"For the last time, Shadow, you’re not getting out of it." Pony’s mood had gone from amused to exasperated as her friend tried to finagle her way out of the staff overnight camping trip. The walk down to breakfast had been anything but quiet.

"Come on, Pony; who’s going to stay and look after the horses? They need mucking, feeding, grooming…"

Her sentence was cut short by Pony’s retort. "You already know that Ranger Bill is taking care of the horses while we’re gone. Look, Shadow, the point of the trip isn’t the canoeing part. It’s about getting to know each other better and learning new things. I need you to come on the trip. I know people aren’t your forte and you’d rather spend five days stuck in an elevator with your horse than with a person, but you need to function as part of this staff, not as some renegade loner. This trip will help you, if you just give it a chance."

Shadow considered Pony’s words, and then resigned herself to going on the trip. "Fine, I’ll go. But, I want to clarify that there might be certain people I would pick over Samba to be stuck with in an elevator."

"Okay, good to know." Who? "I’m glad you’ve decided to be a team player and go on the trip."

"Well, I hope I don’t regret it."

"Lighten up, Shadow; it’s a camping trip, not the end of the world. And to sweeten the deal, I promise to teach you the camp’s ‘beaver song’ while we’re camping over at Fifth Echo."

"Beaver song? I’ve never heard of a beaver song. Three years at Oregon State and you haven’t told me you know a beaver song? Have you been holding out on me?"

Pony laughed, relieved that her friend’s mood had brightened and that she wasn’t going to have to resort to bribery.

She broke into a preview of the beaver song. "I’m a beaver, you’re a beaver, we’re a beaver all. And if you don’t believe me, I’ll do the beaver call."

"You’re kidding me? That’s the beaver song? Well…what’s the beaver call?"

"That, my friend, will have to wait for until tonight at Fifth Echo."

The staff members were gathered on the lawn, their personal gear packed in daypacks that were wrapped in large black trash bags. Copper had coordinated the group’s equipment: tarps, ropes, stoves and cooking gear and had also ordered food and beverages.

Shadow and Pony dislodged a green canoe from an overhead rafter. Crew who was one of the lifeguards, reached up and helped them pull it safely down. The three of them carried the canoe to the lawn and returned for another.

Once everything was assembled on the lawn, Pax directed the staff on how to pack the canoes. All the canoes, with the exception of two, would have gear packed in the center section. The remaining two canoes would have lifeguards sitting in the center section with their rescue equipment handy.

Boat assignments were handed out, putting novices with more experienced staff.

Shadow was pleased that she had been partnered with Pony, but a twinge of disappointment went through her as she realized that Scooter would be in a different canoe. "How do they decide who paddles the lifeguard canoes?" Shadow tried to keep her voice indifferent as she talked with Pony.

"They assign the strongest canoers to paddle them. That way if someone gets in trouble, they can quickly maneuver the boat to help out."

"Oh, I guess that makes sense." Shadow noted that Crew and Spike were assigned to paddle Scooter's canoe. Pepper and Jo would be paddling Pax in the other lifeguard boat.

Scooter’s canoe was the first to be loaded. Crew took the bow and Spike sat in the stern with Scooter in the middle, a cushion the only thing separating her body from the bottom of the boat. They paddled out towards the log boom and waited for the rest of the canoes to be loaded and launched. Pax’s was the last of the twenty canoes to launch, and as her boat entered the water, Scooter’s lead boat headed towards their destination.

Sitting in the front of her canoe, Shadow’s frustration level grew with each stroke. Damn boat, why won’t you go where I want you to go? She noticed that two other canoes had passed her as she struggled to control her canoe’s direction.

"Shadow, " Pony’s voice came from the rear of the canoe, "I hope you’re not trying to steer the canoe. That’s what the stern does."

Great, now she tells me.

"Well then, what am I supposed to do?"

"Just keep paddling and let me steer. Enjoy the scenery, pretend you are having a good time."

Pretend you’re having a good time. Her inner voice mocked Pony’s phrase. Easy for you to say, Pal. You don’t have to worry about falling in the water and drowning. She looked down to make sure her PFD was correctly fitted. So I may not drown, but I sure as hell don’t want to need rescuing. Okay, paddle, don’t steer, just paddle. J stroke, that’s it, nice and easy. Enjoy the scenery. Her eyes landed on her favorite lifeguard. Yeah, I’ll just enjoy the scenery.

