My calendar is looking different these days. Every weekend for the foreseeable future and in the recent past, I’m out in the woods with either my backpacking classmates or the hiking club or some mix of the two. This weekend is no different. Last night was the Louisiana Hiking Club Christmas party, and today our little group is headed to Tylertown MS to hike on John Thornhill’s tree farm.
Our club communicates on Yahoo groups, and, over the weeks a Punchbowl link was sent out to plan the party and we were updated regularly as the guest list grew. This continued into this week, and there were so many that I put them aside to read right before the party. Normally I get a little invite to a Christmas party that has the address, details on what to bring and maybe a note about dress code. So, I opened the file that was posted with information on the party, and I was surprised to see a whole page of instructions. Now, I’ll preface this to say that I’ve discovered that my entire life I have failed miserably at being prepared.
When I’d go out hiking I’d pack my little pack with food and water and maybe a few essentials, and I’d be off. When I got into the backpacking class, I discovered that any time I set off in the woods I needed survival gear in case I got stuck out there. Hell, that made sense. I probably needed that in my car, too. Katherine taught me how to be prepared. No longer would I depend on trail blazes to guide my hikes. I now will order topo maps for my destination, mark grid lines on them and carry a compass – just in case. I carry the ten essentials which will help me get through a whole variety of emergency situations.
Apparently, the Christmas party is planned in the same fashion. Detailed instructions routed people from all directions to the facility and included ways to overcome any obstacles they might encounter along the way. For my potluck dish, I had to step it up a notch. Instead of bringing my little dish, I was instructed to bring a whole kit. I needed something to keep it warm, a power strip and a serving spoon. There were even very strict rules about when you could start eating from the main table. Until the clock struck 7, you could only partake from the appetizer table. I had to print out the instructions so I could make sure I read them all. This was like a full-scale military operation.
I arrived at the facility at about 8 minutes before 1900 hours. To my surprise, the room was packed when I entered. I was a little confused but now understood why people couldn’t start eating early. Apparently last year, the set-up crew – which I think is 75% of the club – ate all of the food before the 1900 hours group arrived. I didn’t have the potluck kit, and I was relieved to see that most of the dishes were not equipped with their own power system. This group was not the type to stand around waiting for the first person to eat. No … no … no. When the clock struck 7, the group pounced on the food table. For one thing, most had been there since 1730 hours and were ready to eat. So I jumped in line before the food was gone. I was a little worried about Carryn who was running late. I wasn’t sure she’d have anything to eat. Apparently, if you arrive on time for a Hiking Club event, you are already late.
The announcement was made that the Dirty Santa fun would start at 2000 hours. I happily ate and chatted with some other new members and had a blast getting to know some new people who were also learning to hike and backpack. I got up to select a couple of desserts and spent a good deal of time trying to find the ones I couldn’t live without. Since I’m not eating much sugar, I’ve become very selective about which ones I choose. I sat down to enjoy my desserts, and an announcement was made that there were 42 gifts in the Dirty Santa game, and it was going to take a long time. We were starting “right now”, and everyone was to move their chairs in a circle around the gift table.
“But … I’m still eating,” I thought. “Can I finish this and then join the group?” crossed my mind.
I quickly surmised that this was not about me, and I’d better get my ass up and get in line. Everyone was moving and moving quickly. The food table holding my plate was moved out from under me in short order, and I decided I’d better just go with the flow.
The gift-giving begins….
Numbers were drawn and the game began. I love this Dirty Santa game, but it’s only fun when people are really open and willing to play and steal the other gifts. I hate it when I go to a party and people are like, “No, I’m not going to steal gifts.” Good heavens!!! That’s what this game is for. It’s the only time in your life when you can covet someone else’s gift and actually go get the damn thing. Take advantage of it.
This group knew how to play the game, and it was a blast. You could tell it was a group that knew how to pack and how to handle an emergency. Most of the gifts were so taped up that it that it took several heroes wielding knives to cut away the bonds that hid the hidden treasures. At one point, the knives were having difficulty unleashing a box, and I was waiting for a hero with an ax or a saw to hop in. Thankfully, the knives and 3 men were able to get it unwrapped and no heavy equipment was needed.
At the end, there was one gift left on the table. There were no names left, and no one was taking it. I secretly wanted it but didn’t want to jump up in a group of strange people and take it. Finally, a lady got up and opened it. Katherine said it was a FUD – a female urination device. “I don’t know who brought that, but I salute you,” she proclaimed. Everybody laughed, and I found myself coveting that device. In this club, they are leveling the playing field. No longer do women have to bare it all to brave the elements and run the risk of critters taking a ride in your lady parts or someone unknowingly busting you. There are tools to allow women to pee standing up! This group is liberated!
The laughter was abruptly cut off by an announcement that we had to be out of the room by 2200 hours. I didn’t even have time to check the time before a full-scale military operation was underway. Most parties end with about 5 women angrily cleaning up the mess while a bunch of other drunks stand around and refuse to leave. Not this group! This is a Leave No Trace organization. Within seconds, I was standing in the middle of the room while everyone else was busy with clean-up tasks. I realized that I did not want to be that new girl who stood around like she had nothing to do, so I sidled up by Carryn and asked her what I needed to do.
“I don’t know,” she said. “I’m just moving these dishes to the other end of the table.”
“Ok,” I said. It seemed a bit silly to me to just move dishes to the other end of the table, but I wasn’t about to buck the system. I knew that everyone there had knives on them and knew how to use them. I was going to conform … and quickly. I moved about ten dishes three feet down the table and decided I better grab my loot and get out of there before I had to start painting walls or changing light fixtures. I had won a poinsettia door prize, and I walked over to get it. It was completely wrapped. It had not been wrapped before. I looked around to see if I could find mine, but this was the only pink poinsettia in the room. I told Carryn of my dilemma.
“It was not wrapped before,” I said. “I mean, who would wrap a poinsettia with all of this going on? I’m afraid it’s not mine, and I’ll take somebody else’s.”
“I don’t see another one,” she said. “I’d just take it and get out of here.”
So, I packed up my loot and left. After I got ready for bed, I noticed that there was a call on my cell phone from the president of the club. “OMG!!!” I thought. I have stolen a poinsettia, and I’ve been reported to the president. All I could hope was that they weren’t on there way over here with their knives demanding that I give it back to its rightful owner. The message asked me to call her back. That’s it. No “waiting ’til tomorrow” even thought I was seeing her at 9 AM. I dialed her back. No answer. She was probably trying to calm down the owner of the stolen vegetation.
When she finally called back it was really nothing, and I felt very relieved that I wasn’t going to have to fight off a knife attack that late in the evening. I took a minute to reflect on my loot from the evening. I got a multi-purpose tool which I needed. I have a camping knife, but this little tool has all of the other stuff that I might need in an emergency – or when trying to open a Christmas gift in this club. I also got a tiny clip-on LED spotlight. “What am I going to do with that?” I thought. After a few minutes, it hit me.
It’s a doggie headlight!
I went to bed smiling. I have found my tribe. They know how to laugh and have a good time (yes, I saw the mason jar with the amber-colored liquid), but there are several other things that make me feel safe with this group:
- They have NORMALIZED weapons. It’s the first party I’ve ever attended where I laid my eyes on at least 20 knives of various lengths and styles..
- They know how to prepare. Enough said.
- Above all … no matter what happens … no matter how much blood is shed .. no matter how much food is spilled … no matter how many people are present … you will never … EVER … EVER know they’ve been there.