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Lobster Lake 1999

This wasn't my assignment (it was something to do with spinal injuries in shallow water), but here it is nonetheless......

The early sessions don't count. They're for strategy, logistics, even cheerleading, but the real weaving and knitting doesn't begin until we're unloading our embarrassing mountains of gear in Dan's driveway the day of departure. The joking and reminiscing begins the process which draws us on these trips as strongly as the woods in which we choose to journey.

There's something about men and their emotions. We banter and prod, no direct questions. Not yet. It's not cruelty that has us look for the wounds and soft spots. I like to think it's just a way of identifying the places where care is needed. The worn places we find in this cloth we weave are places we will darn in new fibers over the next couple of days.

True to our desire for this journey, we have evolved ways of giving this male quilting bee an early start, some more effective than others. The year four of us went in one vastly overloaded Dodge Caravan so as to be together from the start put the bonding agenda way in front of several other more necessary ones. Such as access and survival. We might've been stuck in the wilderness because of a 10" snowstorm and roads for which that car was never meant. The Talkabout radios are a more rational adaptation. They give us a leg up on the bonding of the band without sacrificing the necessary two vehicle configuration our gear and number demands. They also help with our early, awkward lack of synchrony as we deviate along our undiscussed path Northwards.

One would think after 20 or so years of this that we would have evolved an almost mystical oneness that obviated any need for verbal communication and overt planning. Roles and responsibilities would be so well determined, paths of travel ingrained like the migratory patterns of the "lesser" beasts of the planet. But no, we argue and tug back and forth, always more or less in the same direction, but never without some little friction. It takes the whole of the trip to achieve or at least approximate that unity. A recent conversation with the newest of us helped to better identify that thinness in our weaving.

Mark S. seemed to me an unlikely addition to the group when he first joined us several years ago. A big city lawyer of quiet, soft-spoken ways, with no history of anything similar to this kind of camping and a previous relationship to only one of us, he posed a possible awkwardness that the complacent among us would usually rather avoid. But his humor, deep insights and equanimity, not to mention his Fabulous Scottish Mess breakfast, have made him indispensable. In this, his third year of risking life and waistline for the "rare pleasures" (his words) that this journey affords, we were talking of this dynamic of the senior members, that preparations for a day's hike or the final breaking down of camp might proceed with next to no verbal exchanges, as each member falls into the roles they fill best, or simply where there is need. It was suggested that he might feel the lack of that sense of contextual knowledge of what needs doing, and whereas that was found to be true in some regard, it brought up a disquieting realization as well. By the nature of the question, the asker was implying that we value these wordless interactions, even at our peril, that the lack of need for words evidences deep bonds and understandings which are to be sought, even envied. Priceless.

They are. Of course they are. Sometimes. With our friends or with our lovers, moments of silent true sharing are among the most holy moments of our lives. And even simple silence, quiet and still, is a rare treasure and one we have come seeking. But the wisdom and skills to which we aspire in these wilderness journeys demand a lesson of distinction. To know when words are the right tool for the job.

But words are not a tool with which we are as proficient as we think we are. Thus we jibe and deflect, banter and run, unable to grasp this tool firmly and purposefully. Which is perhaps as it must be. There are other skills we lean on, just as those become blind or deaf develop their other senses. And crude as they may be, those tools are actually brought to bear from the moment the first bag hits Dan's pavement to the last glance at the impossibly glorious skyful of stars over our site before turning in on the last night of that year's trip. The warp and woof of what we weave on these trips is only part words and shared experience. What we suffer for their occasional lack is itself woven into the fabric.

That is not (just) a rationalization. We know we sometimes do not use words when we might have, but we also are careful with our words. Not just for love of silence or shyness for the worn, wounded spots, but from knowledge of their power to wound and to heal, and awareness of our limited facility with them. Call it wisdom, call it a fault. Fewer conversations that delve into the intimate took place on this trip than are arguably usual, something which itself was the topic of some conversation. Maybe the expectation that this trip is specifically for such sharing imposes an awkwardness, and maybe the deliberate and ungentle focusing of the spotlight on any individual drives away what we sought. Our bad -- we do know better.

Sometimes after is when some of it comes together. It's not too late. In some ways it is no accident that this happens only once a year. The mail and tales and passing comments that will follow will tell how this is processed. The pictures come later as well, but they are false in many ways. The words are the truer image. Michael has already richly put into words for us some of the holy and the horrible from this trip, for which I thank him. We cannot see the cloth we weave directly. We must talk about it. Or not. I love you guys.