(HOST) Commentator Willem Lange likes to hang out mostly with men and regrets that it seems to be a dying opportunity.
(LANGE) The box stove warmed all but the comers of the cabin. The windows, black in the first hour of night, sweated. From the kitchen, wonderful aromas presaged arrival of supper – barbecued chops, beans and cole slaw.
I closed my eyes and listened, the way you sometimes gaze at a colorful object and let your eyes slide out of focus. The voices of fifteen men rose and fell. Not a single feminine voice. The old-time logging camps sounded like this. Hunting camp still does. It doesn’t happen often enough anymore.
I’ve heard women say that men are far simpler than they: focused too much on objective phenomena to be aware of nuances; using perception and intellect rather than intuition and feeling; and missing the important subtexts of what’s going on around them.
I doubt it. I’ve worked with groups of men for over fifty years: construction crews that, each day, created a vital society for eight hours and dispersed at evening. Gangs that went into the woods for weeks and spent mealtimes and evenings together, as well as the work day. Climbing or canoeing groups united for a common purpose, suppressing dissent and making the most of their collective talents. I don’t know if that sounds simple, but it isn’t.
February is always the occasion of the annual Geriatric Ski Tour and Sub-Arctic Bushwhack. Men between 50 and 85. Attendance by invitation. For old hands, it’s automatic; for others, it’s the first time. Each Tour lays out an ambitious winter bushwhack on skis. But the goal isn’t important. Odysseus, you know, didn’t really want to get back to Ithaca. It was the goal that motivated his immortal voyage; but far more important were the experiences along the way.
There was four feet of snow at 45 degrees this year up near the Canadian border. One group would ski the frozen river; the other would follow a road upstream for nine miles and swing to meet them. Each would take the other’s backtrack to camp.
Well, it didn’t work. Every step off the trail was over knee-deep. The bushwhackers struggled for three miles and discovered there was almost no river ice under the snow. Dudley fell through. They had to take his boot off before they could pull his ski out from under the ice. Finally they called it a day and bushwhacked out to the road.
But you know which adventure dominated the evening. The wet boots hung near the stove, a reminder of a few moments’ excitement and misery and the birth of another legend.
Some guys, when they get the invitation, call to ask about the cuisine, the toilet facilities or who else is going. There’s an almost imperceptible difference between the man who does that and the one who reaches for his mittens. But it makes all the difference in the world.
This is Willem Lange up in Etna, New Hampshire, and I gotta get back to work.
Willem Lange is a contractor, writer and storyteller who lives in Etna, New Hampshire. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.