I didn’t want to go. I was 14 years old and my parents were sending me off to become a man. Sure, I had a bar mitzvah the year before, but that was merely a signpost, not an adventure. The ceremony marked the passage of time, but it didn’t create an adult in place of a child. Transformations like that require more than a two-hour ceremony. They demand trials, tribulations, and the agony that comes just before success.
At age 14 I had no choice. My experience was going to happen whether I wanted it to or not. My parents were pushing me out of the nest and into the wilderness. I wouldn’t have the safety and security of home anymore. I was Outward Bound.
My journey to adulthood was coming by way of 29 days of backpacking and canoeing in the Canadian Wilderness. We began in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) in northern Minnesota, a massive connection of lakes managed by a park service and frequented by tourists and travelers. To the north of the BWCA was untouched wilderness. We weren’t going to find real adventures on lakes with motorboats and water skiers. We pressed forward out of the controlled zone and into the raw forest and lakes of southern Canada. I remember crossing the border. It was just another trail into the woods but this time there was a small stone marker. That was it. From the US to Canada we went without anyone noticing.
* * *
Outward Bound is an outdoor leadership school that takes people on adventures with the hopes of building newer better individuals. Grown adults sign up for these courses hoping to change their lives. When you’re 45 and you decide to take three weeks off work to put yourself on a rock wall or in a rushing river, it’s clear you’ve made a proactive choice to change. But when you’re 14, the minimum age for an OB trip, it’s not quite the same. Everyone in my group was forced to be there by their parents, including me.
Both my parents did Outward Bound trips as adults. I guess they each felt a little lost and like they wanted to explore themselves. Over time, stress and conflict wore them down and demanded a change. The outdoors offered an escape and, possibly, a solution to the grinding nature of life.
There was a lot going on behind the scenes in my parent’s marriage. I saw the obvious signs – the fights that appeared from nowhere, the inexplicable bursts of rage, the not-so-hidden drinking and downward spirals. When my parents’ fights ended family vacations before they started, I thought it was normal. We’d have the car all packed and my sister and I would be waiting patiently while mom and dad screamed at each other in the house. Eventually, we’d get scared and restless and go look for our folks. But when we found them, we’d feel their dark energy and wish we’d stayed inside. Once the rage began to flow between them, it never stayed confined to their grown up disputes. It always spilled over onto us kids and our plans. Ok, looks like we’re not going to grandma’s house for Christmas (again) this year.
Maybe they thought their OB trips would save themselves and in turn their marriage. Maybe they just wanted to get away from all of us for a few weeks. Maybe it really was a life changing experience that helped them become better people. Maybe it was none of the above. It didn’t matter. From the time we were little kids, my sister and I knew we both were going on an Outward Bound trip as soon as we could. Now, it was my turn.
I was thrust from my upper middle class suburban life into a world of bird sized-mosquitoes, bears, and pooping in the woods.
* * *
I arrived in northern Minnesota with ten other teen aged boys. We got our equipment and met our instructors for the first time. I’m pretty sure there were two of them, but I only remember one.
Mike was the first long-haired-big-bearded hippy I’d ever met, and he was weird. I was skeptical, I mean, his job was to help kids find themselves in the woods. But as we inevitably got to know each other over the trip I realized Mike was actually pretty cool. He’d seen things. He’d gone places. He had experiences I didn’t know were possible or even existed. Mike knew things and I was beginning to sense I didn’t.
* * *
Part of the Outward Bound experience is the three day solo. This is when each student spends three days alone, not talking to or even seeing anyone else. It’s a time meant for personal reflection and to test your ability to exist…alone. Everyone approaches solo a little differently. Some people looked forward to the time alone after having spent a few weeks all wrapped up in group dynamics and the inevitable dramas. Other people were worried about being all by themselves. Some planned to journal. Others planned to sleep. As for me, I had other ideas.
As we relaxed around the campfire one night, Mike challenged us to take solo seriously. How often will you find yourself deep in the Canadian wilderness 100 miles from any trail head, much less any roads, alone, with no one around, no one to talk to, and no one to distract you? Alone with yourself, your thoughts, the pure beauty of nature under the unfiltered night sky?
It was so dark up there in Canada, we were so far from any towns or cities or even a solitary light pole – that when you looked to the sky you didn’t just see planets and stars, you saw meteors, shooting stars, and the glow of the galaxy. Orange space clouds and a bewildering blanket of billions of stars lay above your head every single night. Coming from an urban area, I’d never seen anything like it. I was in a rare place with a rare moment in front of me.
