Sometimes you can’t swim at the beach. Tens of thousands of them have died, their bodies bobbing and floating on the surface of the water. Alewives, little fish in the herring family, all washed up on the sandy beach and rocks along the shore, piled up at the high water line. Great heaping mounds of them form iridescent dunes. Their stinking, desiccated bodies covered with flies, brittle, crackly, and rotting in the sun. The only place to swim is the lagoon where Shivering Sands Creek flows into Lake Michigan. The placid water feels warm as a bath. The smooth, sandy bottom feels soothing underfoot. But there are random patches of quicksand, and if you step into that stuff you’ll plunge straight up to your waist in sticky silt that is crawling with leeches. When that happens, you claw your way out as fast as you can move, scrambling out of the creek, squirming from the thought of it, crying for Mom to help pull the slimy bloodsuckers off your legs. Then you go right back into the water. It seems worth the risk just to be able to go swimming.

(Originally Published in “Orion headless” December 2011 Thank you Sarah Fitzpatrick Comito!)