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My Secret Garden.

Submitted by: Ben Kalinowski

As a child growing up in Northwest Indiana, I lacked an appreciation of nature. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy certain outdoor activities, but I distinctly remember a night during a family vacation in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula where I chose to stay in and watch TV while my family ventured down the road to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights. I am now 31 years old and have yet to witness that marvel of the skies.

In the same way that the desire to see the Northern Lights eluded me, I spent my formative years mostly ignoring the dunes. Aside from the occasional trip to West Beach in the summer, I remained unmindful of the natural wonder that was a mere 25 minute drive from where I lived.

I vividly recall the day in my early 20s that I truly discovered the dunes, in the sense that I realized there was a gift of nature sitting in my own back yard that I never considered unwrapping. It was a Saturday morning in early May, and I was going to visit my parents following a work event in Merrillville. It was the warmest day of the year to that point, and I soon found myself driving aimlessly with the windows down and the radio loud. I ended up on Route 12 heading east, and when I came to Broadway Street in Beverly Shores, I made a left turn and drove until the road ended at Kemil Beach.

The autumn leaves at Chellberg Farm

As Lake Michigan — so deeply blue that day –came into view, I was struck by the thought that there was no telling the lake from an ocean. I spent the morning lying in the sand, allowing the sun and lapping waves to work in conjunction to soothe and comfort me. In the weeks, months, and years that followed, I found myself accepting the 3 Dune Challenge at Indiana Dunes State Park, savoring The Potato Head pizza from The Rolling Stonebaker food truck in Beverly Shores, and being awed by the most intensely yellow forest canopy surrounding historic Chellberg Farm in autumn.

For the better part of my life, the dunes were a locked door that I didn’t care to open. Now that I have the key, I will cherish every opening of the door that brings me to my leafy, sandy, watery paradise – my secret garden.

Do you want more ways to discover the dunes? Join the Dig the Dunes facebook group, Dunes Discoveries!

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