Sweet Sunlight

Many people venture out in nature in pursuit of a glorified free spirit and the accomplishment of taming the wilderness. They leave the constraints of their lives at home and expand the endless possibilities of self and human power. So was true for Julie Whitcomb in the story, " The Boundary Waters: A Test of Character." Julie and her friends planned a trip to the Boundary Waters of Northern Minnesota with the agenda in mind to escape the confines of their homes and to break free from the forms of control that had been oppressing them. This control causes the entire group to flourish and to set themselves free, leaping and bounding from the confinement of their adolescent minds into the splendor of the natural world around them. Julie and her group of friends find that while their initial thoughts are of "taming the wilderness," in actuality, the wilderness tames them in a rush of motion and excitement. The nature around them challenges each member of the group, bringing out their most raw and natural thoughts and feelings in a flurry of the elements. "The Boundary Waters: A Test of Character" introduces themes of invariable motion through images of natural movement in the wind and air, the force of the water, and the internal energy of each member of the group.

Julie introduces the theme of relentless excitement and motion through the power of air and wind in the first paragraph, with the image of the warmth and showers of "gifts of warm life." She explains that her spirit regained consciousness after the sun and the warm air brought life back to her cheeks. As she left the modernization of their Jeep and set foot on the soft earth, Julie realized the grandeur of the crisp air with the sun and the hint of moisture permeating her lungs. The natural beauty caused her to gain a sense of peacefulness and serenity, which Julie describes as "an overwhelming sense of tranquility." However, this tranquility soon leaves as the heavens that once brought joy and excitement soon initiate a feeling of chaos and uncertainty. Just as the trip begins, Julie describes the excitement as a blur, and writes that "time whirled by," and soon the chaos rears its head in Colin, as he "storms in the tent." This signifies the power and force that is the wind and air, and the effect it has on the group. This also introduces the instance of the incoming storm, which immerges and manages to show up in both the sky, and the individual personalities of the group. Julie explains that her mind is "swirling with questions" and compares it to the wind and rain outside. There is a sense that the occurrences outside are paralleling the personalities of the group members. The trees outside were cracking and falling all around the tent and with a rush of urgency, the party scrambles for their lives, emulating the disarray that unfolds outside. Julie comments on Dan, who with a surge of insightful laughter starts to gallop and dance in the "tornado of rain." Caroline imitates the gale as she interacts with the others in a fearful whisper. Julie’s mind continues to "swirl with thoughts" as she watches her friends scramble in multiple directions to help each other overcome this massive terror.

This rush of motion from the air and the wind quickly escalates feelings of chaos and uncertainty, relating the group’s thoughts back to the water and the sheer power that brought them to this situation. With the rush of motion from the air and the wind, the group turned to the water for safety from the falling trees and gusts. Julie tells of the water and the flow of excitement that was alive in everyone as they first arrived, and which continued even through the terror of the storm. At the initiation of the trek, Julie feels the strength of water as she becomes fatigued. At just the idea of the lake in the distance, she forged ahead and maintained her stamina. She compared the pristine-ness of the lake to a Divine image that seemed to finish the perfection of the scene. She talks of the "perfect balance" between the universe and all that encompassed the day. Even with this perfection, the feeling of water on their youthful bodies rushed more excitement as they splashed and jumped in the cool water, reliving the summers they had shared in the past. She described that the water was "encircling her feet as a rainstorm surrounds the earth." The water caused Julie to express her feelings that could be comparable to that of an inhuman phenomenon. As the later events of the trip began to unfold, Julie describes the water as "twisting" around her. She feels that the water that had once brought so much joy, was now trying to take it away. The liquid rush came over her and caused her to stay fast in one spot, as "a wave of immobilization washed over {her} body." The rain and water swirling around her subdued Julie into a trance just as her friend Colin pulled her to the actual safety that lay at the water’s edge.

The immobilization that overcame Julie is a perfect instance of the way the power of nature takes a hold of even the strongest individuals and doesn’t let go. Just the idea of a trip of this stature excited the group as they forged ahead in their plans. The eight young students had robust thoughts of "taming the wilderness" and showing nature their strength and ability. They emulate the notion of a free spirit, away from the modern constraints of their cars, their schools, and even their parents, in an effort to find themselves before they delve back into academia and lose touch with the playful youth and strong friendships that had brought so much joy. Bad luck at the beginning was no match for the pride and spirit that lay inside this group, as Julie explains: "Our bad luck momentarily dampened our spirits but with the sunshine so gay we could not be brought down for long." This is evidence of nature turning around their feelings and flooding out thoughts of harshness. As they ascend into the forest ahead, Julie witnesses a shadow that appears to set her aback. The beauty and encompassing nature made her shake off the idea of a possible hardship.

There is this constant motion internally in every member of the group, along with an almost pompous sense of invincibility against the raw power of the wilderness. With intent to "tame the wilderness" it is interesting that nature is what made the decisions and what built the personalities. The group members acted in ordinance with the circumstance and their own feelings, yet it was the howling of the wind and the flood of rain that had caused the panic in some and the triumph and strength in others. The sunlight and the notion of lakeside perfection caused some to shake off any idea of imperfect occurrences. The crisp lake caused some to relive playful memories and challenged them to charge ahead. In essence, nature conquered this group in more ways that could be imagined in the preparation of this trip. Colin exclaims, "END, you won, END!" Reality says that nature was victorious. Nature caused this group to forge ahead and to love the experience for what it taught them. Perhaps the lesson to be learned from the storm was that nature isn’t ready to be "tamed." It taught this group of eight friends to treat it as a life-altering experience, and encouraged them to retry their retreat. Maybe this time they’ll respect nature for the grandeur that it is, and learn that the beauty lies in the untamed.