An old television commercial for a particular brand of margarine once popularized the phrase, "You can't fool Mother Nature." And it's true. No matter how much we try to regulate, control, harness, dam up or otherwise sidetrack nature, every once in awhile something happens to prove we're really not in control after all.
A few years ago, one of our daughters was visiting our house when a fluke, mid-morning thunder and lightning storm hit with a vengeance. We were doing what we should do by staying safely inside, but all of a sudden a bolt of lightning struck a giant white pine right next to our driveway with an ear-splitting crack. It nicked the bark before jumping to the hood of our daughter's car and completely destroying all of the car's electrical systems to the point that no mechanic could fix it. Chalk one up for Mother Nature.
I'm not here to badmouth Mother Nature, however, since I believe nature also has many restorative powers that defy even the most knowledgeable of physicians and psychologists (and mechanics!). Last weekend we decided to go on a weekend camping trip up the North Shore. The week leading up to the planned getaway was hectic, to say the least, terminating in a late night shift at work to get our newspaper to the printer after a series of problems and miscues. I had little time to prepare for the camping trip the next morning and even less time to get a good night's sleep before hitting the road.
When we'd settled in at last to a spruce-lined glade in a state forest campground on the Baptism River, we let out a deep breath and let the serenity begin to seep in. It wasn't until the next day that we were able to let go of all of the issues of the week and truly immerse ourselves in the wonders of our natural surroundings. In fact, I can remember the very moment it happened.
We had hiked in to a little remote lake ringed by pine and cedar trees, with a walkway of wooden planks built by the Minnesota Conservation Corps leading completely around it.
The heat of the day had begun to settle in, and as we sat on the shore of the lake we shed our shoes and socks and soaked our feet in the waters of the pristine lake. The only sounds were the kingfishers and blue jays in the adjacent trees. The sunshine reflected gently off the still water and there wasn't another soul anywhere in sight. As we sat there quietly, just taking it all in, the phrase, "undimmed by human tears" inexplicably popped into my mind. I guess it was because I couldn't imagine anyone sitting there as we were, in the midst of all that natural beauty, and being anywhere close to tears over the trials and tribulations of life.
After we got home, I looked up that famous line and learned that it was written by an English literature professor Katherine Lee Bates in 1893. While serving as a guest professor at Colorado College, she and a handful of other teachers decided to go on a trip to 14,000-foot Pike's Peak. They hired a wagon to transport them up the side of the mountain, and near the top they had to leave the wagon behind and go the rest of the way by mules. Bates later reported that when she got to the peak she was exhausted but when she saw the view, all she could feel was great joy.
And so it was that she went on to write "America the Beautiful" with that famous line, "Thine alabaster cities gleam, undimmed by human tears."
While some folks recharge their energy by immersing themselves in crowds of people, I realized at that moment that I (much like Ms. Bates, I'm guessing) recharge my energy by getting away from it all and immersing myself in nature. After that moment, no one or nothing could have taken away that sense of peace and serenity from me....
Oh, there was that little matter of the tree, however. After we arrived home Sunday night, feeling relaxed and rejuvenated, we pulled into our driveway and immediately discovered the same giant white pine that had been struck by lightning years before was lying shattered just off the driveway, split right down the middle. My heart stopped -- not only over the tragic loss of the beautiful tree but the fact that from our vantage point in the driveway, it was impossible to tell if it had fallen on the hood of my parked car. I leaped out of the truck and dashed over, dreading the worst, only to discover it missed hitting my car by not more than a foot.
You can't fool Mother Nature, all right, but sometimes she can sure give you a jolt!