Columnist's Note: Courtney Curtiss is a Natural Resources major with a minor in geology at Northland College. She was recently my student in "WRI 273: Writing the Environmental Essay." It was a joy to have her in class, and I'd like to share one of her essays with you this week. Enjoy! –Emily Stone
Seagulls sang their screeching song as they flew across the bright blue sky. I paddled along the shore of the Bayfield Peninsula with Sand Island, one of the Apostle Islands, visible on the horizon. Excitement coursed through my whole body as I sat in the front seat of the sea kayak, vibrating like I was full of electricity.
It was a perfect windy and sunny afternoon to spend with five other Northland College students. With no clouds in sight, the warmth of the bright sun on my face was a familiar hug I had not felt for two weeks before this trip because of responsibilities with classes and homework. Leaves were beginning to fall from the nearby trees, which brought the scent of autumn with the breeze, but the sunscreen slathered on my exposed skin made it smell like summer. Appreciation filled my body, as I realized how fortunate I was to have the opportunity to visit an area that most people travel hundreds of miles to experience.
Deep, dark depression had kept me from going outside and exploring nature recently. I knew the sea kayaking trip was an activity that would bring me out of my funk. Breathing in the fresh breeze cleared my mind. It lifted the fog that hovered inside my head and allowed me to reconnect with nature and my body. Growing up on dirty Lake Huron made kayaking on Lake Superior feel special, and it also made it easy to feel a connection to home.
The glistening blue waves from Lake Superior pushed me forward, making it effortless to paddle. I heard the wind, piercing my ears with cold air, as it pushed the fresh water around me; it was almost like the wind was whispering. "I am here to help guide you." The waves that guide me toward positivity and personal growth in my own life are my loving mother and amazing boyfriend. Without them, I would not have gotten to a place where I was happy and mentally stronger.
Arriving at the sea caves was breathtaking. There were archways to weave through, and some arches were so low that had to lean forward to avoid smacking my face on the hard rock. My knuckles whitened as I gripped the sides of the kayak with eyes closed until I thought it was safe to sit up. Paddling farther from shore, the guide pointed out the holes in the sides of the cave walls. The holes looked like frightened faces with ghostly round eyes and mouths. When the waves hit the holes, there was an eerie howling sound. The howling was almost like it was a cry for help, reminding me of dark days when I cried every night from the guilt I felt from leaving my family and low self-esteem.
The geologist in me remembered the story about how the old caves and wide archways were created by strong waves crashing into the fine-grained, red sandstone after it was deposited over a billion years ago, slowly being worn down over time. Something beautiful emerged from that destruction. The caves had visible scars from water wearing the sediment down. But my scars were invisible since they were dark marks on my emotions and memories, created from the constant negativity I pushed onto myself.
Paddling into the caves was like teleporting to a different planet with the never-ending, dark tunnels and red ceilings that dripped with water. The cave was suffocatingly small there, and it only got smaller as the boat went deeper. Cold sandstone pushed on both sides of my boat, squeezing the breath out of my lungs without even touching my arms. I heard only the scrape of my kayak along the rock walls and the echoes of the crashing waves.
When my kayak finally landed back on the sandy beach, I felt the muscles in my arms growing bigger—and sore—after paddling for three hours. But my power to push depressive thoughts away also grew stronger during the experience.
Stepping my bare left foot onto the soft sand, I felt like I was back home on the beaches in Michigan along Lake Huron. The frigid waters of September were tempting, so I immersed myself up to my neck. It was even more numbing than the emotional hole I had been in earlier that year, but this was a good kind of numbing. The cold made me appreciate the times when I was warm and dry: warm, happy, with dry eyes and no tears in sight.
For more than 50 years, the Cable Natural History Museum has served to connect you to the Northwoods. The Museum is now open with our exciting Mysteries of the Night exhibit. Connect with us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and cablemuseum.org to see what we are up to.