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Paddling Articles In the Same Boat

Voices from the Wild

The Sisterhood: Nietzsches of the North Woods

By Tamia Nelson

A Note to the Reader

Itching to get away? Looking forward to spending a few days on the water? I thought so. What canoeist or kayaker isn't! And we're in luck. The Victoria Day and Memorial Day weekends signal the start of the summer vacation season. It's a good time to be in a boat, on a waterway.

But every pleasure has its price. Did I mention itching? I did. Funny thing about that. I am. Right now. Itching, that is. And scratching—at least when I don't stop myself. And I know why. Summer isn't vacation time for everyone. For most of our fellow travelers on this blue-green ball, summer's when the important business of life gets done: finding a mate, raising a family, insuring that life's story goes on. And sometimes these necessary things make trouble for others.

Summertime. The livin' ain't always easy. Here's what one fellow traveler has to say about it. (Talk about adding insult to injury!)

Now where did I put the calamine lotion?

May 28, 2002

What doesn't kill me makes me stronger. Believe it! What's that you're saying? You think Nietzsche said it first? Wrong. It's been the Sisterhood's motto since way before monkeys started wearing suits. And we've been around. Asteroid strikes and ice-ages, floods and fires—we've seen 'em all, and we're still here. We're survivors. Not like some I could mention.

Who are we? Like I said: the Sisterhood. You don't get it? OK. To you, we're blackflies. (Or "black flies." Whatever. Call us what you want. We're all Sisters.) We've met before, right? I thought so. Old friends, you might say. Why a Sisterhood? Come on! Males are only good for one thing. Use 'em and lose 'em, I say. We girls are the sex that matters. And we're the ones you're going to meet in the woods. Up close and personal. A time for sharing. Our time. Your blood.

Don't look that way. We're not cadging a free lunch. It's not food we're after. It's something more fundamental. We need your blood to breed. And we won't take no for an answer. Sure, you can swat us. Or you can smear some chemical goo all over you and pretend that it'll keep us away. It won't. ("Repellent"? Give me a break! You might as well slather yourself with steak sauce.) Don't be surprised. Whatever the risk, it's a matter of life and death for us. You know what I'm saying? Your blood. Our lives. This gives "life's blood" a new meaning, doesn't it?

So do your worst. Slap your heart out. Kill a thousand of us, if you can. Ten thousand more will take their place. It's the quick and the dead all over again. The quick survive. The slow don't make it. They're Dead on Arrival. But don't forget: the more of us you kill, the better we get. That's evolution in action.

Still, blood's just the beginning. We need clean water, too. This can be a problem. Our kids start life all wet, so to speak. And we don't want them growing up in some stinking ditch. No way! What sort of a start in life is that? Our kids are the future of the Sisterhood, after all. So we don't lay our eggs just anywhere. A nice, free-flowing mountain stream is perfect. Or the outlet of a beaver pond. The sort of place that trout fishermen spend their whole lives looking for. Creek-boater heaven. A clean, well-lighted place. What Sister would want any less?

Come again? You say you've paddled for years and you've never laid eyes on any of our kids? Sure you have! You've seen 'em. You just didn't know it. Next time you're wading some shallow stream in late spring or early summer, look down at your feet. Do you see something that looks like moss on the stones in the water? Then take a closer look. Is the "moss" really hundreds of tiny sausage-shaped "worms" clinging to the rocks, swaying from side to side in the current? Congratulations! You've found what you're looking for. Those little worms are the next generation of Sisters (and brothers, too). Sooner or later—maybe next month, maybe next year—some of those babies will join the Sisterhood's Air Assault Team. Say hello to the future.

You could kill these little Sisters right now, of course. Just smear your boot across the rock. But you can't kill 'em all, can you? Not hardly. You don't believe me? What about poison, you say? Be my guest! Towns everywhere in North America spend big bucks to kill my Sisters. Some hire planes to spray a lethal mist in the air that knocks down us adults. Others dump bacterial toxins in streams to kill our kids.

But does it work? What do you think? Remember the Sisters' Creed: Anything that doesn't kill us makes us stronger. So go ahead. Waste the taxpayers' money. Throw it into the air. Dump it into the rivers. You'll kill a lot of us, sure—tens of millions of us, maybe—but you won't kill us all. And we Sisters aren't sentimental. Some of us will make it, and so will some of each generation of our kids. We don't weep for our dead. The strong will survive. And that's a good thing. For us. For the Sisterhood. Because each generation of survivors brings us closer to SuperFly.

And don't forget—it's your air and your water, too. What goes around comes around. You've heard of collateral damage, right? Well, poison's poison, and we Sisters aren't the only ones with kids. Ours grow up faster than most, though, and in the Evolution Stakes, the race almost always goes to the swift. Think about it.

Me, I'm not worried. None of us Sisters is gonna live forever. In the long run we're all dead. We know that, and it doesn't bother us. It's the Sisterhood that matters. Anything that makes it stronger is good. Anything that doesn't is bad. So do your worst. Poison the air and water. The Sisterhood is powerful, and we're getting better every year. We're gonna survive. Count on it. And you—what about you? Will you make it? I'm not taking any bets.

It doesn't have to be this way. You could declare a cease-fire. You know what I mean. Adjust your comfort level. Lay off the weapons of mass destruction. Then cover up and wear a headnet on the days when we Sisters are cruising. You'll be a little sweaty in hot weather, sure, but that wouldn't be too bad, would it? No worse than wearing a wetsuit.

You could do this, easy. But the other Sisters and I kinda hope you won't. Keep the poison coming. It make us stronger, see? And who knows? In time, it just might eliminate the competition, if you get my meaning. Not that we'd necessarily like that. Some of us Sisters really need you. That is, we need your blood. It's personal. No other animal's blood will do what your blood does for us. But a lot of us aren't so fussy. And anyway, that's evolution. We'll find a way. We always have, and we're not about to quit now.

Gotta go! Thanks for the top-up, Tamia. You're a godmother now. I won't be back, but I'm sure my kids will want to pay their respects. Give 'em my best. We Sisters got to stick together, right? It's in the blood.

Copyright 2002 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights reserved.

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