This isn’t exactly a happy memory, but rather a significant one. A memory which is precious to me, which I cherish. I am with my sister, who is ten years older then me. We have a peculiar relationship-probably in great part due to this age difference. But this odd relationship is also explained, in my view, by not having grown up together. She left our shared home every few years to live with her father, who lived in the U.S. Meaning, the organic development and growth of a sibling relationship was disjointed by our intermittent separation and age difference. Nevertheless, and perhaps even more so due to this distance, I looked up to her with reverence.
For my 12th birthday, my sister invited me for a 10 day hike in the Adirondacks. By then, my sibling, who would have been 22 or 23, had been working for some time already for Outward Bound, an experiential outdoor education initiative. In other words, she really knew what she was doing in terms of planning such a backpacking/hiking trip. I was so in awe of her outdoor adventuring skills, and continue to be today.
All-in-all I had a good time on our trip. It was challenging. For the most part though, the challenge seemed surmountable with hard work and determination. There were also incredibly sweet moments. For example, I remember my sister reading Daughters of Copper Woman to me while I fell asleep. I feel nostalgic every time I see that book on a shelf.
As for some of those aforementioned challenges, there were many and they relate to, and expand on, my first sentence (“This isn’t exactly a happy memory, but rather a significant one”). I remember one night in particular when we realized we had forgotten 1 or 2 tupperware containers-empty, albeit with some food residue from our meals-on the picnic table, but our bear hang was already up. We decided to to leave them out and go to bed, as we were exhausted from a long day of trekking. Unfortunately, I woke up in the middle of the night, desperately needing to pee. As I was slowly pulling myself out of groggy wakefulness and my hand-me-down sleeping bag, I heard strange noises. There was something out-there, kicking around the plastic containers. I don’t know how exactly I knew the receptacles were involved. Something about the distinctive thud-sounds of plastic being thrown about. Half panic-stricken (I am twelve and mostly alone in the woods imagining a bear, feet away from my tent), I also recall this deep sense of security. In the tent, amid the strange animal sounds, my sister is sleeping beside me. I feel deeply that with my sister near-by nothing truly terrible can befall me. I still didn’t go out to pee though. I spent a few agonizing minutes struggling with my desperate need to urinate before falling soundly asleep again.
In the morning, I ran out of the tent to relieve my aching bladder. It was pure delight. I know you know that feeling. Moments later, we found the tupperware items in question, meters away from the camp-site, mostly intact. “Racoons, probably” intoned my sister-and I fully trusted her chill, 22-year-old-sisterly-wisdom. Everything was ok, it wasn’t even bears, it was probably just racoons.
Throughout our sisterly trip, there were a number of similar challenges of a lighter nature. More significant in my mind, however, is this one challenge my sister and I never fail to discuss when recollecting our adventure. During our hike, I discovered a new allergy to black-fly bites. Adirondaks backcountry is swarming with them, especially during the late summer-early autumn months. As we hiked, we were being devoured, constantly, by these bugs. The first days of this, the challenge consisted of a mental commitment, focusing on enjoying myself rather then allowing small annoyances take over. However, over the next few days, I started to feel congested, overly itchy and hot. I remember thinking I might have a fever. That’s about the time my sister began feeding me a daily and nightly regimen of Benadryl. This seemed to alleviate my symptoms significantly. Overtime, I noticed bites on my arms and legs that were abnormally big. I commented on this and my sister retorted that I probably had a black-fly allergy. She was right.
My mental focus then turned to pig-headedness: I was determined not to embarrass myself in front of my oh-so-cool and oh-so-beloved sister. I did not want to behave like a “big baby” regardless of how crummy I felt. My sister must have gathered some of this as she proposed we cut our hiking trip a bit short, turning around before our final, day-trip loop. She managed to make it sound not like giving-up but more so, a choice for self-care and safety purposes. I agreed and we turned around the next day.
My sister was so calm about it all, that I had a big surprise when, at the trail pull-out, I went to the washroom and saw my face in the mirror. It was puffy with a dozen or more swollen, purple-hued, elongated bites disfiguring me to the point that I barely recognized myself. I felt instantaneously validated in my previous crankiness and proud of how “tough” I had been. There was no way she thought I had been wimpy-and, I better understood why she had suggested we turn around a bit early. After the mirror incident she even explained that she had played it cool in order not to distress me further then was necessary-but made me promise not to tell our mother about the intensity of this allergic reaction. This was going to be our secret. I liked having secrets with my big sister.
Writing this down, I realize who much I can learn from my twelve year-old self and how happiness can be found in the strangest of places. This adventure is also a reminder that if you love something early-on and despite it involving unpleasantness (i.e. hiking)-it’s a sure-thing to invest in for the future. That, and, sisterhood is a strange, mysterious and wondrous thing.