Last week I found myself sitting in the dark with 15 other humans in a four-person tent on Sand Island. Outside the mosquitos raged in waves upon the screen separating us while inside we angled our bodies between each other in stagnant, steamy air. As one of the group’s staff leaders began by asking us to take three deep breaths, I secretly wished we wouldn’t as I felt a bead of sweat form on my forehead.
One by one our voices filled the summer night air as we spoke about highlights and struggles from the previous three training days. Each ended with optimism about what’s to come and shared specific gratitude with another member of the group. Listening to each other, there was laughter, silhouetted head-nodding and light finger-snapping in approval.
As we neared the end, my left ankle screamed from being pinched under my own body and I realized I was resting my hand on a knee the wasn’t my own. Then we closed with a few more breaths before spilling out into the cool, dark campsite. A few more seconds in there and I myself might have blacked out. I can’t believe that no one thought to take off the rain fly for air flow.
And still, for all of these reasons — including the heat — it was a memorable way to wrap up time spent together. We had watched paddle strokes, provided feedback and practiced rescuing one another and now here we were sitting close enough that the muscles that did the work were softly touching each other as we reflected on our effort. It was a collective effort done as a group for the sake of individuals and I won’t soon forget it.
We do activities like this to help bring out the meaning from experience, to tease the lessons from our learning. They can be as crucial as the activity itself.
A month ago, after participants finished their last pivot turns on Lake Mendota in Madison, we found this same effort come together from a reflexive moment. It was hot that day, too, and after an extended weekend with long hours on the water, we all purposely plunged into the water. Coming back to the surface somebody lifted their heels onto one of the stand-up paddle boards floating in the middle so that they could lie on their back, resting in a watery recliner. One by one, the rest followed until all eight of us lay like flower pedals fanned out around the same board. In the calm, warm water with the sun angle low, we floated there for over half an hour talking through the course. I’ve never been so relaxed and open to understanding than there.
Part of me wishes that someone’s drone would fly over to capture this image from above because of how special it was but the other part of me is glad there wasn’t. I’d much rather leave with the words, emotion and a visceral memory of a group float or a jam-packed island tent than a picture.
Lucas Will loves wilderness and enjoys many forms of recreation around the Bay area. Adventure is his middle name. Actually, it’s Frederick. When not outside, he lives in a tiny house with his partner and their dog. You can follow him on Instagram under the handle Alfresco Bum.