The commonly illusive Arctic Grayling, a short story

Should your vegan friends accept an invitation to go fishing with you?

Rather, should you invite your vegan friends on a camping trip and after you’ve set up your camping site mention that the only food you’re going to eat on the weekend is the fish you catch?

What would you expect your vegan friends to do?

“A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” — Max Planck

Such was the case recently when a group of us decided to try a weekend of wilderness survival, testing a few old theories and developing new ones in regard to the use of modern technology and its effects on group dynamics.

We had become friends through the common love of outdoor activities, well aware that in our daily lives our beliefs and actions were not compatible.

So it was we found ourselves dropped 100 kilometers from the nearest village, 25 kilometers from the nearest passable road, a floatplane sliding us onto a clear lake, surrounded by the wilds of Alaska, continuing our annual camping treks, choosing a new spots every year, slowly traversing the North American continent from the eastern edge of Canada to the western shores of Alaska.

Usually, our provisions were delivered a day before we arrived but we all agreed to try our luck at a few days of wilderness survival.

We had not discussed what we would gather for food, each of us assuming the others ate about the same as we did.

Funny how little you know your friends sometimes.

One of us always took care to bring a satellite phone, for emergencies.

Then, five years ago, Page, CEO of an Internet services company, brought us the Internet.  We set rules that Internet use would be limited to solving issues we could not resolve, such as how to treat an unrecognisable poisonous bite.  No one was allowed to check emails or instant message during the trip.

And it worked for the first three years.

Last year, Enrique set up a portable WiFi network and next thing you know most of us had posted social network updates at least once a day.

We restricted WiFi use to 30 minutes during mealtimes at the campsite so we could sit and talk for hours without interruption from outside sources, or go for hikes and rely solely on our natural orienteering skills.

This year looked as good as the others.

Some of us had continued to enjoy financial success trading exotic instruments of offmarket goods and services.

A few of us had traded in active market trading for life on the land, converting exotic sports cars into farm equipment.

Regardless of our lifestyles, we managed to stay in touch, sharing just about everything we did or thought, expect few if any surprises for our wilderness survival weekend.

Surely, our combined talents and skills would keep us from starving over a three-day span.

Surely…

Lyn Shin stood over the kitchen sink.  In years past, she would have prepared a sushi dish using local delicacies.

Tonight, Lyn was faced with a dilemma.  Arriving two hours before sunset, she had rushed through the shallow waters of the lake, gathering underwater grasses, some tree bark moss, and several handfuls of lichen.

Lyn knew we wouldn’t be hungry the first night so she put together a small appetizer that would appeal to all of us.

It also happened to be a vegan meal.

Page and Enrique had always been big game hunters but they appreciated a gourmet meal regardless of the meat content, or absence thereof.

I sought out new tastes and textures.

Lyn’s welcoming treat satisfied all of us.

Topeka Jay, on the other hand, announced his displeasure, declaring he was not going to spend the weekend eating rabbit food and deer fodder.

We laughed.

The next morning, we woke to the smell of breakfast.

Topeka Jay had woken up before dawn and hiked to a nearby river where he rigged a small fishing line, catching several small Arctic grayling, which were frying on the stovetop as we entered the kitchen.

This time, Lyn expressed her displeasure, not by saying anything to us but by getting on our social media network and posting an image of a pond covered with dead fish.

Within a few minutes, everyone in the group had either seen the image or been told by our friends to see it.

A second of regret at what she’d done caused Lyn to remove the image before we’d all seen it but the damage was done.

Topeka Jay, having missed the controversy while cooking, served not only the fried fish but also a bowl of scrambled bird eggs.

Lyn stormed out of the campsite, vowing not to return.

We sat around the table and pondered our next move.

I wanted to go after Lyn but I also wanted to see what the rest of the group wanted to do.

Page sent a private text message to all of us, including friends unable to go on this year’s trip, stating that in no uncertain terms should friends betray each other, especially on so public a spot as a social media network.

Those of us at the campsite knew what she meant.

Davina had missed the trip to attend a family funeral.  Shee read the text message and was confused, wondering if she had said something to offend Page.

Tavarius, having seen the image during an early morning workout at his office gym, told Davina that Page was the one doing the betraying.

Davina asked Page what was going on.

Then Lyn chimed in that friends make mistakes but no friend stabs another one in the back just because of a mistake.

Davina asked if she had done something.

The leader of the group, Wogytan, who had only missed one trip, had an important business conference to chair and could not attend this year’s trip.  She sent a private message to Davina to stay out of this, not telling Davina why.

Lyn said as far as she was concerned, the group was dead.  They all knew she was a vegan and if everyone was going to back Topeka Jay over her, then fine, she was done with the group.

Page said she agreed with Topeka Jay and sent a private message to Davina that it was Lyn who was at fault.

Enrique sent a private message to Davina saying that Topeka Jay was upset that he was being singled out for just trying to provide nourishment for the group and now it looked like he was the bad guy because he’d forgotten that he was supposed to know that Lyn was a vegan.

Lyn sent Davina a private message that Page had done this to her before and had acted both times like she was innocent when Lyn believed Page had been passively aggressive both times on purposes, fully intending to get Lyn to leave the group.

