Nature can open your eyes and your heart.
My wife, Mary, and I are high-school sweethearts. But we were from different schools in the same city and would never have met if it wasn’t for a backpacking trip to the Colorado Rockies that was organized for church youth from Wisconsin in 1972.
We discovered our mutual love of nature as we looked deep inside a small wildflower along a mountain trail on our first day out from base camp.
As the summer sun gleamed on her blonde hair, I saw her kneel near a tiny green plant growing in the gravel. She was trying to compose a close-up photo of its blooms with an all-manual film camera her father lent her for the trip.
The only thing brighter than the sun on her hair was her beaming smile as she told me how beautiful the flowers were. And the only things bluer than those blossoms and the alpine sky were her eyes as they glowed when she described the world she’d discovered inside one small flower.
That trip was full of mountain landscapes, ice-cold lakes and star-filled skies above the campfires. It was where we found we shared a love of creation and a joy for getting out in it.
Mary, still exploring wildflowers through the lens last spring.
Since then, we’ve hiked more mountain trails, canoed the lakes of Minnesota and the Boundary Waters, cross-country skied and snowshoed in Wisconsin, sea-kayaked in California, discovered wild wonders on photo safari in Kenya, explored dozens of parks and preserves in the US and Canada, trekked through prairies and woodlands nearby, and have come to appreciate the walking paths along the river close to home.
And every summer day when I see her leaning over the flowers in our garden with the sun shining on her blonde hair, I realize how much I owe to a little blue wildflower on a rocky slope far away and long ago.
And now, the rest of the Story... (as Paul Harvey was fond of saying on the radio.)
The high-school adventure in the Rockies didn't end with that little wildflower. That's where it began. The not-so-sweet and, at the time, oh-so-serious part of our tale created high-mountain drama on our second day on the trail after our flower encounter.
By late afternoon, three of us older high-school boys who had outdoors experience figured out we weren't on the right trail. It turned out that our two adult leaders were first-time backpackers without wayfinding skills.
The college coed was bright, eager and energetic. But she'd only done family camping and had not much map-reading experience. The middle-aged man had not carried a pack since boot camp. And he chose to wear his Army boots which gave him nearly-disabling blisters after the first few hours on the trail. This, the elevation and his out-of-shape condition kept him way behind the rest of us.
Late in the afternoon, we three boys asked the young woman if we could see the map and compass. We were now above the timber line and could see the topography well. After looking over the landscape and the map, we determined we were about a thousand feet above the lake our group was to camp near that night.
We could see it far below us. The trouble was, if we backtracked, we'd get there long after dark. If we tried to go straight down to our campsite, we'd have to climb over and around car-sized boulders all the way. Our choice was the boulder field, so off the dozen of us went, helping each other slowly and carefully scramble through the jumble of rocks.
We got there safely, set up camp and ate our campfire meal in the dark. That ordeal bonded our small group of high-school kids into life-long friends. And it almost erased the memory of my first encounter with Mary until she showed me the Kodachrome slide of the little flowers a year later.
Funny how those flowers pop up in our lives now and then. A friend and writer for the daily newspaper included us in his weekly column on the outdoors. He asked readers to share their stories about meeting someone special in the wild world. He added my letter which was the first half of the story above. You can read the whole article here: Outdoor Adventures
Mary and my sister Karen rest while on our backpacking trip in the Porcupine Mountains of Michigan a few years later in the summer of 1976.
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