April 7, 2017

The Middle Way

My military experience provided me with many great stories that relate to Golden Rule. Last blog we spoke about the supporting principle moderation defining middle way. This story describes perfectly what could happen when one crashes out of that middle way.

“Snake” River


RANGERS navigating Yellow river, Florida Ranger Camp.

Twelve Ranger students in large rubber raft boats. All their gear tightly secured to the bottom of the boat. Usually, the team leader (a student) would sit at the rear with a compass and map to navigate and the instructor would sit at the front, watching over everything. We often called the river the Snake River because it is a meandering river on the coastal plain in the panhandle of Florida, so every hundred yards or so, there is a turn in the river, sometimes like a big U that makes it possible to turn 180+ degrees—with each turn! The current naturally pulls objects— like big rubber boats full of equipment and soldiers—to the outer bank.

The swampy river basin was a mile wide in some places and water more or less flows through it depending on the year and season. The trees grow out over the main river channel. The boats can brush up under the tree branches, quite far, before getting to any possibility of dry ground. There may not be any dry ground, depending on the flow of the river.


Moccasin coiling to strike.

It is also snake country (another reason for our nick name), the worst of them being the moccasin, a poisonous water-hunter that loves to bask in the sun among the branches of the trees hanging over the water! This particular mission took the students down river a couple of miles. The trick to this was to steer to the inside of the corners while the river’s current drags you towards outer bank. The object is to stay close to the middle of the river aiming for the inside of the next corner and back to the middle—and to stay out of the trees at the outer banks. Stay in the middle way!

Tired and physically beat

For some reason the team I was with was incapable of making this “inside corner to middle to inside corner” pattern happen. Tired and physically beat down, for sure, but these students had done this before. They knew the drill. At every corner we ended up in the trees along the outer bank, which in itself is a terrible mess because the limbs and branches are very low to (or submerged in) the water. At each corner we were trying to rake the students and equipment out of the boat into the river. That’s bad enough, but these classes always have  time constraints. With each trip into the trees we lose precious time toward our target—and, there was a really good chance of a very unhappy, poisonous snake getting into the boat!

 Two trips into the trees already and I all my patience gone.  These Ranger students knew better, they just were not trying. But most importantly I was responsible for the safety of these students. Ranger training is all about leadership and organizational skills. This was a graded class, with at least three people in this boat that were going to fail this leg if they didn’t get their collective heads out of where the sun don’t shine…


Moccasin coiled to strike.

Snake in the boat!

Two more corners—two more trips into the trees! These guys were impossible. I was thinking to myself, I’ll fail them all, when here comes another corner—and we were already raking the trees. As the students were flailing about, totally disorganized, we were going into the trees again! I was going for the bottom of the boat, students were struggling to correct their course and branches and limbs were everywhere as the students struggled. Just at that moment, a snake dropped into the boat! The rangers plunged out of the boat!


RANGERS launching boats during Florida phase – RANGER School

A newly awakened, pissed off, four-foot long water moccasin fell right on top of the equipment. Now planted right in the middle of that equipment and my twelve, now totally petrified Ranger students were in the river! I was sitting in a rudderless boat staring at this huge snake wondering what my next move would be…

Back in my day, all the Ranger instructors carried walking sticks (I still have mine) and this story illustrates one of the reasons for it. We come out of the trees the current still taking us down stream. There are twelve RANGER students in the river.   The snake and I are in the boat heading towards the next corner and  more trees.

Rangers walk on water!

I shouted, “When I throw the snake in the river, you’ll get in the boat”! Carefully, I slid the end of my walking stick under the snake, now trying to coil.  Then I slung it as far as I was able towards the trees and away from my students. But there was no doubt that both the snake and my students were now sharing the same body of water!

I must say that I have never, before or after, witnessed a group of Rangers pull themselves out of the water and into a raft boat as fast as these students did that sunny afternoon. The next time we went into the trees it was on purpose because we had reached our exit point. I failed the leaders for the graded portion of their day. But I must also say that having the snake in the boat woke them all up to the reality of their situation.

My Ranger students learned the value of the middle way…