Create, Go, Live

6 Creative Lessons Climbing a 450-Foot Sand Dune Taught Me 

October 16
6 Creative Lessons I Learned from Climbing a 450 Foot Dune

At the beginning of September my parents and I went up north — that’s Michigander speak for northern Michigan. The highlight of our trip was the Pierce Stocking Dune at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore — a 450 foot dune with views of Lake Michigan and the two bear islands.

At the top of the dune we saw signs that warned us about the dune. “Don’t risk erosion, injury and rescue fines.” “Don’t go down if you can’t get back up.” Stuff like that.

It’s a steep dune. You can’t see the bottom from the top.


Yeah, when you stand on the overlook off to the side, it doesn’t look that long or steep…

Pierce Stocking Dune

Until you realize how tiny the people are at the bottom.

Well I decided that I wanted to climb it someday, and, despite the prospect of a 1-2 hour climb back up, my dad said “Let’s do it.”

So we checked the time — 2:17 — and started down, half jogging half digging our heels into the sand to slow down. It took us almost ten minutes just to get to the bottom. There, we took in the views and evaluated the climb back up.


From the bottom, it looked impossible — nearly vertical.  DSC_0266

We started. Slowly, one step at a time, we worked our way up the dune stopping every once in a while to catch our breath, take a sip of water and enjoy the view.

We made it to the top in 17 minutes. Seventeen!

I got a lot from that experience — more than a feeling of accomplishment and a handful of nice photos. I learned some lessons in life and creating:

1. Don’t listen to the people that tell you you can’t do it. “You can’t make it to the top.” “It’s too risky.” Unless you’re hoping to climb Pierce Stocking Dune with a broken leg or health problems, ignore them.

So far I’ve been lucky. I haven’t encountered anyone who has been negative about this blog or my goals, but when those people come along — and I know they will — I’ll have to be a little bit stronger.

2. Just because it seems impossible doesn’t mean it is.

From very the top, the dune looked impossible to climb.

When I saw those tiny little people at the bottom, the dune looked impossible to climb.

When I got to the bottom and looked up, the dune looked impossible to climb.

But we did it. It wasn’t impossible.

Sometimes when I think about all the work I’ll have to put in to achieve my goals, I think it might be impossible. Sometimes I’m the negative voice in my head telling me I’m going to fail. Reality check: it’s only impossible if you quit.

3. Start. We could have spent all kinds of time at the bottom of that dune, stretching, worrying and planning. Instead we started and sort of figured things out as we climbed. How often we needed to stop, how often we needed to drink water and how to climb: step lightly to displace less sand.

It’s the same with writing, art and blogging. I can spend all the time in the world getting ready to start: reading books, organizing my work area, watching webinars, buying supplies, laying out my theme…

Sometimes, though, it’s best to just start and figure things out as you go.

4. Go slow. You’re still learning so take your time. Two guys started the climb up the dune before my dad and I even got to the bottom, and they were flying. Less than half way up my dad and I caught up with them. They were dragging. People that rush out of the gate too fast burn out.

I just started this blog. I’ve already learned a little bit through experience and a lot from other bloggers: with great success comes great responsibility. The more people read your work, want your artwork or recognize your talents, the more demand will be placed on you. You’ll have more commenters to reply to, more artwork to create and more people asking for your help.

Overnight success probably won’t happen, but if it did, you probably wouldn’t be ready for it. None of those things are bad, but they are bad when you’re not prepared for them. That’s why it’s so important to start slowly and be patient. Breathe, rest.

5. Learn from those that have gone before you. Before we started down the dune, we talked to some people that had climbed it in the past. One guy told us that the trick is to displace as little sand as possible — step lightly and slowly. And once we started climbing, we literally followed in the footsteps of the climbers that went before us. They had left footprints in the sand — pre made steps — for us to walk in. It would have been stupid and a waste of energy to step in different spots.

Sometimes in life you have to take a less travelled path, but when you’re just starting out, it’s best to learn from others. They share their mistakes, and their struggles will be similar to yours. Reading books and articles and blogs will help you find your way, and it will make the trip easier than trying to go it alone. When you gain enough experience, you’ll start to see where they misstepped and how you can step better… But that’s later.

6. Take time to enjoy the journey. The views were different at every point in the climb. At the bottom. 50 feet up. 320 feet up. Even when we were just beginning and we had what seemed like an impossible journey ahead, there was scenery to enjoy.

The same is true of creativity. When you’re just starting, savor all the moments, the little victories and the struggles. They all make good memories. Enjoy it. Half of the fun is the journey.

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  • Reply Sandy B. October 17 at 1:33 am

    This was full of great reminders. Just what I needed to hear! Awesome job!

    • Reply October 17 at 12:51 pm

      Thank you! Glad I can help!

  • Reply Angela Dawson October 17 at 6:07 am

    Hi Margaret,

    This is an absolute gem of a post.

    Can’t believe the size of that sand dune! I showed the pictures to my children and they thought it was awesome.

    Love the pearls of wisdom…

    • Reply October 17 at 12:50 pm

      Thanks for reading Angela! The dune really is unreal!

  • Reply Beth Foreman October 17 at 7:39 am

    Love how you compared the tangible experience to the abstract one. A lot of truth here. Awesome reminders for me. Beautifully written.

    • Reply October 17 at 12:49 pm

      Thanks mom! 🙂

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