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Magnetic North: Humbled by Nature and Joy

"Even in a dry summer—and this has been anything but dry—these wildflowers come, coloring our world so brilliantly"

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Ahhhhh, late summer, my favorite time of year, next to winter, of course. Now I can at last let go of any silly thoughts of completing major projects before the snow flies and just enjoy my critters, the meadow and my hourly popsicle snacks. Even in this heat wave—near 90 at our home in Colvill twice last month—I can still muster feelings of pure joy just by looking around.

For example, I see people are actually swimming in Lake Superior! Pretty much all along the shore between Grand Marais and Hovland, kids are paddling about and adults are soaking up to their earlobes in what in most years would be akin to a bowl of ice water. But when the cities, even Grand Marais, sizzles, Mother Superior almost always comes through with a few precious days of swimming in her near shore waters.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not talking Jersey Shore salt water warm—that would be a stretch. No, Superior relents in a typically Scandinavian way—brisk, authentic and leaving you longing for more.

‘Tis also the season of nature's purples and golds: the fuzzy-faced mauve of Joe Pye weed, the sleek grape Cool-Aid colored spikes of fireweed, the sunny bunches of birdsfoot trefoil and the in-your-face brass of black-eyed Susans. Even in a dry summer—and this has been anything but dry—these wildflowers come, coloring our world so brilliantly that even in the monochromatic months ahead I can instantly recall their lush brilliance.

Then, of course, there is the eventual relief from the heat. When the big rainstorm finally came, accompanied by far-off lightning and thunder, even my goats left their hot barn stalls to graze in the drizzle. And the mallard ducklings, now out in the run and about ready for the pond, were ecstatic as over four inches of rain fell inside of three hours. All the world was a kiddy pool for them. And for us, too, as we waited for the two roads between us and the grocery store to be restored.

Waiting for that rain, I thought of the thousands of backpackers in the nearby BWCAW and how they too were watching the weather, but with different motives than mine. The big questions in life for them boiled down to these: "To move on to the next campsite and risk getting soaked en route?" or "To sit tight?" Life gets simple on camping trips. Simple, but not necessarily without angst. This is a big reason we tend to envy the beasts. Ignorance can be bliss. But I am coming to the conclusion that, although we may chase it endlessly, bliss is a state that we humans can tolerate for only so long.

One of my favorite Peanuts strips circa July-August 1955/56 nails this sentiment perfectly. In it, Charles Schultz shows Charlie Brown and Patty staring at a starry sky, ala BWCAW.

Patty asks Charlie, "Aren't the stars beautiful Charlie Brown?"

"Uh, huh," Charlie Brown, philosopher of few words, grunts.

The next frame shows Charlie and Patty transfixed before a sea of stars. Silent. Taking it all in. And then, good old Charlie Brown turns his little soccer ball-shaped head away from the heavenly banquet above him and whispers in his sweetheart’s ear: "Let's go inside and watch television...I'm beginning to feel insignificant."

That's what too-close-for-comfort encounters with nature do to me, all right. For me, too much joy, like too long a dip in Lake Superior—even in 90 degree heat—is simply unsustainable. So I say, thank heavens for winter, popsicles and Direct TV.

Airdate: August 1, 2011

Photo courtesy of raysto via Flickr.