The Suitcase Lady


July 29, 2008, 11:04 pm

Our frontyard is a 70 foot bluff. Before having my current frontyard, I thought geological change proceeded at a snail’s pace. I was wrong.

When we moved here, my husband built a sturdy 70 foot long set of stairs to get us from the top of the bluff to the beach. One day he walked into the kitchen and asked me to define “rubble”. Before I could answer, he led me to the frontyard. The seventy feet of stairs were gone, either buried or contorted like a modernistic sculpture. A giant section of the cliff had let go during the night; the stairs were history. My husband applied advanced engineering techniques on stairs number two.
Various cliff-dwelling neighbors try ingenious schemes to shore up the bluffs. We, however, think it’s futile to turn our frontyard into a graveyard of sidewalk slabs and demolition rubble. We prefer the natural rubble of mudslides. It’s just a fact of geology that nature whittles down the high points. Mountains do become valleys. Our egos get whittled down, too, if we refuse to recognize this scientific principle.
Some years our cliff will be almost nude, brown sand with crater-like pits and vertical gullies. Other years it will be lush green and home to large swaths of wildflowers. The best year occurred when my husband dumped a wheelbarrow of seeds he had raked up from under our bird-feeders over the edge. By August we had a parade of sunflowers cheerfully marching down the bluff to the beach.
Poplar trees brave the volatility of the cliff. We learned their survival secret after our first major landslide. A 50 foot tall poplar simply slid 25 feet down the cliff. We were certain it was doomed. Not only did it send down its roots again, it has spawned a grove of baby poplars. If only we could go with the flow this easily.
But, to me, our most amazing cliff dwellers are the swallows. Hundreds of these swift little birds dig holes in the top of the cliff for their nests. What a marvelous act of faith.

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1 Comment for this entry

  • LoieJ

    I’ve traveled the county road called LS between Sheboygan and Cleveland for 58 years. I’ve seen the road have to move inland more than once in those years. First the road was east of some homes. Then it had to be west of the same homes. Soon the road was once again near the edge of the cliff.

    So, I’m not surprised to hear that the cliff collapsed in places. In the ’50s and 60’s, the lake was sort of low, like now. In the years it was high, people whose houses were suddenly being washed by the waves put loads of ugle rocks and old concrete along the front side of the houses. Now those same rocks are rounded from the wave action, but actually high and dry.

    My mother had told me about places along the shore and cliffs that were zoned again houses being too near the edge. She said the many people were petitioning to get a variance of some sort. In her 90 years of living near Lake Michigan she knew why people didn’t build close to the shore.

    I’m glad you have planted things that will hold the soil somewhat. Unfortunately, I’ve seen some of the newer homes bewteen Manitowoc and Cleveland that seem to have little large vegetation along the cliff. With sandy clay, that is unstable soil. I’m glad that the family places in Cleveland don’t have the high ground to contend with. They do have to be careful about the high water table.