To be honest, I had been dreading solo even before I left for the trip. Mom told me about her experience on solo and it sounded awful. It rained, she was water logged, there wasn’t much food, and what she did have, she’d been carrying with her for a week already. There were bugs everywhere, wild animals, no shelters, no tents, no caves to hide in. Just her, a small tarp, and a sleeping bag. For three days. Alone. In the wilderness. It scared me. I’d never done anything like that, and it seemed overwhelming. As solo approached, the feelings only worsened.
See up north there, in the middle of the summer, the lakes were so clean you could dip your cup right in off the side of your boat and have the best tasting water you ever had. You could see bear families playing across the way. You could smell mother nature all around. And you could see the infinity of the stars every single night. But, there were also mosquitoes….everywhere.
It was so bad that we all had personal mosquito nets to wear over our faces every day and especially every night. The mosquitoes would swarm around us. It was so bad we wore long sleeves and pants for protection despite the summer heat. Luckily, the mosquito net kept the army of flying attackers an inch away from our faces. You could see them poke and prod at the netting desperately trying to find a way through our defenses. They wanted to eat us and they would never stop. If you turned your head the wrong way and the netting fell on to your face, they would pounce in an instant, stick their needles through the shield and bite the shit out of you.
The attack of the mosquitoes was persistent, pervasive, and endless. The idea of being alone with those mosquitoes at night made everything worse. Me, my mosquito net, and an endless barrage of buzzing and biting. I cringe just thinking about it now. It was awful. It wasn’t going to be a solo as much as a feast where I was the main course. I imagined my mom’s experience and then added large ravenous mosquitoes and the whole thing sounded like a nightmare.
I was facing an unknown scenario, one without rules, and I had no assistance. It was limitless. There were no boundaries. It was just me, the mosquitoes, and the infinity of space. I needed a plan. I needed order amidst the chaos. And I needed a guide. Mike provided both.
“Have you ever heard of a vision quest?” he asked me one night.
Nope never heard of it.
“It’s a native American ritual where boys go out into the woods alone and come back as men.”
“ You don’t eat. Instead you wander the wilderness and wait for your spirit animal.”
No food for three days?
“Yep, no food. And at the end you’ll have a vision.”
Like a hallucination?
I was already dabbling in drugs at that age. I’d smoked weed and wanted to try mushrooms and acid. My friends and I were reading Carlos Castaneda and listened to the Grateful Dead. We were knocking on the doors of perception and now this vision quest sounded like something along the same lines. I was intrigued. Hell, I was more than intrigued, I was ready to try it. But before I could explore my inner visions, I had to deal with some concrete reality first. The solo site was miles and miles away and we had only just begun to paddle…
* * *
We moved across an endless network of isolated lakes. When you got the end of one, you picked up all your stuff and carried it across land to the next lake. This is called “portage.” The portage was a challenge in its own right. We had a ton of gear because we weren’t hiking all the time. We had the boats and the paddles which made it easier to bring luxuries like a cast iron Dutch oven or cooking oil. They came in handy as we’d stumble across a patch of wild blue berries and make fresh blueberry bread in the campfire, which after days and weeks of fake potatoes and canned tuna for dinner was a delicacy.
But canoeing all that stuff around was one thing, carrying it over land was another. And then there were the boats. I didn’t know my own strength back then and the thought of throwing a metal boat over my head and schlepping it over land, sometimes a mile at a time, made me anxious.
I had never thought of myself as ‘strong’ even though everyone around me saw me as the ‘big guy.’ When the time came for portage, I’d find a way to carry a food or gear bag rather than a boat. Yes, I wussed out at first. But one day, I don’t know where the energy came from or why, I just decided to try it. I struggled and heaved, but I got that metal boat over my head and carried it all the way across the muddy trail and into the next lake. I stumbled and sweated and swore but man, I carried that shit all the way. I smashed through my own limitations and felt a surge of pride and excitement. It was one of the first times I can remember being aware that I was held back by my own mind more than anything else.
My self-perception kept me from realizing who I was already. That’s an odd twist of words there, but it’s the truth. I was standing in my own way. I crushed my own potential with doubt, fear, and a twisted understanding of who I was. But this portage victory pruned away some of the dead weight and allowed a fresh green shoot of joy and hope to appear in its place. This was the first moment in my life I saw myself as strong.
