I wake to the chatter of birds and of my fellow scouts. I hurriedly put on a change of clothes and upon exiting my tent, find our cook tent in shambles from several waves of raiding raccoons. They've left a trail of clawed paper towels and an entire picnic table smeared with jam. At least the mosquitoes are manageable here, thank goodness; I can count the number of bites on my body on one hand.
I grab my pole and vest and head off with my friend and his father. He and I paddle while his father watches. Our laborious efforts get our aluminum craft across the lake in roughly 20 minutes. We beach our canoe in some reeds and walk onto a sandbar. Poles, mealworm and nightcrawlers in hand, we walk out 15 feet and cast our lines, where we catch mostly sunfish.
Soon we're tired from the heat and dive from the sandbar to cool off. Then we fillet our fish, eat, swim, explore, eat, swim, swamp two canoes, raise two canoes, eat s'mores around a campfire, sleep and do the same thing all over again the next day.
In short, this was one of the best camping trips I have ever been on. Being a kid is great, but having awesome outdoor experiences like this makes it twice as fun. If anything were to happen to the state park where we camped, be it from lack of funds, forest fire, arson or stupid people in high places, I don't know if I would get totally infuriated or just cry.
My parents tell me not to litter, so I don't. My former teacher, Mr. Gannon, taught me to love our land and to treat it with respect. (I used to frown upon seeing any trees cut down, until I learned from him that clearing away larger dead trees lets undergrowth and younger saplings receive their share of sunlight and nutrients from the soil.) But it's the opportunity to go camping at places like Andy Battle Lake and Camp Cuyuna that has been the greatest blessing for me.
I want other people to have the chance to do the same. I want them to know that, even though it is hard work, it's more than no TV, no hot water and no AC. To me, camping is the best way there is to escape everyday stress in our fashion-rocked, image-blasted, consumer-driven society.
(Nicholas Bingham, a 15-year-old freshman at Little Falls Community High School, wrote this essay as an assignment for his English class. Nicholas cites being part of the Boy Scouts of America as giving him an appreciation for the great outdoors and many opportunities to experience the rustic living of camping.)
BYLINE1:By KAYLEEN LARSON
Farms are like marriages: They require work, nurturing and commitment. And they both tend to be overly romanticized.
My stepfather was a farmer. He loved his farm like he loved my mother. I understood neither. I was an 11-year-old aspiring gymnast at a Twin Cities junior high and when my mother announced she was marrying my stepfather and moving us to central Minnesota to live on a farm near a town with no McDonald's, let alone a gymnastics team, I was devastated.
On the farm I tried hard not to let the smell of fresh-cut hay intoxicate me, or the softness of a newborn calf convince me that this life was better than the one in the city I had left behind. But nature has a way of drawing us in and soothing our spirits and it wasn't long before I, too, became a part of the farm's daily rhythm, rising early to feed calves, and helping unload the last bale of hay as the sun set at the end of a long, hot summer day.
By the time I left for college, my life in the city was a faint memory. I could no longer imagine what it was like to gaze on rows of houses instead of rows of corn. I wondered if I would be able to see the stars through the city lights or hear a thunderstorm over the noise. I realized that living on the farm had changed me.
Late one fall I returned. My stepfather was dying and, knowing it wouldn't be long, he had pleaded to go home from the hospital. He wanted to die on the farm. Soon after his release he and I sat on the porch watching the leaves blow in the October wind. "Like them," he said pointing to the swirling leaves, "I don't have a choice about the direction I'm going."
We buried my stepfather in a small cemetery about a mile and a half from the farm. Nice, I thought. He would still be close enough to hear the tractors moving along his acreage, to feel the warm sun embrace his Fourth of July corn, and to watch as soil from his back forty blew across his grave on a windy April morning.
The more I think about it, farms are really like life. There are good years and bad years. And the good years make it all worthwhile. I loved that farm like I loved my stepfather. And now that I'm almost 40, I think I finally understand them both.
(Kayleen Larson lives with her husband, Reed, and their children on 28 acres near Brainerd. She believes spending part of her childhood living on a farm is largely what motivated her to leave the Twin Cities three years ago and return to a more rural lifestyle. She is a part-time writer for a scientific association and full-time mother to her 5-year-old twin boys, Erik and Sam, and 2-year-old daughter, Abby.)
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