To Shadow’s surprise, once she stopped trying to steer the boat, it started going in the right direction. Soon, she and Pony were gaining speed and passing some of the slower canoes.

Most of the canoes were heading straight across the bay towards Fifth Echo. The two lifeguard canoes, however, were meandering back and forth between all the canoes. One wayward canoe had ended up in the bushes of the bank not far from camp. Pax was the first to reach the struggling canoers and help get them back on course.

Scooter’s canoe had gone to the outside of the group. It’s like being a shepherd keeping the flock together. Actually it’s more like herding cats.

Another powerboat approached and slowed as the driver saw the group. The boat turned and headed away, but the wake from behind the motor made a ripple effect of waves that in turn caused the canoes to bob along the rough surface.

Some of the staff whooped and rocked their canoes as if riding white water rafts. Others, including Shadow, felt a small ball of panic rise within them. "Hang on, Buddy." Pony encouraged Shadow. "It’ll pass." Soon the waves and the rocking subsided and they were again paddling on smooth waters.

They reached Fifth Echo without any other problems. The staff unpacked their boats and then carried the gear up the small hill to the plateau where they would be camping.

Pepper called the staff members together for a quick meeting. They sat in a semi-circle waiting for directions.

Spike grabbed her clipboard then addressed the group. "Way to go everyone! Good job getting to Fifth Echo. Now the real fun begins. I‘ve broken you up into work groups. At camp, they are called ‘kaper groups’. Each group will be responsible for either cooking or cleaning up one meal for the entire staff. You’ll also be given another cleaning assignment before we leave tomorrow. But the first thing we’re gonna do is learn how to build shelters. Once Pepper teaches you the basics, your kaper group will take two tarps and whatever else you decide to use, and go build a shelter for tonight. Okay, the kaper groups are…."

Once Spike finished, Pepper quickly went over the basics of building a good shelter. Copper handed out the tarps and ropes, and reminded each group that it had one hour to construct the shelter.

Crew, Shadow, SheRa, Koko and Doodle, dubbed the Bear Group, scouted out some nearby bushes and determined that the branches were strong enough have ropes tied to them. Doodle quickly tied a rope around one branch and secured it with her favorite knot, two half hitches. SheRa took the other end and did the same to another bush that was about fifteen feet away. Once the line was taut, they placed the large tarp over the rope, and then worked to secure the tarp in place. Another tarp was laid on the ground under the first tarp so staff could put their sleeping bags on it for the night.

The Raccoon Group was made up of Scooter, Pepper, Jo, Lemme and Blinky. They grabbed two canoes and laid them on their sides so the boat’s frames could serve as their structural support. They laid a tarp on the ground and secured another tarp over the canoes. Satisfied with their project, they went and watched other groups work.

"Hey, if your group is done with your shelter, you can have lunch prep duty." Copper approached the Raccoon Group.

"Sounds good to me." Jo smiled, knowing that if they cooked lunch they would be done with meal duty for the rest of the trip.

As they walked towards the food prep area, the camp powerboat approached the dock. Scooter went down to the dock to meet Silver and Koko, who had brought the boat over in case there was an emergency and they needed to get someone back to camp quickly.

Once lunch was done and cleaned up, Silver gathered the staff together and handed out the itinerary. "Okay, here’s the schedule for the rest of today and tomorrow." "You will notice a number at the top of your sheet; that is the sleeping group that you are assigned to."

Scooter glanced down at her sheet. Okay, group three. Hope it’s a fun group. She glanced at Pax who flashed three fingers at her. Scooter smiled and held up three fingers to her friend.

Silver pointed to each shelter and numbered them from shelter one to shelter eight. "You will have five people sleeping in your shelter, so be prepared to have your space invaded a little bit."

Shadow grimaced at the thought of being crowded in. Well, I hope group three doesn’t mind if I sleep on the outside of the shelter. She noticed shelter three was built using canoes. Damn, can’t even escape the boats at night.