Looking back, the literary parallels of leaving my old self behind in one lake, going through the trials of the forest, and appearing fresh and new in the next world are cliched and obvious. But common human experiences are cliché for a reason. We can all relate.
We can relate to fear. We can relate to potential. We can relate to fear getting in the way of realizing that potential. And whether we’ve done it or not, we can all relate to the idea of enduring a difficult experience which leaves us renewed, awakened, and energized for the future.
The portage experience helped me shed my own limiting beliefs and nudged me towards becoming the man I was destined to be. That experience has been with me for 30 years and it’s a cornerstone of my identity. I am that portage today. It’s obvious in how I walk and talk, how my shoulders bulge out and my traps cast a shadow on the ground. I embody that childhood experience and it manifests itself in everything I do.
We were just half-way through the trip Outward Bound and it was already transforming me. And after this first breakthrough, I knew I was ready for something more profound.
Solo and the vision quest approached. I was ready to take a deep look inside and conjure up some magic for the first time in my life.
* * *
After endless days and miles of rowing and portaging, we reached our solo destination.
We set up main camp on an island in the middle of a cove. Our solo sites were spread out on the land surrounding the island so the leaders could get to anyone of us if an emergency came up. We were spaced out enough that we couldn’t see or hear each other. Rarely, I remember seeing the leaders in the base camp for a fleeting moment, but by and large, each solo campsite was its own island in the sea of Canadian wilderness.
When I say wilderness, I truly mean it. We left behind all the roads and boat docks weeks ago. We paddled away from civilization and into the woods and hidden lakes. There weren’t even neglected hiking trails or emergency dirt roads where we ended up. Our group had portaged from lake to lake so many times that we were isolated in the untouched bush. The modern world was beyond the horizon and all we had was what we could carry, plus each other. And we were about to lose that too.
The night before solo started, the instructors handed out small bags of food. It wasn’t much, handfuls of granola, raisins, and peanuts, plus a couple of these things called bickies. They were super concentrated carb and protein bombs that tasted and felt like plywood. We had been living on them for a couple of weeks because they were calorie dense energy units, not because they tasted good. The little bag of food would have left anyone hungry over three days, but I wasn’t even going to bring it with me. I hid it in my backpack and left it in the main camp when we left. Fasting was a central component to the vision quest and I wasn’t going to risk my weakness and hunger ruining the experience.
Over the last few days Mike had explained the ritual in detail to me. I’m not sure he was supposed to encourage this kind of behavior because it didn’t seem all that safe, but he knew I wanted to do something special.
First, I’d starve myself. He told me the Indians who performed this rite of passage didn’t drink any water either, but I’m pretty sure he told me I should. It didn’t matter though. Once he put the thought in my mind, I was determined to not only fast but keep myself from drinking water too. I was going to do anything I could to find my vision and if that meant no food or water, then so be it.
After two days of fasting, I was to perform a ritual of self-discovery and growth. The lack of food and water combined with the solitude and connection to nature would bring an inward journey and transformative experience, or so Mike said.
I was primed and ready to do something extreme. I guess I never outgrew that part of my identity. As an adult I still have trouble finding a balance or that weird thing known as moderation. I’m either in 150% or not at all. And so off to my solo site I went, ready to be adventurous and more willing than ever to push my boundaries and explore the world in a way I hadn’t before. I was going to venture beyond my immediate surroundings and plumb the depths of my mind. For a 14 year old, hell, for anyone, this was the beginning of an epic journey and something I’d never forget.
While many of my fellow group members were nervous about solo, I was excited and ready to go. I felt the push away from my old life and the draw of a new one.
Looking back, I realize my solo experience hadn’t just begun at the camp site with Mike, it had begun years ago at home with my family. I was too young to realize it, but my motivation for the vision quest was forged years before by my relationship with my parents. I already had unresolved issues at 14.
Kids don’t just wake up one day and think they’re weak and incompetent. They aren’t born with the idea that they can’t do things. A child’s self-perception is formed by their relationship with their parents.
It was the same for me. Why did I feel like I couldn’t carry that canoe? Why was I always the one hold holding me back? Why did I have a gaping hole of dread where my confidence was supposed to be? Why was I so afraid?
* * *
I remember how my dad was addicted to rage. My mom was addicted to drugs and alcohol. Neither of them ever learned a relationship skill, developed communication methods, or controlled themselves around us kids. Mom and Dad would fight, Dad would rage, and Mom would drink.
