Although I may have been delusional, I was pretty sure I had heard a hallelujah chorus emanating from the heavens at the very moment my life was saved by the two most unlikely people on the face of the earth. I had just spent the most grueling five hours of my life in ninety-five 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 became aroused at the prospect of devoting my summer to something challenging and meaningful.
I realized my age might prove to be 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 my application, though he said my chances were slimmer than those of the college students’. In addition to working hard on the requisite paperwork, I took the initiative to forward an essay explaining why age diversity would benefit the team. Fortunately, I got my interview and the job! I was on my way to Northern Michigan for the experience of a lifetime.
My first week on the job was one of amazement and fascination. I collected water samples and tested them in the lab. I assisted with the programming of 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 which lives on the pebbly shores of Lake Michigan.
Over the 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 co-worker Lee and I set out in search of Plovers on the breathtaking 70,000 acres of forest and lakeshore. This trek marked my first time in the particular area. We drove separately to the location in government vehicles. The clear day was starting to become warm, so I removed my sweatshirt and tied it around my waist. Two hours into our hike, I was struck with absolute panic. Somewhere amidst the thick woods or the endless, sandy dunes, I realized the government keys and credit card had fallen out of 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. Lee was a seasoned biologist and calmly suggested that I attempt to retrace my steps while he continued the 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 the grizzly bears I was sure would find me, kill me, and put me out of my misery. An hour into my scrimmage, I bore witness to a miracle. Hidden beneath a bit of sand was the lost treasure. As I arose, the fear I had experienced 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 cameraman would closely capture the young actress’s expression, then zoom out slowly, from her, to the forest and dunes, and lastly to the world.
After three hours, I could no longer appreciate the picturesque beauty that surrounded me. This precarious situation may have qualified as a simple dilemma for the likes of Survivorman, but it was difficult for a young girl 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 up ahead. There was no sign of vehicle traffic or civilization. I plucked myself down on the edge of the road, scared and alone; I could relate entirely 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 hitch-hiking. 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 up and eagerly asked if either of the women had a cell phone I could use. After explaining my series of unfortunate events, the women appeared sympathetic to my plight and offered me an unopened bottle of water and a cell phone. At that moment, even the most riveting bottled-water commercial could not compare to the pure water perfection I ravenously gulped down with every breath. When I finished the very last sip, I called my mom.
The two God-sent women remained with me until another savior arrived: my mom! Biding time, I shared with the women tales of my school, my friends, and my life. We traded smiles as they assured me that my prayers had been answered. The women turned out to be nuns with the Sisters of America, who had been visiting Northern Michigan for a short 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 girl, working in the field of science, to stumble upon 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 aspects of life. The unsteady side-trails provide a connection to unique and previously unsuspected interests. My main goal in life is not to search for a direct root to my future, but to continue to be persistent in pursuing my deepest destiny through various paths. Life, I have learned, is about taking chances and risking security in hopes of stumbling upon something great. I have come to gracefully accept life’s challenges with an open-mind, and though unsure of my options, 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 amount of knowledge, and someday instill something significant back into it. I believe the freedom to explore my interests, discover my true destiny, and continue to grow into the wisest person I can become, would be best granted by the University of Michigan.
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Jesse Laurel Kurowski
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