Somehow summer doesn’t seem like summer if we haven’t had the chance to get outside the city for a while. Created from the stuff of the earth, there is something in our humanity that responds naturally, viscerally to the created world. Though on the side of personhood we share something that sets us aside from the rest of creation in bearing God’s image, we are also creatures and thus fit in creation with our fellow creatures. It is a relationship both important and deep, and something to be both cherished and nourished.
Last month Dave and Paula Kauffman once again loaned us their cabin outside Minocqua, WI—such astounding generosity. The week there, besides being a time to be with family, gave us the grace of time outside the city.
Between the cabin and the dock is a massive white pine, one of the largest and oldest trees on the lake. A red squirrel prowls its branches, occasionally coming down the trunk to run frantically across the ground to another tree. Lichens and other parasites colonize the branches and trunks with abstract designs of color and texture. Along the water is a small stand of hemlocks, their delicate cones and two-toned needles (white on the underside) so different from the bulk of the white pine.
Rain has been regular this summer, so the ground is saturated. Mushrooms sprout, some so tiny that they are hard to spot while others break up through the leaf and needle litter in the woods like some mysterious white growth bursting into view. Some were stout and flared, others neatly topped like a table, and a few tall, delicate and slender. In several places I found the fabled fairy ring, brownish tinted white mushrooms growing together to form a circle in the grass. Mushrooms in a ring are connected by a lacey network of threadlike mycelia spreading out underground, and as I walked around them I wondered what was lurking unseen beneath my feet.
At night loons cried in the darkness, their eerie calls echoing over the water. Bald eagles floated effortlessly in the sky, one swooping down to skim just above the surface to pluck a fish from the water. A kingfisher sat on a branch of a tree near the lake over a body of reeds, occasionally splashing down to catch dinner. One evening we were surprised when a badger waddled across the grass. When we walked over to look it went under the cabin’s front steps and froze, almost like it was daring us to come closer. Instead we looked, and backed away, leaving it to whatever business it was on.
How is it that these things so refresh my soul? Why is it that stopping to look, and watch, and listen, and be still nurtures our humanity in ways that nothing else does? And how can I keep the memory of it, of the glimpses of glory that nature reveals alive in my memory and heart now that I have returned to my life in the city?