“This is a strange and wonderful place.” It’s what’s written on our camp’s cupboard in one of the buildings, and the words rang through my head all week long. They seemed to sum it up perfectly. There’s something about camp. You get there, and the dust overwhelms you. You get eaten alive by mosquitos that will only leave you alone after you smell like a saturated pine cone, and biting flies that will eat you no matter what. If you have allergies (and I do), your face will feel like it will fall off by the third day. You hike down a hill to get somewhere. You hike back up the hill to get back. You have to wait in line for a shower, and you’re not gauranteed hot water. The dining hall smells not so faintly of sour milk. The salad is served lunch and dinner, and looks slightly brown by the 7th day. And I think I’ll be fine if I don’t eat red jello until next year. We go to bed late and wake up way too early, and are completely sleep deprived by the end of camp. The pool is ice cold and crowded, and my feet are torn up from the rough bottom, not to mention the blisters from all that hiking…. And still, I come back every year.
There’s something about camp. Geeks are suddenly the cool kids. The cool kids are suddenly not so critical, and are jumping and singing with everyone else. Everyone is equal, and fully themselves. Everyone is comfortable in their skin. Friendships are made that seem closer than any other friendship ever felt. Everything is funny, happy, surreal…. It is not uncommon to hear someone singing songs about bazooka bubble gum or swimming holes, or even odes to their dirty black socks. The stars are brighter at camp, and sleeping on planks under them is magical. Crafts such as making pillows or wind chimes never sounded more appealing. Campfire every night was hilarious, from “Safety Court”, a mock court improv that targeted those who broke the safety rules, to another chaperone’s and my “clean camp” competition. This year the campfire burned bigger and brighter than ever, partly thanks to the expertise of one of our staff, but I think because the spirit was alive and jumping to the music with us.
As the teens’ Adult Advisor, I got to get to know them pretty well, and some extremely close. I was confided in, trusted even though I was an “adult”. There were nights that I got so little sleep just because the camp spirit was there, creating lasting friendship bonds that I will treasure always. I had the best week this year at camp, even though I had worked harder than any year there. On one of the nights, I got to get to know two of my staffers better than ever. And while I was still the adult and they were still teenagers, a bridge was formed that forgot that temporarily. The conversation will stay with me forever, “between us and the trees”, and it meant so much to realize that not only could bonds form between the teens, but with us chaperones as well. I have watched this staff for the past three years, watched them grow from kids to responsible teens. They ran the camp, working hard to make up for the shorthanded staff. And it was the best camp we ever had. And it is bittersweet to end the camp week, for I know that next year I will not see several of them, including some that promise they’ll come back. Plans change, their lives a neverending swirl as they prepare for college, get wrapped up in there love lives, move away, change their minds….. And I’ll miss them terribly.
I cannot put words to camp and do it justice. All I know is, this morning before I left, I sat down in “Woody’s Circle”, an area where we held our opening and closing ceremonies, and just took in all I was about to leave behind until next year. The benches surrounding it were empty, but for a moment I saw laughing campers filling each seat. I saw our teen staff in front, the ones who worked all week long to make sure a bunch of kids were happy and taken care of. Camp songs echoed in my ears, as if the camp spirit surrounded me and enveloped me like a ghost. I saw the beautiful trees, heard the gurgling creek, breathed in the forest air. I believe that there are certain places that are our heavens on earth, and this is one of mine….