I’ll never forget the look in his eyes when the rage set in. The panic shot out of his pupils as his brown eyes tightened and his forehead furrowed. There was always a moment when you knew his consciousness was gone and all that remained was an uncontrolled urge to be heard or to be right or to be vengeful.
Sometimes he hit us. Well, a lot of times.
I remember him chasing me down the hallway swinging his fists, cornering me on my bed, raining blows down on me– when I was 11 years old. I think I had taken his coin collection to look at and forgot to put it back. In return he stalked me around the house like a monster and beat me before I was even a teenager.
Mom, as defiant as she was, would never give in to his rage, she’d provoke and prolong it, stoking his insanity and then she’d slink away into Southern Comfort and prescription pills. Sometimes the neighbors would bring her home and hand her off to us, her hair in a ponytail and eyes locked on the floor. I didn’t realize this wasn’t normal until I was in therapy as an adult.
I grew up in a household of crisis. When I finally understood that on a deep level, I felt the guilt and shame lift for the first time in my life. I had always thought my childhood home was my fault and that the coping mechanisms, no, the survival skills I created, were somehow deep personal flaws which revealed my failed character, rather than the symptoms of an abused child. It wasn’t until my late 30’s that I even began to forgive myself for finding ways to endure the mayhem at home.
At age 14 in the middle of Canadian wilderness I was about to take my first step in the healing process, and I didn’t even know it.
* * *
Driven by motivations unknown at the time, primed for extreme action, and seduced by the idea of doing something magical and spiritual, I settled into my solo campsite with a journal, a pen, no food, and no intentions of a drinking a single drop of water in the middle of summer.
I laugh thinking about it now, how absurd it sounds for a kid to deliberately deprive himself of food and water to chase away the demons of abuse. I guess you could say I was precocious but really, I was just desperate. It was obvious I was willing to do anything I could to “fix me.” As I write these words the emotions from then bubble up and make my eyes swell. When you grow up in a broken home with broken parents, the urge to fix yourself is pervasive and overwhelming even if you don’t know what it is or why.
When a child is abused by their parents, the kids don’t blame the ones who created them, they blame themselves. When parents don’t love a child the way they should, when they act flawed and broken, the kids internalize it and sanitize their parent’s abuse. Abused children look inwards and find their own flaws to justify their parents’ behavior. Or sometimes they just make up ones where none existed. They do this by telling themselves it’s all their fault.
The inner monologue of an abused child is sad and horrifying. “You’re a bad kid, you’re an idiot, you are horrible rotten piece of crap.” Those aren’t the words of the abuser but the abused. And the worst part is how abused children convince themselves they don’t even deserve to be loved.
In my case, because my mother and father were incapable of loving me, I told myself I wasn’t worthy of it anyway. When my parents would act in a loveless or reckless way, I’d tell myself I was the broken one who didn’t deserve warmth, affection, or kindness. I shouldered the burden of my parent’s flaws by taking them on myself. Instead of seeing my Mother and Father as the ones with the issues, I made myself the evil one, the worthless one, the underserving needy horrible rotten little shit of a kid who had big demands…the wish to be loved.
My childhood ended very early. I couldn’t live in the self of a six year old, I had to languish in the mind and thoughts of an abused innocent. It’s taken me decades to reconnect with the inner space of my mind, rather than to stay chained to the endless cycle of self-abuse and scolding.
Days 1 and 2 of solo began uneventfully. I suspect I was hungry and thirsty but honestly, I don’t remember. I do remember the tree I slept against. All we got was a small tarp to protect us from the rain and I stretched it out near a large tree of some kind. I leaned up against it and just relaxed in the hot summer sun, sitting underneath a piece of cheap blue plastic, you know the kind. I guess I didn’t realize that I had basically built a greenhouse for me to roast under, but what did I know back then. I did know that there were bugs…bugs everywhere. I remember massive red ants crawling around me and that tree during the day…and then at night…the mosquitoes.
You had to wear a baseball hat with the mosquito net to keep the bugs away from your face. As the sun set and dusk spread, it was the golden hour for mosquitoes. They swarmed around me, hundreds of them, just poking and prodding trying to find any path they could to my face. Bug spray did nothing. Looking out through the netting at the cloud of blood sucking attackers was grinding. They were just two inches away from my face and I could see and hear them constantly.
Watching yourself get attacked for hours and hours has a way of eroding your stamina and stability.