Silver continued, "You have one hour of free time to get your gear into your shelter and your sleeping bags rolled out. Once the hour is up, let’s meet back here for group building activities. Oh, and if you haven’t discovered the biffy yet, it is at the top of that switchback trail." She pointed to a hill behind the group. "See you in an hour."

Everyone gathered their belongings and began moved their gear. Pax, Scooter and Crew grabbed their backpacks and sleeping bags and walked towards their assigned shelter.

"Wow, we’ve got a great shelter group."

"That’s great, Pony, but I’m sleeping outside, so you’ll have a little extra space."
"Shadow, don’t do that. Come on, there’s plenty of room. We won’t make you sleep in the middle, okay?"

Shadow weighed her options carefully. "Pony, I don’t know…."

Scooter looked up as the wranglers approached. Her eyes lit up when she realized that they would all be sharing a sleeping shelter. After a moment’s hesitation, she shyly asked Shadow if she could sleep next to her.

"I know it’s silly, but I would feel a lot safer knowing you were right there." Green eyes glanced up as a blush covered the lifeguard’s face.

Shadow looked down and shifted from foot to foot. "Can I have the outside?"

"Of course, no problem. Look, you can sleep right here and I’ll just sleep next to you and I won’t crowd you or anything, I just want to feel safe and I can do that if you’re there. But you won’t even know I’m next to you. Well, unless I need to use the biffy in the middle of the night, but then I’d need a buddy, so you would have to get up and go with me anyhow. But I promise to, uh, go before I lay down so I won’t have to get up in the middle of the night. So you won’t have to worry about that and you can just get a good night’s sleep." She finished the one sided discussion in a single breath, not even noticing the smile that had crept up and threatened to widen on Shadow’s face.

"I get the point, Scooter. Now can I roll out my sleeping bag?"

"Oh! Yes, of course." She softly laughed as the wrangler returned her smile.

Shadow rolled out her bag, putting it as close to the outer edge as she could. Scooter unrolled her bag and placed it as close to Shadow’s as she could without it touching. Good night’s sleep, here I come.

An hour later, the staff was sitting on the ground, ready for the group building activities that had been planned for them.

Spike stood and got the group’s attention. "Our first activity is called Human Bingo. Yesterday at lunch I asked each of you write down one interesting and unique fact about yourself and requested that you not share it with anyone. I’ve taken all of your answers and have formed a bingo board with your responses. Your job is to match each person with their fact, then have them initial their square on the board. The first staff member to complete the activity will get a small prize."

Shadow looked over the paper she had been handed. Has been through all fifty states, has eaten a worm on a dare, once shaved off all her hair, can burp the entire alphabet, worked in the Peace Corp, writes poetry, one foot is a size larger than the other…who are these people? She found her own entry: ‘Has seventeen nieces and nephews’. Boring.

The staff milled around, trying to figure out who was who.

Crew approached the wrangler first. "Are you the one who can burp the alphabet?"

Shadow laughed. "Nope, not me. Though I do a decent burp."

"Oh yeah? Do it." The challenge was given.

Shadow looked around, making sure she wasn’t being watched. Then she let out a loud belch.

All of the staff in her immediate vicinity stopped what they were doing and stared at the wrangler. Her face turned five shades of red as she realized that most of the staff had heard.

"I give it a six for loudness, but only a four for length." Scooter yelled. This broke the tension and most of the staff laughed then returned to their bingo cards.

Thanks, Scooter. I owe ya big.

Crew was still doubled over with laughter and Shadow had to playfully slap her shoulder to get the tall blond lifeguard to gain control of herself.

"Oh, Shadow, that was beautiful. First beaver pride, then an excellent burp. I do think we are going to be friends this summer."

"Well, with friends like you…."

Koko was the first to complete her board. She read each trivia fact out loud to the group. "Let’s see, Spike has been through all fifty states, Crew once shaved off all her hair, Pony has eaten a worm on a dare, Shadow has seventeen nieces and nephews, and Pax can burp the entire alphabet." She continued through the entire list until all the staff had been mentioned, including Scooter, who had lettered in three sports in high school.

