#GreatNature: Listen to the Loons

This blog post was written by Jessica Shea, National Geographic Education staff. We’re sharing our stories about nature to celebrate the Great Nature Project. To share your own nature photos of plants and animals with National Geographic, visit greatnatureproject.org.

We might think that nature is slipping through our fingers, but really we are slipping through nature’s fingers.  -National Geographic Society Explorer-in-Residence Sylvia Earle

This summer I went to my family’s cabin in Quebec, Canada. I hadn’t been in three years and that hurt. I missed my cabin, the timelessness of the lake, the cliffs we swim from, the singular sunsets. At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, I told my friends that when we got there I would be reunited with my soul. Even I smile at myself—a little patronizingly—now for saying that, but I couldn’t help it; I have such a strong connection to that place. I’ve been going there since before I was a year old. I can’t imagine my life without it.

Photograph by Winn Brewer
Photograph by Winn Brewer

When we arrived, I ran from the car to the lake. The view was the same. The lake hadn’t changed. Throughout the week, I visited all my old haunts, like the island, the wild raspberry bushes, and the rock outcrop where we take cover when we’re caught in a rainstorm while boating. Everything seemed the same, at first. Of course it did. Nature doesn’t change, does it?

But as the days went by something did seem different; nature kept surprising me. I’d be going about my business, thinking conceited human thoughts, like we do, when an animal would . . . interrupt me. One day, when I was walking along the shore, something blopped into the water by my feet. I bent down to take a look, and it was a nearly full-grown frog that still had its tadpole tail—a metamorphosis on the verge of completion.

Photograph by Winn Brewer

Another time I was swimming from the cliffs when I noticed a single scarlet flower growing from a crack in the rocks. I marveled, as I floated on my back, about the tenacity of that red flower. Not only did a plant survive in centimeter or two of dirt, but against all odds, it bloomed.

All encounters with nature, though, don’t have to be so serious, so contemplative. While we were at the lake, we made friends, sort of, with a woodchuck we named Larry. He had a great burrow halfway between the cabin and the lake. Sometimes when we’d sit down to eat a meal, he’d pop his head out and join us. We’d laugh as Larry would munch contentedly on greens, a leaf hanging from his mouth. He totally ignored the grapes and old peach we left out for him. I think the treats were too tropical for his taste.

Photograph by Winn Brewer

One night we decided to sleep under the stars. We set up camp on my Aunt Helen’s cabin’s open porch, rigging mosquito nets with some paracord and clothespins. We saw shooting star after shooting star. (I’m tempted to say we reached our quota of wishes for the . . . month? year?) We heard a loon call up to us from the lake. It sounded a little like a wolf call but more melodic. One of my friends spotted bats above us. Admittedly, I hid under the blankets even though we were already covered by the mosquito net. (I heard so many times when I was a kid that they will get tangled in your hair, which I have a lot of and which was already particularly snarly after being in the woods for five days.)

When we drove back into town at the end of our week, we noted things that we hadn’t seen in awhile, like power lines and concrete. I was thinking, too, about the things I had seen that week at the cabin, and I realized that while we go about our days, wrapped up in ourselves, nature goes on all around us. It seems like we’re operating in our own human sphere, like we’ve created this separate world full of metal and music and McDonald’s. But we ARE part of nature.

Photograph by Winn Brewer

When I got back to D.C., I didn’t lose this connection to nature. The other day I was sitting on the Nat Geo patio during lunch. I looked at the tree branches above me and saw a bird’s nest situated snugly among them. Another day I took a walk in a wooded park and saw several little lizards flitting out from under my feet. They had bright blue tails with black and yellow striped bodies. I hadn’t known reptiles that bright made their homes outside of the tropics. In fact, there’s a lot I don’t know about nature, but I’ll learn more now that my eyes are open to it and my soul has been restored, for another year.

By: Jessica Shea, National Geographic Education staff.

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