December 2, 2011

Clean Plate Club

Nothing new about this:  you are sitting at the dinner table, maybe six or seven years old with nothing left on your plate but peas. You know, the frozen kind. Dimpled and mushy and pasty on the inside, refusing to keep solidarity on your fork. You can remember that day, it is a memory as familiar to me as it must be common to you, sitting at the empty dinner table, your siblings already onto more fun enterprises, and you are left with your balking tastebuds and the peas. Eventually, logic suggests that you will not beat your parents on this one and you succumb to shoving the last ones in your mouth, cheeks bulging, held in just long enough to show your clean plate to your mother as proof and then to rush to the bathroom upstairs while pretending to head for your room, spitting them out just in time to escape the gag reflex. There is no way around this experience; when your mother is intent on not wasting good food, there is just no way around it.

Well, there is one way around it.

Power drops.

Fast forward through the teenage years when you flat out deny eating anything you don’t want to eat having learned through protest that in the end there isn’t a darn thing your parents can do about it to my first summer at Outpost Wilderness Adventure, an adventure camp that I went on to spend eight summers working for. We were finishing up a delicious dinner of refried beans and rice when the guides passed the bean pot around the group encouraging everyone to take one more spoonful so as not to waste the food by throwing it out. ‘Every bite you take gives you energy to play harder tomorrow!’ The pot made its ineffectual pass around the circle, one guide named Quentin took the pot back, stood up and announced, ‘Time for power drops!’ Power drops? Nobody knew what this was, but given the comment about food and fuel and the word power, I was certain it involved consumption. It was the word ‘drop’ that I wondered about.





And the next thing I knew Quentin was standing over his first volunteer (we later learned never to be the first to volunteer when it came to Quentin) lying on his back, in the dirt. Quentin wielded a spoon piled high with sloppy beans and instructed, “Yeah, like that. Ya’ll just keep your mouth open as wiiiiide as you can and I’ll just….” The spoon turned in his hand and a giant slop of beans landed half in the boy’s mouth, half out, dripping down the side of his cheek and onto the collar of his shirt. Everybody laughed and the boy coughed, then laughed too, wiping his mouth, cheek and shirt.

“That…..was….AWEsome,” Quentin grinned and looked up, “Who’s next? Everybody has to do their part.” And everybody did.

As every kid took their turn, caught their power drop and received messy sloppy beans in their mouth, nose, hair, ear, Quentin, as he is want to do when things become no longer challenging, decided a power drop from this height was no longer demanding and thus unsatisfactory. He stepped onto the grill grate and then to the top of the picnic table and finally to the top of the trailer that carried gear and bikes. That was the summer of the power drop battles, pushing the limits to more inventive heights- at one point dropping from the second story deck off the back of the lodge.


The power drop was signature OWA. It meant many things, it gave new meaning to cleaning your plate, it was fun; it was permission to play with your food. It turned something you didn’t want to do into something that you took honor in doing. And it was responsible in its basic purpose: clean your plate. Your mom should read this.