Giving a Boost

I recently returned from a 5 day canoe trip in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Northern Minnesota, accompanied by my 21 year old son, Josh, and two good friends closer to my age, Bill Caplan and Marc Rosenthal. We had a wonderful trip, with great weather, outstanding natural beauty, and the joy of being on the water and off the grid.

It had been over 10 years since I had gone camping with my son, and during that time, not only has Josh grown into a young adult, but he had many summers of camping experience courtesy of attending Camp Nebagamon, which features a lot of camping and trains the campers in all the skills they need to survive in the wilderness. While I have a lot of camping experience, I never received the type of camping skills training that Josh received, so many of my skills are self-taught and not always executed with the highest degree of efficiency.

During any wilderness camping trip, there are many tasks that need to be accomplished, including map reading, setting up tents, cooking camp meals, and in the Boundary Waters, if you want to keep your food, you need to hang it on a high tree overnight, or you risk black bears stealing your food.

Hanging your food pack is usually a two person job, and involves filling a bag with small rocks which is connected to the rope that you will later use to lift the pack up in the air. Bill had a system that also included a couple of carabiners that function as a block and tackle to make raising the pack easier.

Since Josh and I have strong personalities, we often disagree about the best approach to particular problems, but we usually figure out a way to work together if we need to do so to accomplish a task. On the last night of our trip, while Bill was cooking dinner, Josh and I worked on getting the ropes over the tree limb so we could raise the food pack after dinner. It often takes a few throws to get the rope over the desired limb, but in this particular instance, Josh had incredibly bad luck as the carabiner caught on a small stick protruding from the top of the limb so the rope would not fall over the other side. That rope was now stuck on a limb about 20 feet high.

After Josh found it impossible to simply pull that rope down, he realized that he could tie another rope to the rope that was stuck, attach a rock to the other end, and then throw the second rope over the limb and pull the stuck rope over the side. After a few failed attempts to get that second rope over the limb, Josh finally got it over an even higher limb, but the momentum of the throw forced the end with the rock to wind around the limb 3 or 4 times. So, now there were 2 stuck ropes and we faced the possibility of being unable to hang our food pack.

Josh and I are both problem solvers, so we kept looking at the tree and the limbs, trying to devise solutions to the problem we had. Josh thought he could use another rope to create a ladder so he could climb the tree, but that did not work.

I told Josh that I thought I could give him a boost to a lower limb and then he could climb close enough to the stuck ropes and use a long stick to free them. Josh was skeptical that I was strong enough to boost him that high and that he would be able to climb high enough to free the ropes. He and I went back and forth and perhaps because we are father and son, we remained stuck in limbo.

Of course, Marc and Bill were watching with a combined sense of amusement and frustration. Finally Marc suggested to Josh that I was strong enough to boost him up to the lower limb and that my suggested method to solve the problem would work. Thankfully, at Marc’s suggestion, Josh decided to allow me to give him a boost. As you can see, I was strong enough to boost him, and he was able to climb high enough to free the ropes with a long stick.

We live in a world where we regularly debate whether it is helpful to give people a boost or whether it is better to force people to succeed or fail on their own. While it is perfectly fine for people to succeed on their own when they can, the truth is that we live in a world which presents us with challenges on a daily basis. None of us can manage every one of those challenges on our own. When I can give someone else a boost, I am glad to help them succeed. When I need a boost, I do my best to graciously accept the offer of help. When we work together, we can accomplish far more than when we are forced to act alone.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

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Disconnecting from the Grid; Reconnecting with the Earth

We live in a hyperconnected world. Breaking news headlines come across our smart phones multiple times a day. We connect via text message, e-mail, social media and many other ways countless times per day. In fact, these connections are increasingly critical in our fast paced information sensitive world. Indeed, without this web of connectivity, systems change would be far more challenging to accomplish.

