound of the wild waves. The grey waters are mesmerizing sirens; their song bids you to join them in the icy cool depths under the cloud misted autumn skies.
During the winter months drifts cover the beach and the partially frozen lake. Mid winter, after the ice is blue and thick, you can walk quite far from the shore out onto the lake. The breath that frosts in the frigid air sounds loud as it accompanies the crisp crunch of snow underfoot. The ice groans and creaks as you turn to look back at the towering cliffs stark against the cold blue or leaden grey of winter’s fickle sky.
Spring brings the thaw and white wings fill the sky as the wild swans return home. Noisy perch fishermen frequent the road to the beach in the dark hours before dawn. The clay cliffs are unstable and the landscape changes from day to day. Large sections regularly break free dragging undergrowth and full-grown trees to the beach below. Over the summer months they will be joined by the flotsam and jetsam thrown up by Lake Erie’s grey and troubled waters.
The strength of the summer sun dries the field run-off from the clay cliffs turning them to a light buff. Trees cling perilously to the heights and the bases are fringed by rhubarb, raspberry and grapevine. On summer weekends a small number of locals travel that narrow road looking for a free boat launch or a day at a beach where having a beer or a bonfire goes unnoticed by the constabulary forces in the area. Monday to Friday the beach is deserted, a solitary expanse full of treasures waiting to be discovered.
Lake Erie is a shallow lake, prone to seiches. The water tends to pile up at one end of the lake carrying with it a wealth of objects, some common and others mysterious. Mylar balloons, plaster posts, dolls heads, shipping containers, all sorts of driftwood, bench tops, buoys, bottles (one memorable one containing a letter to a fish) and any odd assortment of unidentifiable items can be found regularly. These objects are spread out at such a distance that they only add to the mystery of the windswept wild beach. The water is seldom calm. The waves beat a constant tattoo as you travel along the sand. Life and death vie for space. Partially decomposed carp, gobi and catfish loll in the surf, food for the gulls that stubbornly refuse to move until the walker is fast upon them. The beach has also been the final resting place to geese, ducks, loons and on one occasion a full-grown deer that may have fallen off the cliff. The stones that line the shore sparkle in shades of slate, mica, quartz and granite. The tale of eons is laid bare, told by the fossils trapped within those stones. Sometimes it seems that all of the things in the world can be found within this small stretch of sand.
The larger world has certainly forgotten these shores. It is most likely, in time, the road will become impassible and the beach will truly be forgotten. Only the wind and the water will know its sandy shores and sort through its treasures. The waves will press their will upon those shores wearing the stones with their fossils into sand as they rush up the beach to carry the clay cliffs away.