Human Nature

Lake Hubert

I have never really considered myself much of a nature girl. Every camping trip I have ever been on has been mandatory, trying to sleep in hot weather without at least a fan makes me hostile, and I don’t cope well with mice. Bugs are icky, pooping in the woods is icky, worms and toads and dead fish are icky. Really, I can’t even talk about bats.


I’m more of a postcard naturalist. I love the moon, clear lakes with sandy bottoms, and deer as long as they don’t wreck my garden. Rainstorms are magical and sexy as long as there isn’t a power outage. I like the ocean as an idea, pictures of elephants, and knowing Alaska is out there, just waiting for me to take a semi-luxury cruise through it. I like bonfires built by ruggedly appealing men in soft, worn clothes until the smoke starts getting in my eyes. Then I’m done.


You think this is a princess thing, but it’s not a princess thing. When I was young, I happily bounded through the woods in rainstorms with my cabinmates, shrieking and giggling at the thunder and lightning. I did the high ropes course at camp several times, inching my way across split logs and rope bridges 50 feet in the air –no problem. I was the one who routinely flung herself, fully clothed, off of sailboats to catch the buoy when it was time to come in. I made decent fires, I cooked and ate dehydrated food when that was expected of me, I bathed in the iron-stained lakes of the Boundary Waters between Minnesota and Canada, and completely submerged myself in the bog more than once. I could both portage and steer a canoe and I didn’t whine or cry about (most of) it. There was a time when I could rise to pretty much any outdoorsy occasion.


I’m more of a postcard naturalist. I love the moon, clear lakes with sandy bottoms, and deer as long as they don’t wreck my garden.


But now I have Caroline. The first time she was old enough to be aware of a power outage, Brian found her sitting at the bottom of the stairs, scared and disoriented because both her monster light (a nightlight with three little lambies on it known for scaring monsters away) and her white noise machine had turned off without explanation. It was still dark, there was a lot of wind, thunder, and lightning, and so Brian tucked her in bed next to me, where I spent the next 45 minutes trying to calm her down enough so she could stop shaking. I’m not exaggerating.


Just about a month ago, on the 4th of July, we rented a pontoon with my husband’s family. Caroline, who is six, had been on a boat before and was happy to do that, but when we stopped to swim, we had to anchor in a spot too deep for her to stand. Brian ferried her to the shallower water so she could splash and play with her sister and brother–the heat index was something like 110 that day — but once I got in, she wrapped her little tentacles around me and refused to touch the bottom.


She relaxed as long as I was holding her, but once it was time to get back on the boat, there was trouble. The water was just a bit too deep for me to stand, so I tried to swim her to the pontoon, which proved harder than I thought it would be. She was heavy, even in the water, and I was having a hard time keeping my head up. Caroline, sensing that we were no longer on solid ground, began to panic, pushing my head under to stay afloat –a classic response from someone who feels like she’s drowning; a classic illustration of our particular mother-daughter relationship.


Still, I want to try and be receptive to Nature –I can relate to her intricate, wild order.


Luckily, we didn’t have far to go. We got her onto the ladder, I caught my breath, and we were both fine. Well, she was. The water, which I have always loved and where I have always felt strong and comfortable, had betrayed me. It hadn’t scared me enough to drown me, but it had scared my little girl enough to drown me. When I see lightning or hear thunder, it is Caroline’s fear that tightens my chest. Anticipating her fear has taught me to be afraid of the same things that frighten her. She went through a phase last summer when she would scream and cry every time she saw one of those gross boxelder bugs in the house, so I learned to fear them, too. Darkness scares me because it scares her.


It’s hard to be friends with Nature when she’s always terrifying my vulnerable little daughter.


Still, I want to try and be receptive to Nature –I can relate to her intricate, wild order. I like how she’s always trying to show us that everything and everyone is connected, even if it’s not always easy to see how. This week, the Drewlets and I are staying with my dear Julie and her little boy, Elijah, at their cabin on Pelican Lake, a few miles from Lake Hubert. The two lakes are not the same, but they are the same. They are not next to each other, but they are connected. Pelican Lake is bigger, quieter, with an island and more beaches; Hubert is more intimate, criss-crossed most days with bright sailboats and their tiny, fearless captains perched high above the whitecaps. On Hubert, you hear bells from Camp Lincoln and Camp Lake Hubert; on Pelican, you hear Elvis from Breezy Point Resort.


The Brainerd Lakes have different characters, but chances are that if you love one, you’ll love another. In the important ways, they are the same. And If you are the kind of person, like me, who can feel herself healing on a cellular level as she approaches Nisswa, Minnesota, then you and I are the same. If you are willing to let yourself be changed that way, then we are the same. If you have a child like mine, whose fears are so intense that they make you afraid, then we are the same. No matter how different we are, we are the same. No matter how far apart we are, we are connected. That’s human nature.


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