Take away human interaction, take away bathrooms and air conditioning, take away food, take away water, and add a blue tarp greenhouse and a relentless army of insect invaders trying to suck your blood and what you get is a deteriorating situation. My defenses broke down, my patience dwindled, and my physical ability to control my own mental state waned.
By Day 3, I was ready for a breakdown, which, I think, was exactly what I wanted?
* * *
I did everything just as Mike told me. After being propelled towards this moment by unseen and unknown forces, my parent’s own stories and trials, and my own need for answers – I wasn’t going to half ass this thing.
I stripped naked.
I built a ring of rocks.
I placed a feather I’d found on the north point.
I gathered a pile of rocks and placed them inside the circle.
I sat down, naked, alone, 14 years old, dehydrated, famished, stressed, broken down, and weakened.
I crossed my legs, sat up straight and began.
I picked up a rock.
I held it in my hands and meditated on it.
I assigned the rock a characteristic about myself I wanted to leave behind in the Canadian wilderness.
I sent my energy into that rock and wished whatever bad thing I thought about myself would enter the rock and then I dropped it outside of the ring.
I don’t remember what traits I assigned to each rock.
It doesn’t matter. It was the act. The process. The intention. The attention.
Each horrible rotten no good stinking thing about me got put into one of those rocks and I sent them out of my sacred ring of self and into my past.
I cleansed myself of the bad.
And then I paused.
It was the moment of transition. It was the moment of change. I was empty.
Liminality. Betwixt and between.
The old way shattered, the new way yet to be. Chaos.
I was alone and naked in the rock circle and I had just thrown away all the bad things I hated about myself. There they lie outside the ring like a pile of discarded memories except now they were inert. I had stolen their power through deliberate action rather than let them rule me like hidden evils inside my head and heart. I was a raw vessel equipped with nothing more than the will to grow. No clothes, no memories, no food, no water.
My soul was as empty as my stomach. I was the least me I’d ever been. It was the end and yet the beginning at the same time.
I breathed deeply. I let it all go. And then the tears came. Scalding water of regret flowed from my eyes and down my face. I heaved with relief and fear. I sobbed. I shuddered and shook and screamed. I saw fists rain down on me. I saw babysitters abusing me. I felt the hands of a man crush the joy and safety of a little boy. I saw a mother incapable of love and a child blaming himself. Only the trees and the mosquitoes witnessed how red my face got as the buried trauma within me burst forth into the infinite wilderness.
We carry pain stuffed into our souls and let it gnarl our inner selves into twisted new mutations. Unless we resolve it, the past, an imaginary place that exists only in our minds, smothers our today with a darkness subsuming the only thing that matters – right now.
Letting the past go, truly letting it go, is the only way forward.
My breathing returned and the tears stopped. My heart slowed down, and the world came back into focus. I looked around and saw the pile of rocks outside the ring waiting for me. This was the moment of rebirth, the chance to create something new from the old, to grow from the ashes of my old life.
I grabbed a rock.
I stared at it.
And I dreamed.
I dreamed of all the things I wished I could be –
Man, all I wanted was to be loved.
I took each rock and burned the idea of my ideal self into each one, one trait at a time. I said the words over and over as I squeezed the stones, as if the harder I squeezed each one the more likely it was to become reality.
After meditating on each trait, one stone at time, I placed the rocks inside the ring.
I had expelled the bad and I welcomed the good.
I was trying to become a different person. Trying to grow. Trying to become a man in the middle of the woods even though I was truly just a boy. A boy scared of his father. A boy who didn’t know how strong he was. A boy who wanted his mother to love him even though she couldn’t. This boy found the strength that day to just….try. To try and become a better person. Just by taking these intentional steps I had leapt over my peers and entered a new space. I was more self-aware than I was the moment before and hanging on to at least a tiny drop of hope, a hope revealed through my actions, because why do this at all if I didn’t think it might be the start of a new life?
I was too weak to cry. My shoulders slumped. The last remaining energy I had evaporated under the sun. I was drawn to the ground by the urge to sleep. A heaviness overcame me, and I melted into a pile of wrecked but hopeful. A deep deep sleep came and took me away from the reality of lunch time in the woods. I drifted away into an inescapable slumber:
A serpent with my face on it slithering back and forth.
