Connected to Nature

Letter from the Editor, Summer 2024
10

Megan SwoyerAs I look at a watercolor painting hanging in our northern Michigan getaway, I count my lucky stars that we made the leap into cottage ownership. The painting, by Robin Ward
(@cheerfulbird) of Beverly Hills, features our sons when they were very young, wading in long marsh grasses near our cottage holding a net and marveling at a tiny frog perched on one of their hands. There seems to be a big connection between the three of them, almost as if the frog is saying, “I’m glad you love nature and exploring my world. Keep it up, it will do you well.”

And, indeed, it has. Since those days of seeking out minnows, chasing after butterflies and dragonflies, spotting turtles and frogs, discovering pretty rocks and stones, and reveling in the tap-tap-tap of woodpeckers, they both consider nature a best friend.

When one of them was really ill, spending time with a fishing rod, some worms, and his brother and dad brought him great joy in spite of his physical pain. A scene of the three of them catching panfish by the bucket often pops into my mind. The serene memory of their bodies bent over the edge of the dock as they tossed the perch and bluegill back into the water to watch them swim off is lit not only by the onset of stars and fireflies in the grasses along the shore, but by the votive candles I lined the dock with that evening.

As years went by, the pull of the great outdoors grew. My sons learned more about camping and hiking — a passion that’s taken them to the Upper Peninsula and beyond. Mother Nature continued to be something they could count on, whether they were basking in her beauty solo, with each other, alongside friends, or with the two of us. Their brotherly escapades have been highlighted by sightings of moose, grizzly and black bears, elk, big-horned sheep, foxes, and creatures that slither. One of them even shared a path with a mountain lion once, luckily only for a few seconds.

Many of nature’s wonders star in their  drop-dead photos (now blown up and hanging on their walls) — peaceful scenes their minds can evoke when they’re knee-deep in the workaday world or when pushing their way through life’s lows.

It’s no surprise that many of their favorite vistas feature water. Raised in the Great Lakes state, water will always charm them, as it does so many. In fact, according to the U.S. Travel Association, beaches fall into the top five must-haves when travelers select their vacation destinations. Why?

Wallace J. Nichols, a marine biologist, hit the dock nail on the head when he wrote “Blue Mind: The surprising science that shows how being near, in, on, or under water can make you happier, healthier, more connected and better at what you do” (Little, Brown and Co.). He points out that when we step away from our high-stress lives and head to the water, a shift occurs. We transform as we relax. Water, in fact, can change the quality of our thoughts!

My husband and I once thought a certain Michigan biking trip (always along water) we’d planned might be the last. Would 20-somethings want to spend hard-earned vacation time with their parents? As a matter of fact, the answer was yes — especially if lakes, rivers, or streams we’d never previously explored were on the agenda.

And there’s still so much more to explore, now with some special women they’ve met.

About those girlfriends. Our oldest son met his match online after learning about her passion for nature. His first words describing her were, “Mom and Dad, she hikes better and faster than I do! And she’s a more experienced camper!” Meanwhile, the first thing we asked our other son about his new partner was, “Does she like the outdoors?” Oh, yes, he told us. Yes!

I believe our grown sons aren’t far removed from the young boys in the painting, communicating intently with a tiny frog.


 

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