Monday, October 12, 2009

Old Enough to Repay, Young Enough to Sell

I ended up spending the first day of my 24th year in a place with more stars than sky, and and more canoes than empty beer bottles... quite of character for an indoor/party gal like me. At the last minute, J asked me to help her work a women's retreat at a camp near the Boundary Waters. While I was initially a bit hesitant (I have way more than enough female bonding during the work week), I am so happy that I took her up on her offer.

On Friday afternoon, I perched on a bench overlooking Burntside Lake, the crisp fall air turning my nose and ears a shade of pink makeup companies try to manufacture, but can never recreate with only a compact and a set of brushes. I sat with a cup of freshly brewed coffee and meant to open the amazing book I've been putting off for a week or two. Instead, I watched five kayakers ease across the lake in varying shades of fleece and winter headgear. The lake churned over itself, the waves growing until they eventually lap up onto the foundation of the cliff on which I was perched. Hikers across the lake marched triumphantly up the well-beaten paths etched into the rock by thousands of like-minded adventure enthusiasts before them. I felt an overwhelming sense of peace, which doesn't happen to nervous nellies like me very often.

Each day, Jenna and I rose for yoga as early as we would for work, eager to get to our mats where our instructor implored us to "awaken the sun with movement" and "breathe in the day's grace with each inhalation". I laughed, knowing that I am neither zen nor open-minded enough to fully participate in each activity. By the final day, I surprised myself by holding a position that I used to fall disastrously out of each time. Later that day we groaned in pain as we realized that our over-confidence had created a series of knots in muscles that hadn't been tested since the 4th grade gym class rope climb.

Realizing one afternoon that I had three hours to kill before the next meal in the dining hall, I excitedly put my running shoes on and hunted through J's bag for her MP3 player. I was not at all surprised to find exactly 2 songs programmed in, and I spent the next 40 minutes flying up and down the rocky path listening to a twangy Jennifer Nettles cover Matt Nathanson. On repeat. I had been hoping to get a fix of fall color on the jog, but the unseasonably warm September weather meant the leaves were stubbornly stuck on their August green. To entertain myself I imagined them being painted red orange and yellow as I bolted past. I am the autumnal paintbrush, I think as I wheeze down the path, except that I am covered in dust being kicked up from the road that has adhered itself to my sticky skin. When I reach a halfway point, I turn and run back, and see that the trees are perhaps even greener than they were before I tried to paint them with my wicked speed. It was worth a shot.

J the nature goddess tells me that her fellow camp counselors used to refuse to use flashlights on the trails at night, instead allowing their developed night vision and the light of the moon guide them. This seems like a romantic plan so I agree to it. We are so focused on staying on the path that we walk with our heads down, deep in conversation. By the grace of God, we look up to see a dark figure looming towards us and realize after a few confused seconds that it is a black bear (and not, as I posited, one of the larger women at the retreat). We clutch onto one another and stare it down, trying to discern the best protocol for a situation torn from someone else's book. Jenna finally says, "run" and so we do- bolting down the path without a hint of grace or self-consciousness. I refuse to look behind us, but have a vivid picture in my head of the bear bounding silently down the path until he reaches us the entire time. We flag down the car of our yoga instructor and dissolve into a fit of nervous giggles as we realize that we are alive in the back of a sedan and not in the hands of a hungry bear trying to gather the last of the summer berries before he curls down to wait out the winter. Once in the car, we creep down the road and see him meandering slowly down the trail and back into the woods where he quietly remains for the rest of the weekend. I wish I could say that we were able to scare off the mouse in our cabin in the same way, but he was a little more stubborn.

My birthday included a solid amount of nudity, as everyone's should. After some wine and a great concert by a talented Mpls artist, a group of us sat in a 200 degree wood-burning sauna placed right off the lake. I breathed in the overwhelmingly thick air for as long as I could muster and then, when my lungs feel like they might implode I leapt up and ran out, shouting "Coming Down!" to no one as I sprinted down the ramp and launched myself into the cool but inviting water. I stand in the bubble of warmth that I have created in the shallow lake, my upper body suddenly chilled as it becomes exposed to the dark sky. Women whoop and sing 80's classics loudly as they come down the ramp to join in on the fun.

On the drive home, our car is filled with both Taylor Swift sing-alongs and the sweet smell of our homemade peppermint soap drying in the backseat.

On Saturday, I broke unofficial camp protocol by reading all the text messages from well-wishing friends. One of my oldest and wisest friends wrote,"Welcome to 24. In my opinion, it's the best year yet."

If this is how it started, how could it not be?