By Aidan Walters
Hey everyone, just a little bit of context before I begin. I wrote this speech sitting on the cliffs of Eustache with my feet dangling over the edge. There’s something special about edges, up there you can see the changing wind and it feels like you’re on the cusp of something. Of discovery. All learning happens of the edge. I hope I can bring a little bit of that feeling here tonight - that feeling of expectant wonder - that there is something to be discovered. Anyway, on to the speech.
Being here right now is wonderful. I mean, look around; out of the billions of people who’ve ever lived on Earth, it’s remarkable that this specific group of individuals are together at this place at this time. Truly. Think about how many things had to happen for us to all be together. And though we could trace the causes back forever, the real interesting question is: why?
Let me start with a story. During first half this summer I got to take out a tour de park trip and spent some time on the infamous Nipissing River. The Nip is not all that bad, there’s pretty grass, pretty alders and pretty lift-overs. Those who have done it will understand, and I hope everyone gets the chance to at some point. But the important part of the trip was that I got to take a trip of predominately rookie campers to a place that is mentally taxing. I got to rediscover why camp is so special. through the eyes of kids who didn’t yet understand. I’ll tell you what I noticed, firstly, everything took on a new semblance of wonder. They’d never seen a beaver or a moose before and both of those were awe-inspiring. River rapids held a confusing yet majestic power, and the smell of the flowers through Long Marsh were sweet and wonderful. For me, reliving this through their eyes brought me back to the first times I’d ever seen the natural beauty of Algonquin Park, that for some reason had been lost through my time at camp. Next, I noticed how uncomfortable they were with uncertainties. I think I understand now why the tradition of not answering camper questions has stuck around so long: they break the flow of the trip, the flow of the story. You see, by telling everyone what time it is, what’s for lunch and how long the next portage is, you remove them from the present moment, that present moment where they’ll be able to enjoy the sight of a moose, the majesty of a rapid or the sweet smell of flowers.
Uncertainty is one of the components that make the canoe trip so special. It’s much like reading a book. When you begin, you know that there will be a story with a beginning, an end and a premise, but you don’t flip 20 pages ahead to see where the character will be, instead you engross yourself in the moment with that character and discover the story as they do. Knowing too much about a story ruins the point of telling it. If you’re just looking forward to the next meal on trip, you’re losing hours of precious time in between them. If you’re thinking about the length of the next portage, then you’re not enjoying the current paddle session. And with both, you’re creating an unnecessary tension. The next portage being 3km long doesn’t change the fact that you’re going to walk it and it’s going to be fine. Knowing when the next meal is isn’t going to help you at all, it’s just going to make the next hours more difficult as you anticipate. And so I guess I realized that there is no such thing as bad on a canoe trip, that 3km isn’t bad, just hard. And in roughly an hour and a half, it’ll be over and you won’t remember how much it hurt to carry your pack or boat, not to mention that it probably wasn’t all that bad in the first place. By setting expectations we are deciding whether things are good or bad and so I think by not setting them - ideally through not knowing - we can just do what is needed without making our experience unnecessarily difficult. And even further, those hard moments are what you’re going to look back on and tell stories about, so how can they really be bad?
So really what I learned from these rookies was that no matter how many times you’ve seen alders stretching over a river, or the tall pines native to Algonquin, they’re still just as magical. The only thing making them less so is your perception. They taught me to let go a little more, I don’t need to always know the time or have a plan for the next few hours regarding food. I’ll know when it’s time to eat and I’ll know when it’s time to break. Those come naturally. They taught me that it’s really just me deciding that portages will be difficult that makes them difficult. Most of all though, they helped me rediscover why canoe tripping has always been so special to me. It’s special not for any reason other than it is a canoe trip. It has a start, it has an end and it has a premise - we get to fill in the blanks if we can just let go a little and let the story grow around us.
And so I want to leave you with a bit of a message today: Let go just a little more and trust that everything will turn out fine. It will. The right thing to do will always present itself in due time. There is no need to force it. You’re part of a story and what a coincidence it is that we all get to be a part of the same one here at Pathfinder. Make sure it’s a story worth retelling, because you’re living it - and all your friends are too. Don’t invest your attention in things that don’t deserve it. Don’t make your life harder than it needs to be by setting unnecessary expectations. They’ll just leave you underwhelmed or overwhelmed, both of which are wholly avoidable. Nothing needs to be good or bad, because it’s going to just happen anyway. And finally, never silence the child inside of you that thinks the world is exciting and wonderful, because it is. That little part of you is right, the world is amazing, and it’s amazing that you get to be a character in its story at this time, along with everyone else here whose blood bleeds Pathfinder red.