*in the wilderness

by applehearted

The Girl Scouts kicked me out when I was ten. Or rather, it was suggested to my mother that I might not be cut out for scouting. This despite my years of devotion, from Brownie to full on Scout. Despite selling all those cookies and calendars (door to door I might add, as this was the ’80s and there was “Stranger Danger” but apparently not neighbor danger). They booted me without ceremony. I’d  hoped to have a de-scouting whereby they systematically rip badges from my sash as if to say: “now you no longer have proof of your ability to ride English!” You see in those days, the GS were devoted to the art of training girls to know practical things like how to ride a horse in a style other than Western. We also learned how to make something called a “sit-upon” which sounds rather self explanatory, except for the fact that it requires all sorts of things you’d never have with you in a situation where you’d need something waterproof to sit upon. Unless you carry waterproof shelf liner/wallpaper, a hole punch, a daily newspaper, and yarn on your person with regularity. You will need a lot of yarn if you’re a GS, not only for your sit-upons but for all those gods eyes you’ll end up making for reasons which are never explained to you, but which will make you start to ponder which god’s eyes you are making. Google tells me this is a Native American craft (and quite lovely when done skillfully) which was never relayed to us. The fact that it was never relayed to us isn’t surprising considering the GS of the USA are all about the big G god*, and the fact that we were in Virginia, where our nation’s history began with the Native people saying: “here, have our stuff, we’ll make do….”

Anyhoo, back to my tale of scouting woe. It all ended with one incident.
Our troupe took a day trip to the National Aquarium in Baltimore. Fascinating place, you really should go. The whale skeleton suspended from the ceiling makes me think of the Calder hanging in the East building of the NGA. I wonder if anyone else makes that association? Or the one I make between “A Spoon Full of Sugar” and the theme which accompanies Darth Vader.

The aquarium is large, even by adult standards, huge when you’re ten. So if perchance you suddenly found yourself and a friend separated from your group in such a place, and you also happened to be ten, you might have freaked out a little. In this moment of freaking out, you and your friend might break the cardinal rule of scouting when it comes to being lost: stay where you are. Now I must say that when considering this rule, my child mind had always added: (in the wilderness). To me it made sense to stay put if lost in the wilderness, being that you generally won’t come across someone who might help you. Yet when it came to city life, with its landmarks and people willing to help ten year olds, staying put seemed like the last thing we should do. The others were simply getting further away! Here’s the thing though, the aquarium is like an indoor wilderness. So you see how easy it is to get wrapped up in this trick of logic.

I won’t claim that we came by our dilemma honestly. We were throwing beads at a bald man’s head in the ray and skate exhibit. We marveled at the fact the he didn’t notice beads hitting his bald head. We marveled at the rays and skates too but that’s not what got us into trouble. When we ran out of beads, we looked around and our group had vanished. Now here is where I lay a touch of the blame on someone other than my ten year old self. I realize that my friend and I had the responsibility to remain where we were once we discovered we were lost; however I think there might have been a greater responsibility on the part of our chaperon, to perhaps do a head count and make certain she was leaving with the same number of ten year old girls as when she arrived.  That’s just me, but yes let’s go ahead and blame the children. What followed was an epic adventure. My friend and I trekked back through the Amazon Rainforest, the darkest depths of the deep sea with its flashy fish, and finally to the shark tanks where we were distracted from our mission by the Sawfish. We have the Sawfish to thank for our reunion with the troupe.

If you are presently imagining a tearful and joyous reunion filled with hugs and comfort, please stop. Instead of relief and concern, our troupe leader – possibly the angriest woman I have met to date, a woman who always referred to herself in the third person, a woman whose eyes bulged in their resting state, and bulged so much further when angry that a certain ten year old could not help but wonder just how much anger it would take before her head felt compelled to evict them completely; this leader of young girls stormed towards us with such rage that I fully expected to be slapped. I had never been slapped. My parents aren’t followers of the “spare the rod, spoil the child” school of discipline. I don’t think I flinched, which made She of the Bulging Eyes all the more furious. I don’t even remember what she said, though I assume the majority of her anger was self directed (if she was indeed capable of self reflection) because oh the holy hell that would have reigned down upon that woman if she’d returned two scouts short. The other mothers implored her to stop yelling, reminding her that we were indeed children and had likely been terrified to find ourselves separated from the group. She paused a moment to calm herself and said: “Yes, I’m sure they were afraid, but they should know by now that if they’re lost, they are supposed to stay where they are!”

I have little doubt that upon hearing those words, my ten year old brain added the caveat: (in the wilderness).

So out I went. I didn’t leave empty handed, I learned how to canoe, how to make a hobo stove (their term, not mine) so if I ever find myself stranded in the wilderness with a coffee can, an empty tuna can, cardboard, wax for melting, a wick and something to spark a flame, I can make some really under-cooked French Toast, which I can then share with my rescuers should escape by canoe prove impossible and I deem it necessary to stay where I am.

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