Monday, June 29, 2009

Portaging Their Way to Manhood... *SIGH* (we KNEW it was coming!)

Both boys came with us to the BWCA this year.

Adam’s now 17 and talking about chaperoning future BWCA trips. He loves being there. I’m not sure why. None of his other pursuits suggest he’d love rugged wilderness trips. Yet he does.

He excels at portaging. He carries a canoe on his shoulders, limiting his vision, and trapping him with hoards of mosquitoes. He doesn’t even bother to swat them while he’s walking. He sings and talks to others while he walks. When he reaches the end of the portage, he dumps his canoe and goes back up the path to help others struggling through with their own burdens. He’s cheerful and tireless. He’s never made anyone feel – at least to my knowledge – like helping them was a trial for him.

This year, he came back once when I fell with my pack. It was one of my worse falls. While walking across muddy (thick, gooey, gloppy mud) rocks, I caught my foot between two rocks and fell face forward. With my paddle in one hand and my other hand wedged between my forehead and my pack’s headstrap, there was nothing to break my fall. I scraped my knee and twisted my ankle. When everything was still, my arm was trapped under my body and the 100-pound pack on my back made it impossible to move.

Adam was the first one to find me. He untangled me from my pack and helped me get my foot out of the rocks. He brushed the mud from my knees and hefted the pack on his own. I found my arm straps and he pushed the headstrap into my hand so I could fix it across my head. When I was ready, he shifted the weight of my pack to my back and waited until I had solid footing before he gave me space. Sore from the fall and tired from the journey thus far, my forward motion was slower and sometimes non-existent. Adam encouraged and prodded me into continuous motion by telling me about his “active rest” theory, learned from a personal trainer/coach he’s worked with. Even if it’s a tiny step, he explained, you’re at least being productive. Standing still achieves nothing. (Except sometimes, when you’re almost 40, and you’re at your limit, breathing should count as “active rest”!)

To tell the truth, his theory annoyed me. It also kept me moving.

With others, he used different tactics. Two girls on our trip would drop their pack when they were tired of carrying it and wait until Adam came back to carry it for them. He did it and talked to them during the rest of the journey. With others, he just walked and talked. Or sang. My son. Singing. A miracle indeed.

Jakob is 14. He loved the outdoors as an infant. When he cried, I’d carry him outside and stand under a tree. He’d catch sight of the leaves and be still. When he was a toddler he experienced overload easily. He didn’t like big, noisy groups of people as much as his mother did. I’d often find him by the patio door watching ant business or catch him laying on Coco-the-Lab’s tummy stroking her chin. When he couldn’t get to nature, he’d do the next best thing: he’d escape to the outside of the group and lay on the floor, staring out the window.

Now a teen, he’s has different ways to diffuse, most of them physical. He shoots hundreds of baskets a day and takes hundreds of cuts in the batting cage. Even in the coldest weather, he spends as much time as he can outside burning energy.

Even so, I wasn’t sure he’d like the BWCA. It’s so rugged. And we travel with fourteen teens. There’s not a lot of solitude with a group like that. There’s no place in a nine-person camp to lay on the ground outside the circle and diffuse.

He struggled the first day with his pack. He didn’t quit. He struggled. I knew it was a little more than he expected or wanted to do. That afternoon when we reached camp, I followed the trail of his clothes – boots, socks, fanny pack, bug spray, water bottle – to the door of his tent. Peeking in the open vent, I saw him sprawled on the bare tent floor with his arms folded under his head. He was soundly sleeping. He woke long enough to inhale his dinner and then slept again.

In the morning of the second day, I watched him try to regroup. He wasn’t talking or making eye contact. He didn’t eat much. He answered questions as shortly as possible. I could see he was trying to gather his strength for the coming day.

It worked. He reached his stride the second day. He was cheerful at the end of the portages, his brilliant grin greeting me each time I saw him. He told me later he barfed twice, but he kept moving. He carried his load.

By the third day he did more than carry his load. As I climbed one uphill rockpile, a pair of boots entered my field of vision. They were Jake’s. Tipping my head up, I saw him standing, bent by the pack on his back and holding his paddle. He indicated he was fine just as I saw a second pair of boots. I lifted my head again and saw the other female chaperone on a log, her pack beside her. She – trooper that she is – had gone as far as she could go. He wouldn’t leave her though; he stayed with her until someone came to help.

I couldn’t stop. I need my momentum to help me finish my portage work. But he stopped. He waited with the bugs and the heat. He waited with the patience of a man who will be an amazing husband and father.

I’m so proud of both of them and the men they are becoming.