For Paula McHugh, who grew up in Gary, summers in the 1950s meant time at Indiana Dunes State Park where her father, Gene Czarnecti, was a lifeguard.
“I spent my summers at the beach and walking the dunes,” said McHugh, author of "Talking Landscapes: Indiana Dunes Poems," illustrated by Harold Neulieb ($10). “As an adult, writing these poems I’m going back to places I explored when I was young.”
Though she’s lived in many places and moved from Chesterton where she’d resided for two decades before moving to Arizona permanently last year, McHugh finds the pull of the dunescape compelling.
“I love the mountains here, it’s gorgeous. “McHugh said.“But I really miss Lake Michigan.”
And so when she signed up for a class titled "Talking Landscapes," she chose the Indiana Dunes, conjuring up memories of Pinhook Bog, Mount Baldy, Cowles Bog, singing sands, Diana of the Dunes, Dunes State Park as well as hunting for crinoids and beach glass.
“Our instructor said to do haiku, I wasn’t very interested in it,” said McHugh about the type of Japanese poetry using few words to describe a subject or feeling. “But then I learned that you can say a lot with haiku just using a few lines.”
McHugh graduated from Horace Mann High School and attended Indiana University where she received a degree in Slavic languages and Russian studies before getting her master’s degree in counseling at the University of Wisconsin. She wrote frequently for The Beacher in Michigan City and contributed to Chicago Wilderness and the Vidette-Messenger (now part of the The Times). She also worked as a news manager at WJOD-FM in Galena, Ill., and hosted a duet of radio talk shows on KDTH-AM in Dubuque, Iowa.
McHugh is a member of the Chesterton Art Center, where her photography has been on display. She asked artist and poet Harold Neulieb, another member of the art center and a longtime friend, to illustrate her poems.
“When I produced "Art Rhymes," my first book, Paula helped me with proofreading and with the computer which I don’t know anything about,” said Neulieb, a Michigan City resident. “So I wrote the book in long hand and she typed it for me on the computer.”
So when McHugh sent him a list of her poems and asked him to choose six to illustrate, he did so.
“I never did much like haiku poems,” Neulieb said. “I was more into rhyming poems. But her haiku encouraged me to try it.”
For McHugh, it was a way of reconnecting with a place she loves.
“Because of my loneliness for the lakes and the dunes,” she says, “it inspired me to write a haiku.”