Many people have described moments when they realized their “calling,” a moment when they encountered someone, something, or some experience that to them was so overwhelmingly glamorous and magical that it reshaped their life. Most such descriptions are of some experience that happened in childhood or adolescence. But transformations can happen to adults as well. One of the wittiest accounts of such a moment was written by author Page Stegner in the preface to his recent book Adios Amigos: Tales of Sustenance and Purification in the American West. There he reflects back on an experience he had as a middle-aged university professor in 1981. He had been invited on a rafting trip down the Grand Canyon, along with a number of other people the organizers hoped would work to preserve the health of the Colorado River. Stegner had never been river rafting or thought about river rafting.
But then I stepped out of my car at Lee’s ferry and encountered up close and personal my first bona fide river guide, and oh, my Lord, what a Herculean figure that statuary cut, so lean and mean, so monumental, so heroic, six-pack abs and forearms like Westpahlian hams, golden curls atop a soy sauce tan. He strode across the boat ramp in nothing but his wraparound shades, flip-flops and Patagonia Baggers, trailing a faded life jacket behind him with a Gerber River Shorty survival knife affixed to its shoulder pad, pausing now and then to gaze with complete nonchalance out across the roiling waters. That was it. “Stick a fork in me, Mom,” I said, “I’m done. Now I know what I want to be when I grow up.”
Two months after the trip Stegner had purchased all the equipment he needed to embark on a second career as a river guide, including a used “suitably worn life jacket” with a Gerber Shorty strapped to it. All he needed now was experience. Trying to gain this too quickly nearly killed him, but, surviving, he became a successful river guide.
Part of the fascination of “reality” TV shows about aspiring chefs, designers, and models is seeing if the participates have what it takes (including desire, willpower, and the ability to learn) to transform themselves into a person fit to handle the demands of that career. With most careers that have glamorous highlights, untold hours of brutally hard work hide in the shadows.
[Photograph of white water rafting on the rapids of river Soca, Slovenia, Triglav national park by Simon Krzic via iStockphoto.com]