Lost and Found
Although I may have been delusional, I was pretty sure I had heard a hallelujah chorus emanating from the heavens at the moment my life was saved by the two most unlikely people on the face of the earth. I had just spent a grueling five hours in 95 degree heat, lost in 70,000 acres of northern Michigan wilderness. As a young woman with strong Catholic convictions, even I considered striking a deal with the devil during that life-threatening challenge. How I got myself into that situation is quite a story.
While searching the Internet for a summer job more significant than burger-flipping, I came across an advertisement that read, “Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore: Looking for a college student interested in interning as a field biologist …” My intellectual curiosity was aroused at the prospect of devoting my summer to something challenging and meaningful.
I realized my age might prove a hindrance, but I was too intrigued by the opportunity to abandon the quest. I contacted the chief biologist and expressed my sincere interest in the position. He was convinced by my earnest appeal and allowed me to submit an application, though he said my chances were slim against college students. In addition to working hard on the requisite paperwork, I took the initiative to write an essay explaining why age diversity would benefit the team. I got my interview and the job! I was on my way to northern Michigan for the experience of a lifetime.
My first week was one of amazement and fascination. I collected water samples and tested them in the lab. I assisted in programming GPS systems, controlled invasive plants, and worked tirelessly with the endangered piping plovers – a feat in itself! A piping plover is not a flute-like instrument, nor is it a new-fangled skateboard trick. It is tiny white and black bird that lives on the pebbly shores of Lake Michigan.
During these summer months, the plovers took over my life. I monitored them daily, built cages to protect them from predators, and helped maintain their habitat. Early one morning, my coworker Lee and I set out in search of plovers in the breathtaking 70,000 acres of forest and lakeshore. This trek marked my first time in that particular area. The clear day was warming, so I removed my sweatshirt and tied it around my waist.
Two hours into our hike, I was struck with absolute panic. Somewhere in the thick woods or the endless sand dunes, the government car keys and credit card had fallen from my sweatshirt pocket. With a lump in my throat, tears welling up in my eyes, and fear in my stomach, I told Lee what had happened. A seasoned biologist, he calmly suggested I retrace my steps while he continued in pursuit of plovers.
My stomach was in knots as I thought about what a lost cause searching would be. I struggled to differentiate between markings left by humans and ones made by grizzly bears, which I was sure would find and kill me, thus putting me out of my misery. An hour into my search, I bore witness to a miracle. Hidden beneath a bit of sand was the lost treasure.
As I arose, the fear I felt just moments earlier returned when I realized I had no idea how to get back to the vehicles. If this experience were to be made into a movie, at this point the camera would capture a close-up of the young actress’s expression, then zoom out slowly to the forest and dunes, and finally to the world.
After three hours, I could no longer appreciate the picturesque beauty that surrounded me. This situation might qualify as a simple dilemma for the likes of Survivorman, but it was a real challenge for a young woman more in tune with Abercrombie and Fitch. I began following endless paths that led me nowhere. Never in my life had I felt so helpless.
If only I had possessed the magical ruby slippers,
I could have clicked myself out of that nightmare. Eventually, I stumbled upon a path with promise and began to run. I was relieved to see a road ahead, although there was no sign of cars or civilization. I plunked myself down on the edge of the road, feeing scared; I could entirely relate to Alice in Wonderland as I sat there, wondering what on earth I had gotten myself into. Had I not watched every season of “Unsolved Mysteries,” I just might have attempted hitchhiking. With a bowed head, I sat thinking about my next move when I heard the faint sound of bells.
I looked up as two elderly women on bicycles approached. I stood and eagerly asked if either had a cell phone. After I explained my series of unfortunate events, they appeared sympathetic and offered me water and their phone. At that moment, even the most riveting bottled-water commercial could not compare to the pure water perfection I ravenously gulped down. When I finished the very last sip, I called my mom.
While I waited, I shared tales of school, friends, and life. We traded smiles as they assured me that my prayers had been answered. They turned out to be nuns with the Sisters of America, visiting northern Michigan for a bicycle race. My smile broadened with this disclosure. I began to laugh because it was then I realized something about the world: it is so small, so ironic, and so truly beautiful. It is so statistically improbable for a young woman, working in the field of science, to stumble upon her religion in such an unexpected way.
The Greek philosopher Heraclitus once wrote, “Not all who wander are lost.” Through my experience, I learned wandering is one of the most vital parts of life. The unsteady side trails provide a connection to unique and previously unsuspected interests. My main goal in life is not to follow a direct route to my future, but to be persistent in pursuing my destiny through various paths.
Life, I have learned, is a cause-and-effect relationship. It involves taking chances and risking security in hopes of stumbling upon something great – nothing ventured, nothing gained. I have come to gracefully accept life’s challenges with an open mind, and though at times unsure of my options, I remain confident in my choices.
In college, I do not plan on limiting my studies to those on the paved road. I hope to take advantage of the world’s endless knowledge, and someday instill something significant back into it.