Saturday, July 30, 2011

Stick a fork in me....

I'm done! 

Done with the cat-herding, teeth-gnashing, nail-biting, head-banging, bum-kissing phase of my job that consumes 4-5 weeks of my life each summer.  It doesn't matter how many years I've done this previously, there will inevitably be some new challenge that tests my patience, diplomacy skills, endurance, and creativity. I didn't entertain any hope that this summer would be any different, therefore I was not disappointed. 

One of the activities that traditionally appears on the institute calendar is a canoe trip. I've been able to weasel out of cancel this activity twice, claiming that drought would make the trip more of a hike than a boat ride. This year, however, the rain gods have blessed our corner of the Appalachians (sorry, Texas!) and so it would take an active thunderstorm or utter lack of interest to be able to credibly call off the outing. Strike three...and 16  of us are caravaning to an outfitter on the headwaters of the New River for a relaxing afternoon. 

Or not.

My first mistake was in offering the participants a menu of activities to choose from. I personally didn't want to do the 6-mile canoe trip, which involves a portage around a low bridge. My still-hurting knee would not be happy with lugging a 100 pound boat up and back down a muddy river bank. Floating in an innertube, however, sounded delightful.

At the river bank, everyone was excited to get on the water and get some relief from the afternoon sun. Everyone except Ann, that is. Ann stepped out of the van and stood motionless, staring at the stretch of river in front of us. Regardless of the fact that this far upriver, the New basically looks like this:

...Ann thought it looked like this:

Despite my assurances that the river wasn't more than knee-deep most places, Ann was sure the raging 3mph current would sweep her away (even though she claimed that she could have qualified to be a lifeguard in college). I knew Ann was one of the more senior members of the group, but she was in good shape, and even my limited experience with the river gave me the confidence that she could handle a float downriver. I mean, if you think you're going to fast, just stand up and walk to shore! 

Once I assured Ann that she would be able to touch bottom at any point in the trip, and that I would be happy (I lied) to take an abbreviated, one-hour float with her, she decided to give it a try. Hearing that a one-hour tube trip was now an option, Linda wanted to join us, too. Linda is around my age, but that is about all we have in common. An African American from Houston, Linda declared that she needed to quit thinking she could be a nature girl. She was game for a float down the river, but would not leave her "Highland Hiking Stick," purchased the day before at the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games, behind in the van. And why was Ann still in her jeans...?

Thankfully Ann had worn a bathing suit under her clothes - but she kept her socks, sneakers, hoodie, and visor on for the ride upriver. She kept them on after slathering herself with sunscreen, too. And, thus attired, she stepped into the river once the three of us had finished our lunch. 

Holding on to the brush along the riverbank, Ann hesitantly sat on the edge of her innertube and exclaimed that this wasn't so bad. I got in the river next, then Linda, walking stick in one hand, tube in the other, puzzled how to settle herself into the innertube while retaining a smidgeon of dignity. I helped her get settled in, and the three of us were off for a bit of fun. 

Well, two of us were off. As Linda floated to the middle of the river (a creek, really, in my opinion) and I followed, Ann was inching her way along the shore, pulling herself along branch by branch, afraid to sit back in the innertube and let the river do the work. I stood up, pulling my tube over to Ann and said, "Look, you can stand here. You'll be fine if you let go!" I'm not sure which concerned me more, the fact that Linda, who confessed to not being that great a swimmer, was drifting further downriver, or the fact that Ann's style of "tubing" would turn the one hour trip into a half-day ordeal, or the likelihood that she might find a snake or two in the brush as she proceeded hand-over-hand down the river. 

I convinced Ann to let go of the trees and hold on to my innertube instead...and we soon caught up with Linda and her stick, and more or less relaxed for the next hour or so as the current carried us. It dawned on me that I'd been responsible for taking these two women way outside their comfort zones, and I'd also be responsible for seeing that their fragile confidence wasn't shattered by anything more devastating than a bit of sunburn or a mosquito bite or two. It was hard work seeing to it that they had a relaxing float down the New. 

At several times we were passed by canoers, and I imagined that we must have made quite a sight. But the three of us laughed, shared stores, and had so much fun -- so what if it looked as though we'd escaped from a group home somewhere upriver?

I may not have had the relaxing afternoon I'd hoped for, but for the next few days, whenever Ann excitedly talked about how much fun she had, and Linda triumphantly said she knew she'd be okay even when she (somehow) flipped her tube over (in hip-high water), I felt that I paid a small price for giving those two women the confidence to challenge themselves.  

I'm determined to get my lazy float down the river one of these afternoons, though. But this time I'm only taking intellikid along!


  1. Those eye pads are kickin'.

  2. There's a wonderful float down in my neck of the woods, it's a spring fed stream called the Ichetucknee. Cold clear and refreshing. The stream empties into the Suwanee River, itself a wonderful float in many places.

    Sounds like a good time was had by all. Glad to have you back Intelli.

  3. Thank you Punch - I had hoped you'd notice.

    Mr. C, thanks for the welcome back. I've missed blogging! And reading blogs!

  4. Well I'm glad the annual nightmare is over for you. You've been missed. I hope this means we will be getting our numbero uno intellectual/humorous blogger back. I mean there's only so much P and C blather one can endure...given the lack of insurance coverage for shrink therapy available.

  5. I know these women. Hans Christian Andersen wrote a fairy tale about, us: The Princess and The Pea. In California, we're known as HSP's (Highly Sensitive Persons), or, to be more plain, scaredy cats whose joie de vivre is easily wrecked by the least little threat.

    I wasn't always this way and, apparently, neither was Ann. You were good to be kind to them and help them have a little fun; it's a torment and a sorrow to be afraid to go with the flow.

    How's that knee these days?

  6. All's well that ends...
    Good to see you back, Intell.

  7. Hey, Jaded - it's good to be "back," but I'm afraid that my stores of intellect and humor may have been somewhat depleted in the past few weeks. I'll work on replenishing them ASAP.

  8. Welcome back iw, it's nice to read your kind humour and intelligent wit again.

  9. Hi, Nance - I snagged a book about HSP's from a recycling bin earlier this summer, but haven't read it yet. Instinct and following the Golden Rule do serve me well in carrying out this particular job, however.

    Doug - thankfully, I have 11 months to gear up for next year. Ugh.

  10. May I suggest something like sheer face wall rock climbing for nest year?

  11. Hi, Brett - Humor is the only way I can survive this month! For that matter, it's probably the only way I can survive this life :-)

  12. wm, only if I can suggest that you lead the trip!

  13. I confess that these days I might be a bit like Ann, it's so sweet you were patient with her. You are kind as well as smart and funny.

  14. Lou! Where have you been? I, too, have my Ann moments, but I'm much less afraid of making a fool of myself than I used to be.

  15. great whale of a tale; i feel your pain on the organizing that has no end...coming up on my 15 th summer of organizing something that is profoundly worthwhile and one hell of a lot of work.
    glad you are on the other side of it.


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