Spike pulled an envelope off of her clipboard. "Congratulations, Koko, you win a five dollar gift certificate to Taco Time. Okay, now on to more of Pepper’s most excellent activities."

Pepper stood in front of the group. "I need eight volunteers to demonstrate the first activity."

Staff members’ hands were raised and eight were selected. Pepper arranged them so that seven formed a small circle around Crew.

"This activity is called Wind in the Willows. The people in circle will put their arms up; elbows bent so their palms face out about shoulder’s height. When Crew gives the command ‘Ready’, the group will respond ‘Ready’. Crew will then say ‘Falling’ and the group will respond ‘Fall away’. At that point, Crew is going to stand with her knees straight, but not locked. She will cross her arms over her chest and close her eyes. Then, she will gently fall towards one of the staff in the circle. That person will catch her and gently push her towards someone else. Crew needs to stay as stiff as possible and just trust the group to catch her and control her movements."

Shadow watched with nervous interest as the commands were given, Crew closed her eyes and fell towards Koko. The nurse gently caught Crew at her shoulders and softly pushed her away.

Crew seems like an alright person. The tall lifeguard had short blond hair and pale blue eyes. Her arm muscles were well defined, testifying to hours of rowing crew for her college team. Shadow had enjoyed Crew’s humorous remarks as their Bear Group had built their shelter, and was not at all surprised when Crew volunteered to be the human guinea pig for the activity. She seems to just attract people. Must be nice to be naturally outgoing.

The demonstration ended and the staff applauded.

"Now, it is time for you all to participate. I need you to get into groups of eight. One person volunteer to be first in the center, then rotate around so everyone gets a turn."

Shadow looked around, desperate to find people she knew and would be somewhat comfortable with. Crew found her first, and pulled her over to a group.

Scooter found herself in a group of staff members that she did not know very well. Five of the seven were new staff and the other two were former campers turned kitchen aides. They all looked to her for leadership.

"I guess I’ll go first if that’s okay with everybody." Seven heads nodded enthusiastically at her. "Okay, here we go."

She closed her eyes and called out the commands to the group. She let her body lean backwards until she felt her body being caught and gently pushed away.

Shadow was in a group of eight staff members, that included Crew, Doodle and Jo. Five other staff had been in the center before she was confident enough to volunteer.

She stood and faced Crew, who nodded at her and smiled. Ok, Buddy, here goes nothing. She closed her eyes, called the commands, and then let her body fall forwards into Crew’s waiting hands. Crew gently pushed her to the left, and Shadow relaxed and let the group move her about at will.

Once everybody had a chance, Pepper called the group together again.
The next activity is Trust Falls. This time I need two volunteers."

Pax and Pony raised their hands.

"They will demonstrate how Trust Falls are done. Pony will stand behind Pax; her arms will be the same as they were in the Wind in the Willows activity. Palms up, elbows bent, and this time she will put one leg behind her to help with her balance. Pax will stand straight up, with her arms crossed over her chest, knees straight. She gives the ‘Ready’ command, followed by the ‘Falling’ command. Once Pony responds ‘Fall away’ Pax falls backwards and Pony catches her. The first time, stand only a bit behind the faller, but as the trust between you and your partner builds, you can step back and let her fall further before you catch her."

Pax and Pony demonstrated four times, each time the distance of the fall increased. On the last fall, Pax nearly hit the ground before Pony caught her.

"Great job, guys, thanks. Okay, find a partner about your same height and practice your Trust Falls."

The staff broke off into partners and practiced their falls. As their confidence in each other grew, some of the staff members took greater risks in their falls. Pony stood behind Shadow and encouraged her to try a higher risk fall. "You know I’ll catch you, Friend. Trust me and fall."

Shit, shit, shit. Ok, you can do this Shadow. Its just Pony behind you.

Shadow took a deep breath and called the commands. She felt her stomach leap into her throat as she fell back. Pony caught her, as promised, and helped her back to an upright position. "Way to go, Shad, I know that wasn’t easy for you."

Pepper brought the staff together again. "Okay, I need seven people." Scooter, Pax, Crew, Doodle, Shadow, Pony, and Silver were called on to be the demonstration group.

"Scooter, are you willing to be the one who falls?" Scooter gave a small smile and nodded.

