The Story Economy Blog

The Water Lilies Made Me Do It

kids with lilies 2Six summers ago, I had an assignment from Midwest Living to scout some state parks in Ohio. The last morning of my trip, it was storming. Torrential quality stuff. I wanted to be done already (I had a one-year-old at home waiting for me), but I had one more stop: Lake Hope State Park. I drove an hour through driving rain, wondering how I could possibly scout anything with the storm.

I was tired and uninspired, but the weather cleared as I pulled into the park. No excuse now, I thought. I told myself I would stay a few hours, long enough to snap some pictures and write up a few paragraphs for my editor.

I met the park ranger, a super nice guy who drove me around the park and showed me the cottages and campgrounds. He clearly had a passion for the park, and seeing it through his eyes, I started to feel a bit more connected. After he showed me around, I decided I should do a short hike. I chose a trail that skirted the lake, figuring I could walk a little stretch of it—just enough to get a sense of the lake and the forest and how the park maintained their trails.

I spent my childhood camping and hiking trails at places like this, and as I started walking, memories came back to me. My heart was softening toward the place, I could feel it. But when I came upon the first clear vista of the lake, a glass-top expanse covered in pink water lilies, my heart full-on melted. I stopped, startled by the sight, and watched the lake, almost in tears. I saw the play of light and the creatures buzzing and darting in and around the pink buds. It was something about how the lilies were so unapologetic, the way they took up huge swaths of the lake. It enchanted me. I couldn’t take my eyes off them as I kept hiking the trail—walking much further than I intended to. My husband I were planning to try for our second child that fall, and in that moment, I could see our little family coming back here at some point. I was charmed, thoroughly and unexpectedly. I’ve seen plenty of lovely sights before: the Tuscan countryside, the Grand Canyon, glaciers in Alaska, Niagra Falls, the Scottish Highlands. Why these lilies? Why this lake in this park in the middle of Ohio?

I don’t know. But I know this: I never forgot it.

Rocks, S’mores, and Lilies

Fast forward to earlier this summer, when my husband and I were talking about taking a “trial run” vacation somewhere low-key. “I’ve got the exact place!” I said, and booked a cottage at Lake Hope.

Last week, when we checked into the cottage, the kids were immediately smitten (anything that’s not home is the most exciting thing in the world). The first day, without exactly knowing where we were going, we wound up hiking from our cottage down to the lake. The lilies were still there, in all their pink glory. “Look at them!” I said.

“Yeah, pretty,” said Georgia, who’s nearly five. She and her seven-year-old brother, Max, were excited about the lake and couldn’t wait to go to the beach later, so our unexpected journey down to the lake’s edge was exciting. (That's them above.)

But what they really liked were the rocks. Specifically, naming the rocks and creating backstories for them. “This is James,” Max said of a golf ball-sized rock.

“This is Heart!” Georgia said of her long flat rock.

They chattered for the next 15 minutes about the rocks and the lake and how the rocks were related to each other and which rocks would get married.

“What about the lilies?” I asked.

“Too spiky,” Georgia said.

“But the lilies are why we’re here!” I told them. I told them about how I came here once before and was having sort of a bad day and I saw the lilies and everything changed.

They listened (they already know a little something about humoring their mother), but they didn’t really care.

The lilies weren’t their authentic experience. For them, it was the rocks. Or the sandcastle we tried to build later that day. Or eating PopTarts in the cottage the next morning.

Let’s put aside the fact that they’re children. Because this little lesson applies across the board, to the old and the young—and the in-between (which I think is me). When the fairy dust of an experience hits you, that’s a gift. It’s meant for you, and it can inspire the most amazing things. We want to pay our fairy dust forward. We definitely want to do this as parents, but I think we try to do it in plenty of other ways that involve business. This is what this experience is about, we tell our people. Don’t you see it?

The fairy dust might hit them the same way . . . or it might not. Customers, users, travelers, readers, viewers, children: they all need space to create their own pink water lily moments. In the rush to tell compelling stories, we can’t forget that.

I remember the park ranger from six years ago telling me all about s’mores. I think there may have even been a s’mores event at the campground. I noticed when we were there last week that the park store had all the ingredients for s’mores, cleverly merchandised. The dining lodge even makes their own graham crackers and marshmallows and has s’mores on the menu.

I don’t care anything about s’mores.

I care about water lilies.

I found them. I shared them. And it’s not up to me where that fairy dust lands. But I am glad to have held it for a while.

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