A Perfect Moment

by Matthew Peck

The following is an article that one of our longterm students, Matthew Peck, wrote. It is a reflection of a moment during his wilderness survival solo that he experienced at Twin Eagles Overnight Camp for Teens.

A Perfect Moment

I sat in the uncertain dusk under the broad arms of a cedar tree, a cold leaking through all the careful planning and preparation of the long hours before. I was on my solo, a 24 hour primitive survival challenge in the depths of the North Idaho forest, completely alone except for shorts, t-shirt, a knife, and a few wet stalks of dogbane.

If there was a sun beyond the rainy world of my challenge, it would be just setting. I thought of going back to the instructor's camp, trading failure for comfort and safety, or of taking the plunge into the uncertain night ahead and trusting that I would stay warm enough to wake up in the morning. I was terrified, but if I gave up now I would never forgive myself. I felt the few stalks of dogbane nearby and thought of all the hundreds of bow drill fires I'd made and the bright warm comfort of a fire. I wanted that security and comfort so badly. I started separating the fibers of the dogbane from the wood, the damp making it harder. I twined it anyway. Normally I wouldn't even think of trying a fire with a rope so thin and rough, but now it was all I had. After I attached it to the bow, I gathered all the other pieces of the kit: spindle, fireboard, and handhold.

I took a moment to say thank you to the fire, then I started. Soon the spindle escaped out of the shallow socket in the hand hold. I tried twice more, but it kept flying out. I grew more desperate, and more exhausted. On the fourth try I knew I had one more chance, my rope was fraying, and I was losing strength. My heart quickened, my breath was ragged and shallow as I tried again. Smoke! The smoke was a white curtain flowing from where the spindle rubbed on the fire board. One more stroke, two, five, and then...the spindle flew again. I sat back in utter defeat as I watched the last wisps of smoke drift off into the dark. Then, defying all logic, I saw a small wisp stay and form a brave, wavering line from the notch of my fireboard. I held my breath as I moved the board away with shaky hands and stared at the tiny glowing ember. But I was far from safe since I had forgotten to prepare a soft nest of cedar bark tinder to put the ember in.

I stumbled through the semi-dark to where I was keeping my supplies, and grabbed some soft red inner bark. I placed the coal in the nest and blew gently. The ember grew to a faint orange glow surrounded by thick white smoke, my breaths turned to strangled coughs as the smoke entered my lungs. I was too desperate to quit, but soon I had no choice as the bark proved to be too damp to ignite. I ran back for more and on my return I saw the little red glow inside its shrinking nest of cedar bark. I fell to my knees and gave one desperate blow.

The next moment my world was a bright flash of yellow, the trees around me danced with the light of small glorious flames. All of my fears, worries, and some of my hair, ignited and disappeared with the tinder bundle as it burst into flames, leaving behind a sense of enormous wonder and gratitude. It was a perfect moment, I had done the impossible and when it mattered most, I was the balloon that left the child's hand and learned to fly.

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