A deep blue sky and warm July weather drew us from our camper into the pine forests of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore for an afternoon's hike and adventure. The cool rainy morning had passed, replaced by the blazing summer sun and sharp breeze of midday as we set out down a trail into the woods.
Towering red and white pines shaded the forest floor where we walked, our footsteps muffled by dense mats of needles from past years' growth. The cool air bathed our faces and our noses sucked in the pungent odor of the pines roasting in the sun high over head. One of the few sounds was the irritating whir of mosquitoes that danced around us, drawn near by our welcome presence in the humid forest.
We walked faster and faster, intent on out-distancing our flying tormenters. Up ahead, the trail emerged from the woods into a clearing where the sun glared down, offering promise of sanctuary from the whirring cloud pursuing us. We marched on, escaping the cool confines of the forest and the mosquitoes, seeking the sunlight and breeze of the meadow beyond.
Hurrying into the bright light of the clearing, we took the path that wound upwards through tall grasses sprinkled with Queen Anne's Lace, Blue Chicory, wild daisies, and other summer wildflowers. We climbed through a wide, open field abuzz with insects, birds, and butterflies, but no mosquitoes. We left them in the dark woods, angrily looking for their recently departed "lunch."
We wondered where the path was going- narrowing in spots, circling old trees that leaned into the hill in refuge from the blast of winter winds, moving through what could have been pasture for cattle or horses long ago. But the field seemed abandoned to the natural forces that inexorably reclaim man's temporal scratchings on the land. Only the natural world remained, slowly squeezing the life from our shrinking path.
The meadow widened again, leveling off into what seemed to be a thicket of weeds and overgrown grass. As we approached, growing hot and thirsty in the afternoon sun, we saw that the thicket was, in reality, a glorious treasure trove of red jewels-easily a half-acre briar patch of fully ripe, plump, juicy red raspberries glistening in the sun.
We stared in wonder at the serendipity of our find (far more enchanting than the poppy fields Dorothy found on her way to the Land of Oz), and even more intoxicating, delicious, and delightful. We began to pick and devour the sweet fruit, warm from the sun, our stained and thorn-pricked fingers darting among the plants to pluck the biggest ones.
We wondered who might have planted these bushes a long time ago. Were they in the garden of a farmer's wife now long gone? Were they grown commercially for a company's jam pots, long abandoned? Or were they just a gift of the Michigan summer sun, sown by a single bird dropping the seed a hundred years ago, multiplying each year to delight passers-by both human and animal.
As long as there were no bears feasting with us, we cared not for the true answer. We ate until we could eat no more, making only a small dent in the plenty around us. Laughing like children who find a magic place in their tiny backyard that becomes their playhouse, their fort, their special spot to dream, we turned away from our field of dreams to descend the winding path to the woods. There could be no better place along the path that still climbed on above the raspberry patch; we had found our destination quite by fortuitous encounter, our own magic place.
The late afternoon woods were quiet and darkening after the blazing light in the clearing. The hungry host of mosquitoes waited eagerly for our return journey but, ignoring them now, we hurried along toward our car, still savoring the sweet memories of our find. The bright spot where we had entered the field grew smaller and smaller behind us, and finally vanished.
Could it have been a dream? Was reality instead the damp woods and the pesky bugs in our hair? No. Our red-stained fingers spoke of our adventure, and our tongues still savored that sweet, wild taste and mouthed the crunchy seeds.
No, the briar patch was real and we treasure it in memory as one of the finest days that we have spent under the spell of a lazy northern Michigan summer. One day we may try to find it again. But like the mythical town of Brigadoon, perhaps that can happen only once in a hundred years.