For a Michigander, spring can seem like a godsend and a painful transition at the same time. Two days of warm weather and sun could easily flip to snow overnight. For a good six-week period, my coat rack consists of both lightweight and puffy jackets, boots, hats and gloves, as it never seems prudent to put away the heavy-duty items.

Yet every year, I still await this period from March to early April. There are days when all four seasons beautifully intertwine and seem surreal — muddied gray skies along with a warm breeze, the distant smell of melting snow and thawing soil — these moments bring on a wave of anticipation but also peace, which I find unique to any other time of the year.

Last weekend, I went on a hike with my husband on the trails at P.J. Hoffmaster State Park in Norton Shores. As we live about 40 minutes east of the lakeshore, we knew the warm 65-degree weather at home would swiftly drop as we neared the shoreline. Questions like “Will this jacket be too warm?” or, “Should I bother bringing a hat?” came up a few times. Decisions were (finally) made, and we prepared ourselves for layering and delayering throughout the hike.

Credit: The Pike/Kate O’Neil

A cloudless sky kept a constant soft layer of warmth on us as we stepped onto the trail. Within moments, my surroundings painted the perfect picture of early spring in Michigan; the wind carried the scent of the lake towards us and brushed over rotted leaves which exposed random chunks of melting snow and ice. The moss was softer and greener. Just as I suspected, my coat quickly came off as the sun hit us directly through the leafless trees.

Climbing out of the woods to the top of the dunes, the sight was quite different than what I am used to seeing; scatterings of a few people lined the shore as opposed to the summer crowds usually drawn to the park. Walking along the shoreline, it was as if we were in limbo. No squeals of laughter, only soft voices. No umbrellas and coolers, only bare feet and a blanket here or there.

Credit: The Pike/Kate O’Neil

That experience of being “in-between” as we stood at the water fully embodied the reality of West Michigan springs — not fully one season, but a bit of all at once.

While many are itching to get out to the lakeshore once spring temps reach desirable numbers, I encourage you to experience it now. It is both a picture of stillness and anticipation, like the swelling internal energy before someone says “go.”


  1. Hi Kate – Really enjoyed your “Spring Wander on the Lakeshore.”(3-29-21) Felt like I was walking beside you! Have you ever checked out the Nordhouse Dunes in the Lake Michigan Recreational Area, north of Ludington? It’s been a popular vacation/adventure place for 2,000+ years. The Grand River Basin Native Americans even stashed food caches along the banks of Porter Creek so they could return each summer to hang out with members of the Grand Traverse tribes. Lovely place to hike, nice trail system and rustic camp sites. This time of year cinnamon scented. leathery leafed arbutus is blooming on its high dunes. Early beach walkers can gather sea glass and the occasional Petoskey stone washed up by winter’s storms. One of the dunes on the north bank of the creek covers the timbers of an unknown shipwreck to tease peeks of from year to year. And site 1 in the first camping loop is built on the bed of a narrow gauge railroad that once allowed the area to be lumbered. The trail that wanders the rim of the high dunes on the way south to the Big Sable lighthouse passes a hollow tree used for many years by hibernating porcupines. The amount of fertilizer heaped at its base & tumbling down the dune is amazing!

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