"Great, hop up on the picnic table then. The other six of you, make two lines facing each other. You will put your arms straight out in front of you and when Scooter gives the commands, she will then fall backwards from the picnic table into your arms. Your job is to catch her."

Scooter stood at the end of the picnic table, her back to the group that would be catching her. She crossed her arms over her chest, gave the command signals, and then fell backwards into their arms. Once she was laying safely in their grasp, she opened her eyes and immediately sought out Shadow’s gaze. "Thank you." She said to the group, her eyes never leaving the wrangler’s.

"Let’s leave this group together, everyone gets a chance to do the falling. The rest of the staff form groups of seven and do your group Trust Falls." Pepper gave the instructions and walked around to make sure the activity was done safely.

"Well, what do ya think, Pep?" Silver sat next to her assistant camp director who was balancing her dinner plate on one knee.

"Overall, the staff did well. I have a couple of concerns, but let’s see how tonight goes."

"I was watching, too. I’m interested in seeing if our concerns are similar. Let’s chat as soon as we get back to camp tomorrow. If we need to let anyone go from their job, I’d just as soon do it tomorrow before the staff break."

"Sounds good, Silver. Thanks for your support today."

"Anytime, my friend, anytime."

The dinner clean up group finished their chores as the fire building group worked on gathering materials for their campfire. Once it was near dark, the fire would be lit, and staff would be assigned one-half hour shifts throughout the night to keep the fire burning. It was another group building activity, this time done in pairs. The hour together would test how well they do under difficult circumstances, which were common in a camp setting.

The final group activity of the evening took place under Pepper’s direction. The staff formed a circle with their shoulders touching. Once everyone was in the circle, each turned to her right, so they were all facing the next person’s backside. They then took a giant step towards the center of the circle, making the circle significantly smaller.

"Put your hands on the shoulders or waist of the person in front of you." All the staff did as Pepper instructed. "On three, I want you to very slowly and very gently bend your knees and sit on the lap of the person behind you."

Shadow would have been more concerned about the fact that she was going to sit in a virtual stranger’s lap had it not been for the fact that Scooter was about to sit on her. She focused on the blond, wanting to ensure that she didn’t let her down-literally.

The group counted to three, then sat, and for a brief moment, the lap sit held.

But, as often happens, someone’s balance was off and it caused a domino effect, collapsing the circle. The point of the activity was not to have a stable lap sit, but rather to work as a team to briefly accomplish a difficult task.

"Great job, everyone. You have free time until 9pm, when we’ll have a campfire program and hand out tonight’s fire-watch schedule. Make sure to put on a couple more layers of clothes before you come back. Once the sun goes down, it gets pretty chilly."

Shadow headed out to the farthest area of the campground, needing time to regain her emotional balance. She had never been the touchy-feely type, except with her family who was a very physically demonstrative bunch. All this physical contact was overwhelming her and she needed a break.

An hour later, as the sun was setting across the bay, she went back to the shelter to grab a sweatshirt and waterbottle.

Scooter was asleep in the shelter. She had waited there for Shadow to return. Seeing the tall woman walk off after the group was dismissed made her worry that she had done something to upset her friend.

Shadow looked in and saw that Scooter was asleep. She was torn, as she needed her sweatshirt, but she didn’t want to disturb the lifeguard who had worked hard over the past few days and deserved a good nap.

I’ll grab the stuff later; let her sleep. She turned to leave, but heard the rustling of Scooter’s nylon sleeping bag.


Scooter stretched her arms over her head, still trying to shake off the last bit of sleepiness. As she stretched, her shirt came untucked and exposed part of her stomach.

Shadow glanced down and was shocked to see the scar that crossed the lifeguard’s abdomen. She looked in Scooter’s eyes, a question on the tip of her tongue.

Scooter immediately realized that her secret had been exposed and she quickly sat up and tucked her shirt back into her shorts. Damn it, what was I thinking? I wasn’t thinking, that’s the problem.

She got out of the shelter as fast as possible, leaving Shadow behind to wonder what the hell happened.

Your feedback is most welcome. Drop me a quick note at fcbarnes3@yahoo.com

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