Friday, March 20, 2009

Danger is My Middle Name

When I was about ten years old, we went on a family vacation to Capitol Reef National Park. I don’t really remember anything about the trip except for one night spent at our campground.

My family didn’t typically stay in public campgrounds. We were the ‘pick a spot out in the boonies and squat behind a bush if you have to do your business’ kind of family. But this particular trip we stayed at a campground, probably because it was a busy time of year.

As I recall, it was around Easter, or at least in the spring. Our campground was right next to a large apricot orchard and the blossoms were in full bloom. Millions and millions of tiny pink and white blossoms dotted the trees until it looked like a grove of puffy clouds. These clouds of blossoms were contrasted by surrounding rust red cliffs and bright green grass. The smell was intoxicatingly delicious and sweet. A small river bordered by thick willows ran along a walking path on one side of the orchard. During the day while walking along the path, wildlife such as deer, squirrels, chipmunks and birds could be seen in great supply. As far as campgrounds go, this place was Valhalla.

When all us kids were younger, we had a camper. It was a bit crowded with five people, but it provided a convenient place to keep all our supplies and there were enough beds for everyone to sleep in. It was common practice on camping trips to play card games at the small dining table in the camper in the evenings when it got dark. One night after playing several games of Indian Poker, Rummy and Hearts, Dad asked us how brave we were.

Now, when Dad asks you if you’re brave, you know there’s a dare coming. Dad would tell ghost stories one night and dare you to walk away from the campfire and touch a rock 25 yards away on the next night. True priming.

On this particular night we didn't just have to walk 25 yards in the dark. We had to walk through the streetlamp lit campground, down the path and out to the orchard. To prove that we had gone all the way to the orchard, we were to bring back an apricot blossom. For some reason (probably middle-child syndrome) I always wanted to look like the coolest, bravest child, so I volunteered to go first. I put my purple jacket on and hopped down from the camper. I turned back and looked at the well-lit camper and my family members looking down at me, then confidently began to march across the pavement to the pathway.

The trail was only about 25 yards away from the camper and I stopped at the entrance to gaze at the eerie dark path. I paused for just a moment to consider turning back, but quickly decided against it as I'd surely be dubbed a 'wuss.' At that I broke into a full-out run. The thick willows that beautifully lined the river in the daytime were now terrifying. The rushing water from the river and rustling of the willows sounded like surging footfalls through the branches and twigs. Anything could be hiding in them, waiting to pounce and eat me alive. The trees in the orchard seemed miles away as my feet slapped the pavement in a steady, panicked rhythm. I ran at least 100 yards before I finally got to the first trees on the edge of the orchard. To my horror, the blossoms were higher up than I thought they'd be. With pure adrenaline rushing through my veins, I jumped as high as I could, reaching my arm high above my head, straining to grab anything I could get my hands on. To my surprise I tore off a handful of blossoms just before my feet landed hard on the damp grass. Without hesitation, I scrambled back to the pathway and sprinted back to the camper. I had made it, and I was alive.

The look of pride on my dad's face was priceless. I was the bravest kid in the world. Now, wanting some of my dad's praise for herself, Corinne volunteered to go next.

We all sat in the camper and waited and waited for Corinne to come back. Five minutes. Ten minutes. My dad eventually decided he'd better go out and check on her. We waited for another fifteen to twenty minutes before Dad and Corinne finally came back.

Dad said he'd started to walk down the path looking for Corinne and came upon a skunk. He had to wait there for several minutes for it to go away before he could move. Had I gone out there ten minutes later than I did, I surely would have startled this putrid creature in my frenzied race and come back with more than just a handful of apricot blossoms.

Dad eventually found Corinne on the other end of the campground. Apparently she'd found a way to get to the orchard by walking straight through the low-lit rows of campers in the campground. She successfully completed the task, but only by essentially cheating. Annie was too young to go out on her own and so by technical knock-out, I won. I was the pluckiest kid by far and no one was ever able to surpass the high bar I set that night for sheer bravery.


heidi said...

I was so excited to see a new post from you!

Beautiful imagery. And, a dramatic final half of the story that brings back to life the fearful inner child... and brave kid... in all of us.

Brought back camping memories. My dad didn't do "dares"--to give my mom a rest in the afternoons he'd give us a puppet show in the tent. Not much invitation to bravery but lots of hilarity! The puppets also gave us squeezes on the head & arm & furry kisses. I think we half thought they were "really" alive. I still have those sweet puppets. They don't interact with me as actively as I'd remembered.

It's Me said...

Sure, say I cheated...I don't remember breaking any stead fast rules! I like to think of it as ingenuity. Just proves I'm the brains of the family. Hee hee.