Dear kind reader,
Lest you get the impression after my recent letters that I am some kind of gun-slinging, calmly perceptive and quick thinking outdoor superhero, I feel the need to shatter the illusion. This is the advantage of telling my own stories — I can highlight the parts that seem the most interesting, the most exciting, and the most flattering to myself. I can leave out the embarrassing missteps, the silly goofs and bad choices.
But it’s time for me to come clean.
When my husband and I floated the Copper River last month, we launched the raft into beautiful, sunny skies. The sun shone out of the blue and glinted off the water. The air, cooled by glaciers and heated by the sun, blew a powerful wind up the river. This breeze kept me comfortable even as I basked in the sun. Sam rowed, and I watched the mountains and trees slip by. I snapped pictures. I smiled. I talked. The world seemed good and sunny.
The next morning I woke up in the tent with a fat lower lip. Or “fat-ter” as my husband kindly pointed out. Over the years I have been both teased and envied for my genetically acquired full lips. But this morning, I knew something was not right. I felt as if someone had punched me in the mouth, but I had no recollection of any injury.
We got in the raft and floated off into the sun, wind, and water once again. It crossed my mind that my face was getting a bit burned, and that my lip was increasingly uncomfortable, but I was still mystified by the situation. Could I have suddenly developed an allergy?
That night, it finally dawned on me. I had sunburned my lower lip. I was mortified. My lips were so freakishly large that they were an extra extremity that could, unto themselves, be sunburned. All the teases and taunts of my childhood came rushing back to me.
And the next morning when I woke up, I looked and felt like a street boxer, or a mutated fish. My lower lip was as fat as a hot dog, and had the same unpleasant sheen as one glistening on the grill. It was so swollen I had difficulty swallowing or chewing or drinking. And all I wanted in the world was to shove my face into a glacier. In our emergency kit we had a plastic ice pack, the type where you burst the bubble inside the packet and it turns cold. I took several ibuprofen and held the ice pack to my lips. Neither made any noticeable difference.
“There is no way I can go into Cordova like this,” I mumbled to Sam. “I look hideous.” I spent the next hours with my long-underwear shirt pulled up over my face like a bank robber. Even though we didn’t see another soul on the river for days, I didn’t want to risk scaring off even the wildlife.
Finally we floated past a snow field. I jumped to shore and packed my canteen with snow. For the rest of the day while we floated, I pressed my mouth into the snow.
Thankfully, by the time we met up with our two daughters and my mom near Cordova, my lip had returned to somewhat normal size, although it was still painful. I vowed there and then to never go on a trip without sunscreen chapstick.
But this isn’t the end of my tale of ineptitude and woe. As we were driving back from Cordova, we hit a stretch of highway where permafrost has caused great heaves and buckles in the road. I was casually rubbing my eye when Sam hit one of these bumps, and I jammed my thumb into my eye. It hurt, but not too terribly. But when I turned to Sam, he squinted at me and frowned. “Your eye …” he said. I looked in the truck mirror to discover a huge blood spot in the white of my eye.
Now I really did look like a losing boxer. I would have liked to tell everyone that I had survived a fight with a bear. Instead I confessed — my lips are so big they got sunburned and my hands so clumsy I thumbed myself in the eye.
So there’s a snapshot of my less graceful, less competent side. But, for all our good, I’m not including an actual snapshot. No one needs to see that.