by Sharlyn Guthrie
I still don’t know why I said “yes” when he popped the big question. No, I’m not talking about a marriage proposal. The question my husband asked went something like this, “I finally talked the youth pastor into taking the youth to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area this summer. Isn’t that great? He wants us to chaperone. You’ll go along, won’t you?”
I was raised in a hotel loving, all-girl family. I had never been in a motor boat, much less a canoe. Still, my sense of adventure was stirred. When my teenage son blurted, “YOU’RE going to the Boundary Waters?!” something in his tone challenged me.
My husband was like a child waiting for Christmas. He counted the weeks and then the days. He dragged me to stores I had never shopped in before to purchase items I didn’t know existed –collapsible dinnerware, green vinyl rain ponchos and camouflage hats with netting that tied over your face. I laughed, informing him that I intended to maintain my stylish reputation. He laughed back –an evil cackle, really. I should have been very scared.
We began packing. “I’m having a little trouble over here,” I informed him. My pack was bulging, while another sizable pile of necessities waited to be included.
My husband quickly pinpointed the problem. “You packed too many clothes. You only need one set to stay dry and one to get wet.”
“For a whole week?” Doubts were mounting, but the next item to go was my make-up. “You’re kidding me!” He wasn’t.
Thirty one teens and chaperones launched fifteen canoes into Farm Lake, following prayer and a few instructions. “Don’t stand up or shift your weight suddenly. Remember the phrase ‘up a creek without a paddle?’ It can happen here. Tents don’t float.” Halfway across the lake those instructions were demonstrated with much more clarity than any flight attendant’s oxygen mask routine.
The occupants of two canoes playfully lunged at each other as they passed. One canoe flipped, depositing two teens, their packs, and tent into bone-chilling water. Ignoring the shrieks of bobbers in life-vests, the guides grabbed their packs instead. But the tent had already sunk. The canoe was righted and repacked, though one paddle had drifted away unnoticed amidst the commotion.
At camp two cold, wet boys solemnly spread their wet belongings on tree branches, then huddled near the fire. Although they were sheepish in their request for tent space it was soon granted. Three now had to squeeze into tents designed for two.
“Let’s go for a walk,” my exultant husband called, grabbing a shovel.
“Okay,” I responded, skipping ahead of him. “This is fun. How far are we going?”
“How about over here? It’s off the path for privacy’s sake, but not too far away in case of bears.”
I hesitated. “Just what are we talking about doing over here?”
“We’re digging the latrine.”
Speechless, I just stood there watching him dig that hole. My husband ignored me, but a sinister grin played at the corners of his mouth.
Meanwhile, the contents of a bag labeled “beef stroganoff” were dumped into boiling lake water. The resulting substance convinced most of us to skip supper and retreat to our tents early. It was a good thing, too. The stroganoff moved swiftly through those who ate it, resulting in many trips to the now totally disgusting latrine.
We awoke to rain. Grudgingly I donned the ugly green poncho, casting sideways glances at my gleeful husband. On day two of drizzle I became openly hostile. “What were you thinking? What was I thinking?” His smirk remained intact.
The sun broke through just before going down on that second day, creating a spectacular sunset. My husband raised his arm, attempting an embrace. “You stink!” I snapped, and reality hit. We hadn’t bathed for three days, yet we had paddled hard, sweating under ponchos. Using a tarp my husband fashioned a shower, then poured cold lake water over me as I yelped and hollered. Then I returned the favor. It was a high price to pay for cleanliness.
Mosquitoes as large as hummingbirds converged on us at dusk. Out came the funky hat my husband had selected for the occasion.
I wish I could say that things improved after that. They didn’t. Joyfully I returned to the land of warm showers and flush toilets.
Yesterday my husband asked, “Are you going back to the Boundary Waters with us next summer?”
I have no idea why, but I said, “Yes!”
Friday Fiction is hosted this week by Catrina Bradley on her blog, A Work In Progress.