It’s early evening. I want to cut off my own legs. And my arms. If cutting off my whole body were a feasible option, I would want to do that. There’s a sharp pressure at the base of my spine that feels like someone lodged a javelin permanently in my lower back.
The water of Lake Superior is bone-chillingly lovely in a way that could only be considered refreshing to someone whose brutalized bones could use a good, algid chill. I am holding on to a fallen tree that is bobbing under my armpits, a mile out from shore.** My heart hates me. “Just a month ago, you went to the emergency room because I was skipping some beats, you anemic lump of flesh…” it hisses, “The only people who pull garbage like this are masochistic psychopaths and people who accidentally get stranded in life rafts for friggin’ thirty years and then get their horrible lives made into Danny Boyle films.” You’re not wrong, little cardiac soldier.
Elliot and Nick are kicking hard on my right, listing aloud all the high-calorie foods they would consume were they not stranded, on a log, in the lake surrounding the Porcupine Mountains. To my left, sweet sensible Claire gives me a good-natured thumbs-up; Claire almost never stops smiling, despite the fact that her bug bite total is higher than the calorie count of Nick and Elliot’s favorite foods.
We hiked six or seven miles today, starting down at our campsite on the Lake of the Clouds, then climbing up a mile of vertical wall of tree roots and mud to Lake Superior. The terrain along Superior alternated between haphazard piles of loose, red rock, and an endless, immutable sinkhole of brown, slippery mud.
By the end of the hike, almost the entirety of my body was numb, with the exception of the arches of my feet, which were apparently bearing sole responsibility (eh?eh?) for all the weight, pressure and pain absent from the rest of my limbs and organs.
Needless to say, I’m in peak physical condition.
Now I’m flailing every muscle in my body through frigid water with the sole intention of pushing this giant log out to a small, rocky island, 4,000 yards in front of me.** Abi and Femke, two more of my campers, are tiny dots, crawling silhouettes against the sun that droops toward the little island. Matt, Ali, and Amber are beginning to climb the rock face, fingers and toes brushing scrubby purple flowers in their ascent. Nick, Elliot, Claire, and I are still seventeen miles away, probably.** Behind us, Jessie brushes her newly washed hair on the shore.
We grumble at them all under our breaths.
Claire smiles at me again, the kind with high eyebrows that says Help! I’m a really lovely person but anyone else in the world would hate you right now, Lauren. We all continue to kick. The island does not appear to move any closer, because it hates us too. Elliot and Nick’s fictional menu gets louder. I begin thrashing my legs about intermittently like an injured dolphin. I also start quoting every motivational monologue I can recollect.
We’re all scrabbling now; our bodies are no longer moving in natural ways. Elliot and Nick’s side of the log begins to pull ahead of mine and Claire’s.
“There will come a day when the race of men (and women) will fall,” I wheeze, “BUT IT IS NOT THIS DAY!!!” We flail.
“TWO DOLLAR WENDY’S KIDS MEALS,” crows Nick. Faces appear over the edge of the island rock face and grin at us encouragingly.
“I can see the McDonalds’ arches,” adds Elliot. I am certain I will never feel my body again.
I’m running low on inspirational speeches. “Water is for cowards. Water makes you weak. Water is for washing blood off that uniform, AND YOU DON’T GET NO BLOOD ON MY UNIFORM!!”
“THREE FROSTIES! THREE SMALL FRIES!!” yell Elliot and Nick. Claire shakes her head. Still smiling.
A cheer. Elliot’s feet have scraped the bottom. Everyone above us breaks into applause. I think. (At the very least, Alli says “yay!”)
Kenny helps us secure the abominable log between two rocks for the return journey. Our calves tremble as we spider our ways up the craggy side of the island. I readjust my sandal straps, toes bumping rocky corners. Purple flowers tickle knees. Claire, Elliot, Nick and Kenny all climb ahead of me. I’m the last one up.
The sunlight breaks over the cliff. It’s Marooner’s Rock. The island is a giant “V,” half-submerged in the incandescent teal of the lake. It’s covered in purple flowers and seagull scat. Nick, Amber, Elliot, Kenny, Claire, Matt, and Alli laugh and slide their way across gray slate in the orangeing light that is beginning to illuminate us from the horizontal. A nest huddles between two walls, filled with giant blue speckled eggs. The world around us is nothingness. A light haze smears the horizon line, making the blue of the sky and the earth indistinguishable; we are the edge of the world.
Our echoes against the shoreline are the clearest I’ve ever heard. We barely raise our voices, and it’s as if our invisible twins are breathing next to us, hovering over the water and repeating our every word. Our voices tumble over one another as we sing and shout and laugh and point, and the spirit voices repeat our joy.
“I don’t want comfort,” said the author Aldous Huxley. “I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness…”
The sun continues to dip, and Derek reminds us of the promise of pasta on the shore. Elliot and Nick are the first back in the water.
Someone has the brilliant idea to lash all of the logs together in a makeshift raft for the trip back to shore. The result is disaster. Amber wraps her legs around the three logs in the front and refuses to let go, even as the raft founders; she clings to the vessel like a tiny hood ornament knocked askew. Nick dramatically shifts his weight from side to side in an attempt to steady the rest of us. Claire cannot stop laughing. Derek’s patient, steady instructions are lost in the noise. I am the rudder, and I am utterly useless as tears of laughter stream down my own face and I direct all my energy toward attempting not to pee in the lake.
I don’t want comfort.
I want sunshine.
I want seagull eggs.
I want purple flowers.
I want two dollar kids’ meals and a chocolate frosty.
I want collapsible homemade log rafts.
I want laughter.
I want love.
I don’t want comfort.
I want God.
**All distances are %100 made up. I have absolutely no ability to estimate.
Lauren (Boersma) Harris (’13) is a spontaneous, idealistic, independent, fierce, over-thinking, damaged, adventurous, ordinary megalomaniac with a healthy sense of self-worth and a high word count. She has been a teacher both indoors and outdoors; she loves improvised comedy, backpacking, and writing, even when it’s required.