On welcoming the challenge of the storm

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Jun 01, 2016 On welcoming the challenge of the storm

A recurring theme on my blog is about battling powerfully and calmly in the eye of the storm, including my May 29 blog entry on battling like a flowing river.

Part of successfully battling in the eye of the storm is to be ready for the unknown, and to keep one’s bearings at all times.

The unknown can come in many different forms, running from the most pleasant to the most unpleasant. For instance, the smell and feel of puking is unknown until first experiencing it. Volumes of precise words cannot begin to describe the experience of heaving chunks or smelling puke, or smelling diarrhea for that matter. The ultimate unknown experience may be death, whether one paints death as unpleasant or, on the other end of the spectrum, as being “in the presence of Truth“.

One of my most beneficial early experiences dealing with the unknown came with my first backpacking trip, in 1975 at the age of twelve. At the time, I was at an overnight summer camp (where Friday 13th Part II was later filmed) that did not make sense for me to attend — for four summers at that — with its heavy emphasis on ball sports when hiking and camping suited me better, other than the alternative of being bored at home for the summer. So I jumped at the opportunity for the annual twelve-year-old group’s optional two-night backpacking adventure in the beautiful Adirondack mountains.

I already was sold on the backpacking adventure long before the camp director got us together to promote getting out in nature and roughing it beyond the overnight camping trips we already had experienced.

We began our backpacking day with breakfast at a Howard Johnsons restaurant before leaving civilization for two and a half days. That Howard Johnsons breakfast became an imperfect precursor to the Reservoir Dogs breakfast among the assembled group of thieves, in that the thieves had no idea how bloody a failing plight they were soon to face, and I did not at the time know how challenging would be the human-eating deer flies that awaited me.

A few hours after breakfast, we got out of the van that drove us to the Adirondacks, and immediately I started getting attacked by deer flies. It seems that we had arrived at the very eye of the storm of deer fly season, when only two weeks later the deer fly situation would have become much calmer. We all got attacked, but I was the only one in our group of eleven who got attacked to the point that when I awoke the next morning in my tent, my left eye was entirely swollen shut. As I walked around, each repeatedly bitten ear seemed to weigh over a pound. I spent most of the day inside my tent to minimize further deer fly attacks after trying to spend time outside, and even the tent got some errant deer fly visitors.

When our camp director waxed poetic about roughing it on this trip, I though he merely was talking about a challenging backpacking hike away from even the conveniences of a 7-11 store, not getting eaten alive by deer flies. We simply do not know what is around the corner of life from moment to moment

In retrospect, I could have reduced the deer fly attacks by acceding to using the entirely stinky and more effective Ole Woodsman bug repellant, rather than my useless Jungle Juice, before the dangerous DEET was subsequently added in later years. I could have covered up with a light colored long sleeve shirt and long pants other than my uncomfortable blue jeans, except that I had no such light-colored clothing.

Fortunately, the idea of backing out from the trip had never crossed my mind, and even if it did, I would not have backed down in the inevitable face of being ridiculed by my fellow campers for doing so. I wanted finally to have my first backpacking experience, which was filled with beautiful views, sharing camaraderie, sharing a big tent with two other campers, eating freeze-dried food of varying quality, washing our pots and pans with mud, meeting the challenge of hiking several miles with what seemed like a heavy pack at the time, and being miles away from the nearest road and nearest vehicle.

On our last morning of the trip, the deer flies were attacking much less, and my left eye had reopened, although both eyes remained puffy.

As a result of my first backpacking trip, I know all the more how unexpected can be the unknown, and therefore to deal with the unknown all the more with powerful equanimity.

Two years later, I joined a seven-week camping tour across the country that included a hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, sleeping without a tent atop my rain pancho by the Colorado River. I later camped without a tent in the Sinai desert, and, after the bar exam, slept in village huts during a trek in Thailand’s Golden Triangle that had us pushing our converted pickup truck several times out of the rainy mud the first day, doing a steep hike to our first village, and rafting with homemade bamboo rafts to our last village.

None of these outdoor experiences approaches what battle soldiers have to endure nor even what mountain climbers and hardcore backpackers tackle. Nevertheless, for me they are a chance to connect with nature and myself, to minimize my need for creature comforts, and most importantly to stare the unknown in the face.

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