The honeymoon ended before the second day dawned.
By the time day one was over, I discovered I was allergic to iodine tablets used to purify the lake water, I had developed heat stroke rowing across the lake to Big Beaver Creek, and I had crossed over into weakest link status in less than 24 hours.
Having met so many milestones in such it short time, day two, it seemed to me, would have to be an improvement. Trying to repair my battered image, I volunteered to be first for the canoe rescue training, though my water phobia was still in full bloom at this time.
The goal was simple. Row out into the lake, deliberately flip your canoe, and then, after righting the canoe, put one leg into your canoe and one into the rescue canoe and maneuver yourself back in using the second canoe for support. Voila!
Please keep in mind my admitted lack of physical prowess as you imagine the scene. Canoe flipped. Check. Canoe righted. Check. One leg hoisted into my canoe. Check. One leg in rescue canoe. Check.
What was supposed to be a quick maneuver failed as my lack of upper body strength prevented me from hoisting my then ample form back into my canoe. Despite the cheering from onshore and my desperate need to reclaim some dignity, every attempt resulted in my falling back into the water with my upper body while my legs remained in two separate canoes.
And then the canoes began to drift apart. I will spare you the blow by blow battle, but when I finally completed the task, exhausted, and returned to shore, I dubbed the maneuver “The Gynecologist,” which, given the crowd, did not have to be explained.
Because women understand these things,
and women are different.
The difference became glaringly apparent after our lake crossing when the summer sun was high and brutal. Upon landing, our fearless leaders declared they had a task. We were led to a dirt clearing and after following instructions to form a circle, we were told to cover our eyes with a bandana. Then the instructors wound a rope in an irregular pattern through our hands and told us to find a way to unwrap ourselves.
Voices wove in and out of the task, trying one thing, then another. Time passed. No progress. We were given permission to use our hands to remove the blindfolds. Still no progress. And, as luck would have it, our extended presence on the dirt clearing had caught the attention of the hoards of ants under whose control it lay. And, as luck would have it, they were finding the bare skin on our legs too tantalizing to ignore.
Frustrations mounted as ideas flew in the increased ant activity until finally one of the younger members, a woman from India, suddenly snapped and forcefully grabbed the reins of the task. We were all admonished to be quiet. In only a few moments, she had untangled us logically, and grateful, we broke ranks to set up for the night.
Later that night, we asked our leaders why we had to endure that task.
It’s because none of you were willing to take leadership.
Normally, in a mixed group, those who want to be leaders emerge quickly, they explained. My guess was they were mostly male. But in our group, they noted we kept acquiescing leadership to others and being continually helpful and putting others’ needs first. So they had put us in crisis mode to force leadership to the surface.
As we sat and watched the flames die out, I couldn’t help but ponder the attributes of my new tribe.
Not demanding of leadership
Putting others’ needs first.
Sure, it was not a recipe for a quick escape from an anthill, but from my vantage point, these were strengths.
In the flickering flames I could discern the face of She Who Needs to be First and wondered what lessons she had gleaned in the hot sun.
Had I known I would provide her next lesson, I might have tapped out of the experience. But hind sight is 20-20, and the beauty of the Milky Way painted the night sky with a false sense of peace as I nestled into my sleeping bag to contemplate the challenge of the mountain waiting for us at the dawn’s first light.