Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Things I Learned: The Unistar Edition

This will be a strange blog post, so fair warning in advance. A bit reflective, a bit of a confession here and there, and hopefully some catharsis. This is a list of the amazing things I learned about life, myself, and nature while I was at Unistar 2010 and how they have affected my life for good and for ill.




First some history! In the year 2000 I was 14, I lost my home, most my possessions, my dog, my dad, most my friends...my entire life went to hell because my dad decided to make some very bad choices with his life which cost my mother and myself dearly. I lost my home but more importantly I lost the idea of home. No place felt like mine, felt secure, real, safe, all those wonderfully squishy feelings associated with 'home' were gone and replaced with a horrible perpetual homesickness. The logic center in my brain knows there was nothing I could have done to prevent it, but of course the betrayed 14 year old still cries out 'maybe there was something I could have done?'. Flash forward a decade, I was with the love of my life about to completely restart my life after going through a more self induced hell (I had really bad taste in men before I met Ben...let us just be completely honest about that) it was a hope filled recovery. I was still horribly sick and agoraphobic but was in a sort of remission so I thought (hoped) that it was all situational and maybe the doctors were right and it was all in my head. Ben got me a job at a place that was like home to him, Camp Unistar on Star Island, Cass lake, North woods Minnesota. He described it as a place where everyone was accepting, the facilities were rugged, and nature was priority. Sounded like heaven. Of course this was to be the first time I had worked in about 3 years and certainly the most socializing I had done in that time. I was amazing at the interview (it was on the phone so the interviewers didn't see me trembling) "do you have any problems that might make working here difficult" I answered no and regretted it to this day. But if I had said 'yeah I have this unidentified health problem that seems to have gone away and I have the social skills of a terrified marmot' I doubt I would have gotten the job.

My entire summer was filled with hiding how sick and exhausted I was. When I first arrived I had septicemia from an unknown source, the Cass Lake clinic doctor said they had no idea, tossed me on an antibiotic and antidepressants because clearly my resurfacing health problems were only due to anxiety. The septicemia gave me a fever of 105 degrees that left me convulsing and delirious for the better part of a day. I had Ben play it off as a cold even though he wanted me to go to the emergency room. The antidepressants gave me a seizure. I hid that and my constant sickness from everyone, I wasn't very good at it so I appeared horribly aloof...really I just didn't want to seem weak. I was so tired of being aloof, sick, and in constant pain that I think it finally took a tole on my sanity, I wanted to prove to everyone that I was not ruled by my physical frailty, that I could do anything if I put my mind to it. The last couple weeks of the season were approaching, during one of the food deliveries I decided since everyone was up at the kitchen unloading the previous cart full of food and I was the only one down at the boats that clearly I could bring this cart loaded full of food up the hill (usually it takes two people, one pulling and one pushing to get a loaded cart up a hill) and prove to everyone how useful I could be. I was already burning up with a fever, my knees were swollen and my hips were killing me but I was sick to DEATH of my body ruining everything...hahah I will show it. I pulled the cart up the hill, step by agonizing step, then to the kitchen where I announced proudly what I had done and them promptly collapsed. I was not able to walk again for over a month having destroyed my back and legs. And with that incredible act of stupidity I lost my new home.

Yep, Unistar had been the place that had finally filled that void in my soul from when I was 14. I felt alive, it was exhilarating and freeing. For the first time in almost a decade I felt at home and no one could take it from me. I promised myself no one would ever take my home again. Well no one except me apparently. I had to leave early once it appeared my temporary injury was not temporary. Ben had to leave too since we were a package deal, there was talk of me returning next summer to resume my job as Naturalist. I had so many plans for when I returned and for the off season. I had almost completed my list of the mushrooms located on Star Island (over 500 in total) and was working on my book for the Nature Nook. I was going to spend the off season studying every bit of nature related things for the area that I could, I didn't want to just be the Naturalist with a lot of knowledge, I was going to be an expert. I was going to be the best Naturalist Unistar had ever seen, I was creating a legacy. A few months later Ben and I were living with my mom, deciding where we wanted to move to next and waiting for me to fully recover, he decided to take me on an epic vacation. The mountains, the beach, Smithsonian Museum, and a fancy bed and breakfast at Gettysburg...it was the best week ever....also the worst because the morning I was going to the Smithsonian I found out I was no longer required at Unistar. My antisocial tendencies and health problem were just too much of a hindrance. I swear part of my soul withered and died that day and has not come back since. I am hoping to fix that some day...if I knew how. However enough gloom...I learned a lot from that experience.


  • My body is an utter and complete pile of useless crap that no matter how badly I want something, pushing myself to the point of tearing muscles only proves I am an idiot and does irrevocable damage.  
  • The sky is HUGE. Really, I have always loved astronomy and fancied myself pretty decent at IDing constellations and such, but when there are no city lights and the sky seems so infinitely huge...finding even Polaris is a challenge. I was humbled by the vastness of the sky.
  • Minnesota is the most beautiful state ever. I won't hear any argument (maybe others are better but none that I have personally experienced) all those lakes and wetlands make it like paradise.
  • If you already have an interest in mushrooms finding a place where you cannot go more than 10 steps without finding either a mushroom or slime mold will turn your interest into a full blown obsession.

  • I am really good at teaching, especially things that are nature oriented. I have never felt more in my element than when I led mushroom hikes and taught people about the glorious fungi. People were actually interested in what I had to say...it wasn't me just talking and boring people to death. It was awesome. 
  • Sailing during a thunderstorm (there were mammatus clouds!!!) is terrifying but also one of the most exciting things ever. I thought I was doomed when the boat flipped but Ben is an expert and got it up again. 

  • Being naturally introverted is not bad, being antisocial by nature is not bad, extroverts who make you feel bad for being an introvert are jerks. 
  • I only like doing dishes when it is a huge industrial sized kitchen dish area. There are few things as rewarding as having hundreds of dishes to wash and pots to scrub while you are leading the dish team in a sudsy dance of cleanliness. I was queen of the dishroom and miss scrubbing. 
  • I still don't like eating in a cafeteria type environment. 
  • I still love social dances. Ben and I are fantastic dancers when we try, very good at putting on a show...but when are we not?
  • Sand, when you are living on an island, will get into everything. I swept my bed on a daily basis. I STILL have sand in my camera bag. 
  • The North Woods are full of ticks...every one of them I think tried to live on  me...still surprised all my Lyme Disease tests came out negative! 
  • Watching the transformation of a nymph to dragonfly is magical

  • Romantic nights on the dock watching the moonrise is also magical
  • Sometimes leeches make great friends. 

1 comment:

  1. A wonderful and cathartic blog! I love you! You never know you may be able to go home or find a new home. Hold on to hope........

    ReplyDelete

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