However, it is also important to disconnect from all that hyper-connectivity and take a break to connect with the basics of surviving in the world periodically to remind oneself that staying grounded with the earth is still a core part of who we are. Fortunately, I had that opportunity as I recently returned from a week long canoe trip in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota, with one of my best friends, Bill Caplan.

Spending a week in the wilderness, especially during the cool rainy days of mid-May, requires advanced planning and preparation to ensure that we stayed sufficiently warm, had enough food, and the appropriate camping equipment to travel and camp safely. In addition, we needed to plan our route and obtain a permit for entering the Boundary Waters.

We launched on a windy morning and Forest Service staff asked us if we were getting a motorboat to tow us across Burntside Lake. Needless to say, their questions caused us some concern, but we believed we could safely paddle our canoe through the white capped waves to our first portage, and indeed we did. That first portage was a grueling 1.3 mile hike through the woods. At one point we thought we had reached Crab Lake, but it turned out to only be a beaver pond. By the time we got to Crab Lake with the canoe and one of our 3 backpacks, we were already sore and exhausted, but we knew we needed to return to retrieve the rest of our gear.

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Bill Caplan refueling after our 1.3 mile portage.

We found a lovely campsite on Crab Lake and set up camp. Once we finished setting up camp, I noticed that on more than one occasion, I reached for my smart phone, despite the fact that I did not bring it with me since there is no cell service in the Boundary Waters. I hoped that reflex of mine would dissipate soon.

On our second day, we broke camp and set up a base camp on Cummings Lake, where we spent the next four nights. Overnight, the weather turned cold and rainy, as it would remain until the last day of our trip. Fortunately, we were prepared and for the most part we stayed warm and dry, although during much of this time, I was wearing 5 layers of clothing on top and 3 on the bottom.

Fortunately, a combination of the beautiful nature surrounding me on all sides, the need to cope with harsh conditions, and plenty of time to reconnect with the earth, cured me of that reflex to reach for my cell phone. Although Bill and I continued to guess what breaking news headlines we would encounter when we left the Boundary Waters, we successfully disconnected from the grid and reconnected with the earth.

Deciding to make a base camp on Cummings Lake allowed us to explore the nooks and crannies of the shoreline. One day, we paddled over to the 2 mile portage to Big Moose Lake and hiked it there and back without carrying our canoe or packs. This allowed us to enjoy the beauty of the forest far more without the added weight on our backs.

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Enjoying a 2 mile hike in each direction between Cummings and Big Moose Lake.

Bill enjoys fishing, but it is not one of my hobbies. Bill tried to fish on his own from our canoe, but it was difficult for him to fish while navigating an 18 foot 2 man canoe. As I watched him trying to do this from our campsite on our first night, I realized that he would enjoy fishing far more if I paddled the canoe while he fished. So, over the next few days we slowly circumnavigated virtually all of Cummings Lake while I paddled slowly and Bill fished.

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Although Bill expressed concern that I would be bored slowly trawling the lake, I assured him that I enjoyed slowly and quietly paddling as Bill fished. Unfortunately, Bill did not catch any fish until the 6th day of our trip. Of course, when he did finally catch a couple of fish, he was quite pleased.

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On our last night, we returned to Crab Lake, although we stayed at a different campsite just to explore another place. While much of the topography of the Boundary Waters is similar, upon closer examination, one encounters beautiful treasures such as this stunning piece of marble streaked granite at our last campsite.

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After 4 nights of cold rainy weather, our last sunset was a real treat.

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On our last day, we conquered that 1.3 mile portage back to Burntside Lake somewhat stronger, packs a bit lighter after eating 7 days worth of food, and a lot more relaxed having successfully disconnected from the grid for a week, and reconnecting with the earth.

Of course, after we loaded up Bill’s truck, we turned our phones on and as soon as we received cell phone reception hundreds of e-mail, text and social media messages poured into my phone. But that was ok. After a week of disconnecting from the grid, and reconnecting with the earth, my internal batteries are recharged and I am ready to engage in progressive systems change once again.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.