Friday, August 1, 2008

Sunday Scribblings - "Do I Have To?" 8/3/08

The Sunday Scribblings prompt this week is "Do I have to?" The following post will eventually get to that if you follow along:

In the late 70s I was stationed with my family at Aviano AB, Italy. My oldest son, Rick, attended the Department of Defense elementary school there. This was back in the day that parents took an active role in their child’s education. Educators tell me that here in the 21st century that is not necessarily the case. As involved parents, we joined the Parent Teacher Association (PTA). I am fairly certain that organization now has a more politically correct name such as Gender Non-specific Nurturing, Enlightening, and Pedagogy Organization. We attended a meeting in which the election of officers for the upcoming school year was being held. I had heard that newly elected officers attended an annual PTA spring leadership conference in the German Bavarian mountain resort of Berchtesgaden. Nominations were taken from the floor. It was obvious to me that the only position that would gain me a trip to the Alps without any responsibility at all was Vice President. The lack of effort required for the office of vice president is evident in all organizations. This fact was most recently proven by Al Gore and Dick Chaney. Though only in my twenties, I was elected in a landslide over the very unpopular incumbent, whom everyone believed only accepted the position because of the all expenses paid leadership conference. Imagine that.

Upon arrival and registration at Berchtesgaden, there were sign-up sheets for the various seminars, focus groups, and activities that constituted the leadership conference. One that caught my eye was the Outdoor Leadership Adventure Experience. I grew up in the mountains of northern Idaho and camping, hiking, and even orienteering were very doable for me. After all, I had advanced through the ranks of the Boy Scouts all the way to Tenderfoot and could tie several knots and if anyone needed a tourniquet, I was their man. I proudly signed up. The most attractive aspect of this particular activity is that it conflicted with nearly every boring seminar I was anxious to avoid, such as the potentially riveting "Sharing Instructional Strategies: Bridging the Theory-to-Practice Gap".

It was springtime and the Alps were absolutely breathtaking with indescribable colors and the cleanest, thinnest, air my lungs had ever inhaled. We pitched tents somewhere on Mt Watzmann. I immediately was looked to as a leader as I had experience in this area. So far, so good.

Then everything began to unravel. I had underestimated how cold a spring night at nearly 8,000 feet could be. My sleeping bag was woefully inadequate. It occurred to me that in Idaho we camp in the summer and not on a glacier. It seemed I had just drifted off to sleep when our guides began beating drums and blowing horns to begin our day. Our first task was to “be invigorated” by taking a dip in a mountain stream.

For the first of several times these words came to mind, “do I have to?” It seemed that I did have to or risk losing my group leader status. I am certain that status was severely jeopardized when I screamed like a little girl as the icy water caused my manhood to retract and disappear. Having survived that peril it was time for our adventure to begin in earnest.

We hiked still higher and when we were at the end of a trail with a huge bottomless precipice before us, we stopped. Klaus and Hans (not their real names, but could have been), two of our guides, began rigging a series of ropes, lanyards, carabiners, and harnesses. My first thought was, “cool, they are going to demonstrate rappelling.” Then the title of the course I was on came to me. Watching Klaus and Hans would not really be an adventure or an experience now, would it? An adventure for Klaus and Hans, but not for our little group, who had suddenly all become very quiet, and moving as one organism away from the cliff. When preparations had been completed, the question was asked in early Schwarzenegger sounding English, “who vants to go first?” For the second time the words of this prompt echoed in my head. Suddenly a couple of hours of "Strategies for Teaching Reading & Writing Across the Curriculum" sounded pretty good to me. Then I realized that I had been volunteered by my fellow campers to go first. Before I knew it or had a chance to fake a seizure, Klaus and Hans were rigging me up and giving me all the classroom rappelling instruction that I was to receive. This ground-school consisted of four of five sentences of a mixture of broken English and high German that I understood very little of. In the following decade I would live in Germany and my German vocabulary would improve significantly, but at this time it was limited to "Ein gross Bier bitte." Nice to know but hard to apply as one is plummetting into an abyss. The parts I did comprehend sounded as though my teachers were casually minimizing the importance of knowing just what the hell I was doing. Luckily one of them went down on a rope next to me and told me to mimic what he did. I survived the descent, but never added rappelling to my list of hobbies.

We did several other activities during our experience, but after throwing myself off a mountain on a rope, they all seemed pretty tame.

This memory came to mind as my son, Josh, prepares to take his first parachute jump on Sunday. I will be watching, with my feet firmly on solid ground. His jump will be videoed and am an certain that in true Wainright fashion he will scream like a little girl.

13 comments:

linda may said...

I never want to have to do anything where my feet are not firmly planted on solid ground! But good on you for following through.

Michelle said...

Awesome pictures! Great story! Love it!

forgetfulone said...

That's what I call being an active parent! tee hee! I wouldn't ask, "do I have to?" I wouldn't be there! You're a brave, if not crazy, adventurous, man. Great post.

b said...

Great story...ah to be young again!!!

b

Inland Empire Girl said...

I am so afraid of heights I had to do deep breathing just reading this. I love the photos!

danni said...

beautiful photos and a wonderful story - sounds like you got more than your mooooney's worth --- better you than me!!!

tumblewords said...

Great story and photos!! I'm one to keep my feet on the ground, too!

raymond pert said...

I guess the Alps are more demanding than rappelling slag.

Lucy said...

The Myrtle beach blogging slump is over! This was so rich with humor and entertainment! Great story Rick!
hope u post the utube of Joshes scream, uh, I mean JUMP! haha

MarmiteToasty said...

I would have a go at most things BUT there is NO WAY anyone could get me to jump out of an aeroplane.... not even for money not EVEN for chcocolate.....

Love the photos......

x

ratanaong said...

That's great reflection! What wonderful journey you've had. Woa...parachute jumping, that should bring on the adrenaline rush for you and your son. All the best!

Redheels said...

I loved your story. I can hear your girly screams when I close my eyes. :)

You have done some amazing things in your life and I certainly enjoying reading about them.

You have a gift (your writing), but I don’t think you know it just yet!

Inland Empire Girl said...

Mom thanked you for the comment you made on my blog. She found it hard to believe it had been fifty years!!I hope you two can visit some time when you're back in the valley.