I Didn’t Choose the Camp Life…

The camp life chose me. Since I was a small child, summers in my life have meant spending at least a couple weeks at the camp down the road. When I was too old for the hiking and canoeing, archery and all-camp games, I moved up to the wilderness school. And then the Venture Crew. And then I started working there. I’m a camp kid for life.

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Camp is so much more than the activities. It is a space that transcends many generational and societal boundaries. Kids from five years old to directors at all levels of adulthood build friendships that transcend the summers and see them through life—a phenomenon that ACA Board Chair Tisha Bolger refers to as “Generation Camp”. Camp teaches social skills that are sorely needed in this world: kindness, compassion, confidence, and perhaps most importantly, how to let go of fears and apprehensions and just relax.

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Camp teaches kids about skills and interests that they didn’t know they had. They learn how not to be aliens on their own planet, and to really look at the trees, plants, and animals they coexist with. It teaches them about what really goes bump in the night (usually a greedy raccoon), and how to see the stars when light and noise pollution drown out the sight of the universe.

Camp teaches counselors how to fail. How to have patience, to handle someone else’s tantrums, and fears, and best-and-worst-days-ever. It teaches teamwork, negotiation, and group management. It teaches everyone how to unplug and live in the moment. Camp teaches everyone how to build real friendships, put down the phone, and trust someone to really listen when there is something to be said.

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That is the biggest thing I took away from my years at camp, learning to trust. Despite technological advances, I can’t trust most people I meet to return a text or an email, much less pick up a phone. It is almost as if because we share so much of our lives online, we think that being an invisible, passive observer is the same thing as having a relationship with someone. And then we wonder why we are lonely. But I know that my fellow counselors and facilitators, and my fellow campers of old will always be there. I know that I have seen some of my campers through the worst moments of their lives—and that neither of us will forget that. If I hadn’t learned to lean on others while in a canoe or singing around a campfire, if I hadn’t found a home while climbing a Giant’s Ladder or walking down cliffs, I would never have grown up to be the person I am today.

This might very well be my last summer returning to camp, though I will always have my camp family. The thought is bittersweet; it is time to leave the safety net, but at the same time, it is very much time to move on to the next adventure. But this will very much be one of the places I call home, and truly, the home of my childhood, for the rest of my life.

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