The rain dusts my face with tiny pearls and bathes me with a silkiness now. The drops are mystical; they wash through the branches that grasp for the galaxy, and then melt into the damp earth. The twelve of us sit in a small circle outside the weathered barn back at base camp. We receive our dime-sized pins, symbols of our accomplishments, and I weep. I'm not quite sure what I cry for. Perhaps it is because I am about to leave these people with whom I have shared the greatest experience of my life. Perhaps it is triggered by the reality that I will never be exactly as I had been before the trip. I somehow know that I will live with a greater sense of self, with unlimited expectations for myself and the direction of my life.
The rain hurled down upon us with a ghoulish whine to pierce our cheeks. The winds wailed: "Wake up chumps! Say hello to Mother Nature!" I heard the subdued din of birds on land begin to roar with devilish twitters, and clouds of black flies thicken and hover like vultures over our twelve weary bodies. For fourteen days we hiked and canoed, and lived out of a sixty-pound pack, removed from all conveniences and personal amenities (soap). Mind-weary and with little but collective will to push on, I recalled the Outward Bound motto like a skipping record: "To serve, to strive, and not to yield." Endurance is the key and the challenge ... I fastened our flashlight onto the canoe's bow. My paddle partner, Toni, kneeled in the back, her breath sugary against the moonlight. We loved our canoe. Disco was its name; it allowed us to absorb the lurches and bends of the lake and become one with the waters. I turned on the flashlight, casting a honeyed glow against the dark stretch of Moosehead Lake. It was day nine of the trip, two-thirty a.m. We pushed off from our makeshift camp in a parking lot and headed into our twenty-mile stretch. Dipping and pulling, we made our way through the silky water of the night like a funeral procession.
Hours later, over the horizon in the distance behind black silhouettes of mountains. a peachy foam of color blended into navy sky, and we turned off our flashlights. The sun rose behind us as a breeze created the first ripples across the glassy lake. The sky seemed to melt into the lake, and our six canoes washed into the vast universe of blue. My paddle dunked in and out of the water effortlessly, and with each pull of the lean shaft we slid closer toward our destination 15 miles away: Farm Island. It was not the thought of the community service project there that pushed us onward, but rather the thought of sleep.
The day wore on slowly, and by lunch the water had lost its morning freshness. Small crests rose and fell as the waters darkened. The tender sun-born breeze pressed into our faces and gradually transformed itself into a fierce fan of relentless intensity. Swollen clouds invaded the sky unnoticed as I pulled my plastic paddle harder against the water. The canoes became a measure of the effort of those in them, as the weaker ones lagged and fragmented the single-file procession. Panic rose quickly in my chest as I realized we were in the middle of a lake with a storm encroaching; we were sitting ducks. The first splinters of the storm came down upon us in waves as the winds shifted. The waters of Moosehead slapped viciously against the sides of Disco, as if taking stern orders from Mother Nature herself.
I could faintly hear Toni's voice behind me yelling out to move faster. Helplessly, I plunged the paddle deeper into the turbulent darkness below. I frantically ripped my rainsuit from my pack, and pulled it on as Toni strained against the waters alone. The rainsuit's sweaty sliminess squeaked in my ears. In the distance the brilliant yellow suits bobbed fluorescent against the distraught surroundings. The rain and sky loomed black above us; the lake rose and threatened the fragile canoes that bucked over every crest. I held on tightly to my paddle and breathed deeply, trying to deter the rising fear. I squinted against the sharp rain, and felt the hot teardrops swell in my eyes, and then blend into the rest of my drenched face. What was I doing, paddling a canoe in the middle of nowhere with a group of strangers trying to fight whatever nature hurled at us? A bending wave of icy water, broad and massive, washed over the length of our canoe. My hands were numb, but for some reason they clung to the paddle that I abhorred. The winds cried out with me, as I struggled to summon my remaining strength within my jaded bones ... And then we suddenly landed with a hard nudge against the saturated beach of Farm Island.
Everything became rhythmical during those two weeks that we were lost in the wild: our synchronized steps, our plunging canoe paddles, our singing, our breathing, our pulses, our lighting flash counts. After wearily setting up camp in the belting rain, we sat cramped within a musty soaked tent. "One one-thousand, two one-thousand, three one-thousand ... " we murmured against the howling winds. "Five miles away ... " someone would calculate the position of the storm as thunder grumbled somewhere in the heavens. Time passed slowly, and after an hour, the patter of the pelting rain on the tent's weak frame became a slight sprinkle. The thunderstorm murmured in the clouded distance, whispering across the rest of the land. And I lay there, listening to the soft hum of the crickets as they returned from hiding. I thought of myself, then, and smiled.
Whenever it rains now, I think of my experience on Outward Bound. The rain now beckons me, consumes me with a host of fragrances. That pocket of time holds all I remember of the honeyed warmth of summer by which I was tested, of the food that fed and blossomed my inner strength. I find myself yearning for a tent to sleep in when the first lucent, flowing rain of summer christens that time of childhood wonder. The sweet rain of summertime and its ruffles of wind shower dreamily upon my life now, as it once did when I ran searching for adventure among the dampened grasses of my childhood. I'm glad I'm able to taste it again. -
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.