There’s one blog that I read that never fails to make me cry, laugh out loud and make me yearn for my youth. It’s from my camp.
I miss camp so much. It’s such a hard experience to describe. If you have been to camp, specifically overnight camp, then you’ll probably understand where I’m coming from. And if you haven’t been to camp, I’ll try to explain it in the most detail that I know how.
My first summer at overnight camp was 1993. I was going for two reasons: first, my older cousin had gone to this camp and it seemed like a good idea that I should go, too. And second, both of my brothers went to overnight camp and one of them went to the “brother” camp of the one I was going to. And he went for eight weeks. Naturally, I convinced my parents to sign me up for eight weeks, too.
Packing for camp was such an ordeal. The directors would send this giant list of what to pack and then my mom would take me to Bernie Shulman’s to start purchasing all of the toiletries and other nonsense I would need for my eight week adventure in the woods. She spent hours stitching name tags into my brothers’ shirts, socks, underwear and shorts, and then a few years later when it was my turn to go, countless hours handwriting my name on my clothes and accessories.
We would make piles of everything: underwear, socks, bras, shorts, t-shirts, tank tops, bathing suits, towels, etc. I don’t even remember what other piles we made. I remember taking a ton of hair gel. Stuffed animals were labeled, too. Some girls labeled their tapes and CDs. I never did. Probably should have — I’m still missing my Enya CD. My Walkman and Discman had my name all over them.
After hours of labeling, piling, organizing and then subsequently stuffing my gianormous duffle bags full to the gills, it was time to get a few hours of sleep before the early morning wake up to board the plane to Minneapolis.
My first summer, I knew one person going. Her name was Sara. She was a good friend from school. It was nice to have someone to lean on, in case things didn’t go well. We were cabin mates, and also bunk mates. She was such a fun person to share a bunk with. We were total opposites. Well, not total, but a lot. She was tall, I was short. She had shorter, blonder, straight-ish/wavy hair. I had long, brunette, extremely curly hair. She was so nice and easy to talk to. I was quiet and shy. And by “was,” I mean “is.” I know I’m still the same and I’m pretty sure she is, too.
First session was fun. Our cabin was a little weird. We had some odds and ends in there for sure. But as an L-1 camper in Cabin 11, I met one of my best friends, Lena. Lena was an eight week, seasoned camper. She had been there before so she was definitely a veteran. We had squabbles here and there but it always came down to one major commonality. We both had ridiculously thick, curly hair. And apparently, those are the ties that bind. Hair.
So in our crazy first session cabin, we had our fair share of fights. What else can you expect from a cabin full of eight pre-teen/teen girls, one teenage counselor, and two 20-something counselors? Of course chaos should ensue. But through all of the fights, slamming doors, and harassing our vain, drunken counselors (PEEP!), I learned the ins and outs of camp. I learned about Biffer, Pow Wow Day, Campelot and how to paddle a canoe. I went on hiking trips where I learned about bear bags and how to sh*t in the woods. I made phenomenal friends at camp, and learned invaluable lessons. I grew up there.
While I was at camp, my friends at home would be riding bikes and going to the pool. I was jealous. I missed them so much. We didn’t have a pool at camp.
But we had a lake and we got to sleep over with our best friends every night. We made carb spaghetti and big spooned messy brownie desserts. We did things, learned things, ate things that my friends from home would never experience. We cheered for everything possible under the sun. There were cheers for welcoming people to camp, cheers for rainy/lazy days, cheers for trips, cheers for cabins. Cheers for everything! There were even specific cheers for different color wars, depending on the session.
I am thankful for my time at camp. I can’t cheer anymore. People look at me funny when I do. C-H-E-R-O-K-E-E…!
It’s interesting to see, particularly on Facebook, who has stayed friends over the years and who has rekindled old friendships. I communicate with girls now that I would never have been friends with before at camp. Many of them are beautiful, wonderful mothers who have reached out to me when I have needed advice or just a good laugh.
I came across a current counselor’s photos from camp the other day on Facebook. One of them was of a giant tree in camp that looked like it had been torn to pieces. I recognized that tree as the Service Tree. It was where we would gather, every Sunday morning, to have our Sunday services. Sundays were our lazy day. There was a buffet brunch in the Lodge with cereals, muffins, bagels, etc. It was the one morning you could sleep in and skip a meal. But after the breakfast hours were over, camp would gather under the Service Tree.
Our services were nondenominational, as was our camp. Services were stories, skits or songs about friendship, caring, and compassion. Services always included music, complete with guitars and signing.
The picture I had seen was indeed of our Service Tree. It had been very badly damaged during a storm at camp. I don’t know if they still have services under that tree anymore. It is still a very recent occurrence. I hope they do. Sitting under that tree in our Crazy Creeks, with all of the dried up pine needles, snuggled up in our pjs and fleece pullovers, was one of the best parts of camp.
Some (most) of my favorite memories of camp are from trips. My first hiking trip was with Tripper Dan and my Upper Linden cabin. We hiked the Porcupine Mountains in the UP of Michigan. I have so many fantastic photos from that trip. Nicole, our counselor, had the unfortunate honor of slipping on a log and getting soaked on that trip. And Sara’s water bottle, inadvertently left out of the bear bag one night, had the unfortunate honor of having a bear gnaw on it. He left some nice chomp marks all over it. And always scared the sh*t out of us the evening he paid us a visit.
I learned to canoe on the Namekagon River and fell asleep listening to the peaceful sound of the river. We hiked Isle Royale and our counselor Kate wore a sports bra the entire trip. We renamed her breasts Uni-boob. I learned how to use a water purifier, iodine tablets, how to make a fire, how to light a stove and most importantly, how to leave no trace. This calls for a trip cheer…
I go to Isle Royale so pray for me. The trippers say it’s good for my body.
Every night together we pop the sores. I don’t know what the hell I ever came here for.
I’m gonna put my backpack on my back. I’m gonna hike ’til my hips turn blue and black.
I’m gonna eat dehydrate, lose some weight, oh it’s great, at Isle Royale!
We are the Porkies Hikers. P-O-R-K-Y!
I have made some of my best friends and best memories at camp. There isn’t one single day that goes by that I don’t think about it. I hope that I can send my son to camp one day. I want him to experience life on a different level. I want him to appreciate his friends, nature and independence, and learn invaluable leadership skills he will certainly gain from a camp environment.
I’ll leave you with our opening and closing poem. I didn’t really “get it” until now. Much love and happy trails…
There is a destiny that makes us brothers and sisters;
None goes his or her way alone.
All that we send into the lives of others
Comes back into our own.
I care not your race nor creed;
One thing holds firm and fast
That into this fitful heap of days and deeds,
The soul of a man and a woman is cast.