The Owl and the Pussycat

I recently took a vacation, a family vacation, down the Salmon River (also known as The River of No Return). Seven days, five boats, nineteen people and one dog. Sleeping on the beach, sunburns and bee stings, white water, cooking over a fire, pooping in a bucket: it may not sound like the most deluxe vacation – but the way my family does it – it really, really is. We don’t use an outfitter – gear is cobbled together from friends and family – the tents, the coolers, countless cases of beer, the inflatable kayaks, the sleeping bags – we collaborate on food and drink responsibilities – plan games, assign teams and duties – and take off down the river – away from all responsibility, no phones, no computers, no wallets – to tread as lightly as possible in the land of osprey, bald eagle, bighorn sheep, rattlesnake and bear.

Photo by Copper Chadwick

We walk a fine line between camping and glamping. Everyone is still in charge of setting up his or her own tent (if they want to use a tent), helping with the dishes and taking a turn setting up the toilet. But, three nights out of six there is French champagne, hand-whipped cream with dessert, and at least two evenings I ordered, from our favorite bartender, a Manhattan, with two maraschino cherries. The food is excellent - high quality meats grilled to juicy perfection, pineapples, avocados, grapes (two colors), baguettes with brie and arugula for lunch, chocolate cake perfectly cooked in a Dutch oven over hot coals. There is a party team, costumes required, to organize bocce ball tournaments and glow-in-the-dark Frisbee,  assemble the water slide out of paco pads, and referee the leg wrestling competition. Should you need a tarot card reading, I am happy to oblige.  

It is difficult to convey exactly how complicated planning and executing a trip like this is, and how important the role of each and every person. I have three siblings, two sisters and a brother. Each of them has a long term (10+ years) partner who is as crucial to the clockworks as those that share my blood. Months in advance, responsibilities are assigned, list after list is made, things must be gathered, sorted, coordinated, distributed, and then packed appropriately for fragility, accessibility, temperature. Prior to launch, boats have to be inflated and rigged to hold all of the gear, plus passengers, to safely transport them down the lazy river that regularly conjures up Class 4 rapids. Once we're on the way, each lunchtime and again at camp for the night, a fire line is formed to pass the gear, dry bags, tables, chairs, the grill, tents, coolers, paco pads, up onto the beach, to be unpacked and sorted to the appropriate location. Who will set up the bar? Who will cook the steaks? Who will open the wine? Who will entertain with funny stories and participate in camp site antics? Jokes must be told, songs must be sung, and someone should hunt and whittle the sticks for toasting marshmallows.

Now, if you are not a friendly, cooperative, patient person with a easy going sense of humor, you will not enjoy, nor survive, this intimate cohabitation. Lucky for me, and my family, the partners (and frankly, the friends) that my siblings have chosen all bring immense talent and goodwill to each and every travel endeavor. They all have skills and personalities that greatly enhance and elaborate on our family dynamic. Which brings me to my point. I am not just describing to you this super fun amazing vacation, to make you jealous, although, should you have any sense at all, you should be jealous. Instead, it's because I had a realization, on this trip, about just how important a partner is, and who that partner is, not just for me as an individual, but for an entire family. Very simply, the wrong person could ruin everything: the collective experience, the vacations, the dinners, the events, the day-to-day lives. While this isn't exactly something new that I've started thinking about, when I think about a partner  for myself, choosing someone in regards to my family has often been pretty low on my considerations. Taking this rafting trip made it crystal clear: my siblings have made amazing choices with their partners, and next time I think about dating someone, I need to think seriously about how they fit in my family dynamic. I will ask myself: what does this man bring to the table? What can he do? How does he contribute?

Is he enthusiastic for an adventure? Is he willing to share his adventure with many and more? Does he own his own raft? A good pair of boots? How about a beater truck to haul gear and dogs? Will he put others before himself? Is he handy? Can he jimmy-rig something with bits of rope, a knife, an old bucket? Can he cook over a campfire; does he know how to smoke the salmon or shuck the corn? Does he know the words to at least a couple good sing-a-long songs? Does he play the ukulele or can he recite one of Shakespeare's sonnets? Does he hunt or fish or ski or have an in on the best wilderness yurt? Is he willing to cliff jump and swim the rapids? Does he know what poison ivy looks like? Or a wild raspberry bush? Morels? Can he make a mean martini? Know the rules to a drinking game? A card game? Can he lift 40 lbs. or more?  Is he willing to get in the thick of it - deep down in the thick of my crazy kooky family? And other duties as assigned?