A sun sculpture, like a terracotta Aztec sun god with wide dead oval eyes and a gaping mouth
The serpent with my face circled around behind the sun and rushed towards me
It accelerated as the Sun’s mouth opened wide and it swam straight at me and burst through the Sun’s mouth and into me, the real me
Two bright white flashes of light, like an all-consuming lighting strike
One and then another
So bright it overwhelmed everything, I was consumed by the light
I was the light
It was as if I was attached to a defibrillation machine and a doctor was shocking me back to life
Flashes of hope and despair
Flashes of the end and the beginning
A complete reset
Consciousness returned. I woke curled up in the fetal position like a new born baby, my knees pulled tight to my chest, arms wrapped around them desperate to squeeze myself smaller and smaller. My head touched my knees. I was a tight ball of shaking and shuddering. My entire body was quivering. I was cold and there was an urgency to become smaller and warmer. My awareness spread and I noticed my jaws clanging together. Tremors rattled through my body and my teeth chattered as If I was naked in the arctic winter instead of the Canadian sun.
And then the sweat.
Despite not a single drop to drink in the last three days, rivers of sweat cascaded from every pore. I rocked back and forth on the ground like a little child, sweating, freezing, squeezing my legs, and just wishing it would all stop.
What was I doing here? Why was this happening? Who was I?
My awareness grew.
I was alone.
I was naked.
I was weak.
I was scared.
I could barely move.
I was in big trouble.
Was I dying?
At the beginning of our trip they gave each of us an emergency whistle. If you got lost, if you were in trouble, if you were in desperate need of assistance, you were to blow the whistle. When they gave me the whistle three weeks ago, I thought to myself, I’d never be the one loser to call for help. Because only losers get lost or need help on a canoe trip, right?
A lot had changed.
I crawled from the rock ring. I dragged my naked self across the forest floor like a dying man in the desert. I knew I needed that whistle. I needed help.
Must. Get. Whistle.
It was just a few feet away. With the last ounce of energy I had, I put one elbow on the ground and pulled myself through the pine needles.
The fear of death moved me those few feet. If I didn’t get the whistle, if I wasn’t rescued, what was going to happen to me alone and naked and dehydrated and starving?
The urge to live compelled me even though I thought I had nothing left.
I finally got it, placed it in my mouth and weakly blew the orange plastic emergency-only safety whistle.
One weak blow. I couldn’t produce enough air pressure to make the little ball inside it move. It just sounded like air flowing through an empty container.
Not loud enough.
How far away were my fellow solo’ers? I hadn’t seen anyone on either side of me at all. Would I be able to blow the whistle loud enough?
Another weak blow. A futile attempt to call for help. The sweat still poured from my body. Where was all this water coming from?
Another blow. And another. No one came.
This is it.
I am going to die.
Wild blind panic came over me and my last hidden store of energy rushed out of my mouth and into that whistle. I begged for life with that one last blow and finally the little ball chirped and the whistle blew and I blasted the emergency call into the stillness of the afternoon sun.
I put my head down in the dirt. I’d given it everything I had and if this wasn’t enough, then this was it. The instructors weren’t scheduled to get us until that night, and I didn’t think I could make it, baking away under my cheap blue green tarp house.
The sweating stopped.
My body wasn’t cold or shaking any more, I was just hot and getting hotter.
I was burning alive in the sun.
* * *
And then help came. He rumbled through the woods, jumping over fallen logs, and ducking under leafy branches. He sprinted through the brush yelling out to me.
My brother raced to save me from a dried out empty death in the sun. He cradled my head under his arm and told me everything was going to be ok. He took my whistle and blew it with that adrenaline strength.
My brother responded to my urgent plea for help. He gave me his strength when I had none, he helped me when I was helpless, he took my head off the ground and held me when I couldn’t stand any longer.
My brother saved my life.
The instructors heard his call. They loaded up their canoe and paddled towards us while this teen aged boy rocked me back and forth reassuring me help was on the way. One brother’s call brought two more, and my solitude ended. I was no longer alone in the wilderness, rather I was one among many in a community.
They arrived and fed me water.
I looked into the bottle before I drank it.
There were bugs in the water, I could see their tiny black bodies floating and darting around the liquid I needed.
I drank it anyway.
I’ll never forget thinking to myself, “protein,” as I gulped it down.
They poured an emergency electrolyte package of orange powder into the next bottle, and told me to slow down, just sip it. Don’t rush the healing process. Go one step at a time, one sip at a time, and everything would be OK. I was going to make it. They were here now. I was safe.