Midwestern sublime

The shore of Lake Michigan in winter.
What explains the appeal of a beach in winter?  Then, the more desolate, forbidding, and uncomfortable the beach, the more delicious the experience of being there is.  The sort who comes out on such a day is a connoisseur who enjoys an uneven match with nature’s immensities.  That sensational experience, with its special mix of austerity, menace, and grandeur, is the very essence of the sublime.

Whatever is fitted in any sort to excite the ideas of pain, and danger, that is to say, whatever is in any sort terrible, is a source of the sublime; . . .  it is productive of the strongest emotion which the mind is capable of feeling. . . . When danger or pain press too nearly, they are incapable of giving any delight, and are simply terrible; but at certain distances, and with certain modifications, they may be, and they are, delightful.  (Edmund Burke)

So it was at the Warren Dunes on a dank January afternoon.  Snow dappled the dismal stretches of dull frozen sand, terminating in rock-like clumps of ice that the lake had thrown up, creating a trench between itself and us, extending in terrible monotony toward the horizon.  The sky was alive with the flickering power of a restless atmosphere.  The pleasure was not domesticated; it derived from our proximity to something that was boundless and wild.

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