One Simple Rule

Children learn to appreciate nature, finer things in life. // Illustration by Glenn Wolff

It was not a popular rule, to say the least. My friends were wise in not springing it on their kids until after they’d unpacked and settled into the cabin. For those two weeks on the shore of Lake Superior, there would be no electronic devices. None. Enforcement was easy — or, let’s say, enforcement was possible — because they had found a place without cellular service. No Wi-Fi, either. Or television. The kids didn’t know such places existed.

“It’s a dead zone!” they cried. And cried. And cried.

“You would have thought it was the end of the world,” my friend told me. “For two days and nights, they went through all the stages of grief — shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression. I thought I was going to lose my mind.”

Then a strange thing happened. The kids discovered the beach in front of the cottage. And in front of the beach was a lake. And not just any lake. A lake so big that it disappeared over the horizon as if it were an ocean. And breaking on the shore were waves that looked like they belonged in an ocean, too. And in the wash of the waves were heaps of colorful stones and pebbles they collected and arranged in swirling patterns on the beach.

They saw birds they had never seen — rafts of diving ducks riding the waves. And above them, terns that scanned the water constantly as they soared, now and then tucking their wings and plummeting into the water and, a moment later, emerging with minnows wriggling in their beaks.

They saw black squall lines passing down the lake so far away that they could see stabs of lightning but could hear no thunder. And at night, the sky was filled with stars brighter than they had ever seen.

They learned what it was like to be confined indoors on a rainy day with nothing to do when minutes could seem like hours and hours like days. And they solved that problem with Monopoly and Risk games they found in a cupboard and with books they pulled from shelves in the living room. They discovered the pleasure of lying on a couch reading while rain finger drummed the roof above them — and of falling asleep to that sound.

They discovered it was fun to sit at the dinner table telling stories to their parents and listening to the stories told in turn. Some of those stories were so funny and unexpected that they looked at their parents as if they had never seen them before.

It was all very strange. Time slowed, and somehow, it expanded. For the first time, the kids paid attention to the sounds of breaking waves and to the wind in the trees. They noticed the scent of the lake — “It smells big,” one of the kids said — and of the ferns and mosses in the woods behind the cabin.

None of them could believe how quickly those two weeks passed.

Jerry Dennis and his wife Gail Dennis live and work in a house overlooking Grand Traverse Bay. Visit them at

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