Davina sighed.  She repeated to everyone, either in private messages or in person, that she loved them equally and wanted to work through this.  She asked Page and Lyn if they truly loved each other, why didn’t they want to resolve this peacefully.  They separately told Davina that they hated the other.

Davina shrugged.

She was sad and angry at the same time, sad that grown adults could act so impulsively and angry that Wogytan had told her to stay out of this when everyone else in the group wanted either Davina’s support or opinion.

Davina shook her head.

Two more full days in the wilderness together…would they make it?

Lyn returned to the campsite after the morning meal had been eaten and cleaned up.  She said nothing, heading straight to her gear, packing up and heading to the edge of the lake.

I followed her a few minutes later.

“So, ummm….Lyn….is there anything I can do?”

Lyn sat on her backpack, looking down at the smooth rocks.  “I don’t think so.  It’s clear I don’t belong here anymore.”

“What do you mean?  We’ve always had fun together.”

“Yes.  Yes, that’s true.  But as you can see, not everyone here is you.”

I nodded.  “Of course.  But aren’t we friends?  Don’t you think there is a chance we’ll get through this?”

Lyn raised her head and looked at me, her face a blank mask.  “I don’t think so.  I mean, you and I, yes, we are friends.  But back there…”  She gestured to the campsite behind her.  “…none of them really care for me.  It was like this last time when you were the one out of town.  They ganged up on me then and I was alone the rest of the time.  They do not like me, I see that now.”

I leaned down and hugged Lyn’s shoulders.  She pressed her head against mine and smiled.  “Thank you, I needed that.  But I am still leaving.”

As if on cue, the quiet whir of twin propellers grew loud enough for us to hear and turn our heads at the same time.

I frowned.

I knew this meant our group would never be the same.

Of course, it never was.  Year to year, the group’s composition changed as we introduced new friends and lost old ones for one reason or another.

But never before had someone felt or stated being pushed out.

I stood up, my head bent down.

Loving friends no matter what had its costs.

When the floatplane landed, the pilot asked for a meeting with the group.

“Look, I’ve seen this sort of thing happen before.  I’m telling you for your own good that it’s best if I wait for you guys to pack your things up and go back with me now.  Otherwise, the bickering can quickly get out of hand and I don’t want to come back for a medical emergency, if you know what I mean.  However, you have to make that decision.  What do you say?”

I looked from person to person.  Page was furious.  She blurted.  “I think we should consult Wogytan on this, don’t you?”  No one said a word.  “See, this is what I was saying all along.  Lyn started it.  It won’t end until we get Wogytan to do something about it.”

I wanted to say or do something but bit my lip, sticking to Wogytan’s request to stay out.

Page fumed.  “Fine.  I’ll do this myself.”  She sent a text.  A few seconds later, she smiled.  “Wogytan agrees.  We depart now and meet someplace safe later on.”

We arranged a get-together a month ago.  By then, Lyn had completely dropped out of the group and Tavarius acted like he was going to remain an outside no matter what as long as he and Page were in the same group.

I knew we wanted to act like nothing had changed but I could see by the stiffness in Enrique’s handshake and the way Wogytan wouldn’t make eye contact with me that something had changed.

Sometimes I eat a meat-free meal.  I’ll eat a complete vegan dinner occasionally.  But most often I eat some sort of animal part with my meal, whether intentionally or not.

Despite that fact, I respect Lyn’s choice to be a vegan.

I also respect Topeka Jay’s right to be upset about what Lyn posted and Lyn being upset about what Page posted.

But I have my limits.

I wish I didn’t.

I don’t like being told what to do (or not to do) with my friends.

Perhaps I was always looking for a way out of my friendship with Wogytan.

Maybe I was.

I used to think I’d always be in love with her in one way or another.

But not anymore.

When she told me to stay out of the middle of a disagreement between our friends…

Well, that was the moment I mentally stepped back from the group and questioned my “allegiance.”

It was the final piece of the jigsaw puzzle I’d been looking for, wondering why I’d voluntarily left a bigger group of friends that Wogytan and I shared after she’d felt she was pushed out, choosing to support her even though I was never sure what had happened but always slightly suspicious that it was something that might occur again.

After all, we tend to repeat errors when we don’t identify the root cause and complete a corrective action plan.

This time, instead of her being pushed out again, it was Wygotan who let a good friend of ours get pushed out.

It was her choice, I know.  Partially because Topeka Jay was a longtime close friend of Wygotan, partially because Page was a closer friend than Lyn.

Should we qualify our friends based on longevity, affinity or similarity?

Tonight, I went back and visited the larger group of friends I’d given up for Wygotan a year ago, seeing friends who, like me, were part of both groups and with whom I had private conversations about the differences between the two groups, all of us seeing why they’d split apart but glad we had stayed in contact with both.  I dearly missed old friends and was glad to see them, be with them and converse with them again.

Of all people, Wygotan and I know that life is short, both of us nearly dying in motor vehicle smashups.

So why would we choose to keep two sets of friends at arm’s length, even losing some of them permanently?

If I had a ready answer, I wouldn’t be here!

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