Today is our first Cruiser Day of the session. As you may know, Cruiser Day is the one day each week when we completely trash our predictable daily schedule, a schedule that we have worked hard to institute so that the boys have a sense of structure and normalcy in what might otherwise be an unsettling experience….being away from home for the first time. But, on Cruiser Days, everything is different. Our projects are cancelled and the villages or cabins come up with special activities.
In the Swamper Village, fear has struck as the detestable Hodag has been spotted in the area and made a mess in Swamper 1. Luckily, the boys have discovered that Paul Bunyan, a wandering Chupacabra, and The Golden Bear (all mythical creatures….except Paul, of course, who hangs out at Nebagamon all summer long, and all winter long….almost like a statue) have turned up to aid our Swampers in driving out the dreaded Hodag….through games of dodgeball and obstacle courses, of course!
Our Loggers have discovered that there are untapped reservoirs of bug juice buried under the sandy soil of Camp Nebagamon. They will spend the day competing for mineral rights to various plots of land around camp (through games of dodgeball and obstacle courses, of course) and will eventually dig this afternoon to see if they have struck it rich!
The Axemen are celebrating Arnold Bunyan Day! Now those of you that have been reading these updates for a few years (or even just first session) know all about Paul Bunyan Day. But the often overlooked Arnold Bunyan Day is not to be missed. Arnold, Paul’s underappreciated younger brother, has a day of his own for the boys to engage in all sorts of competitions similar to Paul Bunyan Day, but with Arnold’s own twist on them. So, instead of a straight running race, they will do an Izzy Dizzy running race. In lieu of a traditional canoe tug of war, the participants will be doing a canoe tug of war with only their hands to paddle with. (Plus, I am sure there will be some dodgeball games and obstacle courses!).
Our Lumberjacks have been alerted to the global calamity of a rising Lake Superior and are headed there to combat this apocalypse. They will engage in games of dodgeball and obstacle courses to lower the rising tides. Aw, who am I kidding? The Lumberjacks are just headed to a gorgeous beach on Lake Superior to hang out, grill brats, swim, and chill.
Despite the fact that our staff so eagerly throw themselves into the characters that carry out the Cruiser Day stories, with costumes, funny accents and using their best theatrical talents, I am fairly certain that none of the boys in any of the villages actually believe any of these stories. The Swampers do not truly believe that they had to fight the evil Hodag, the Loggers are not truly convinced that a valuable motherlode of subterranean bug juice resides below Camp Nebagamon. Our Axemen don’t really believe that the spurned brother of Paul Bunyan, a used car salesman, had stolen away to camp for a day to engage the boys in a day of goofy competition. Kids just are not that gullible! (For example, I happen to be the parent of a ten year old who, no matter how hard I try, doesn’t believe that I am Superman! So far, all she is buying is the Clark Kent side.)
The necessary suspension of reality does not hinder the day. The campers make a conscious choice to play along. After all, what fun would it be to point out that the dude acting like the Hodag was simply wearing a poncho, a helmet, and some ballet tights? (Well…..pointing out the ballet tights might be fun. I admit that much!) The fun of the day is accessible when they let themselves become a part of the game. And when they do so, they discover the fun of letting go. So, for today, our campers were Hodag battlers, bug juice prospectors, and Arnold Bunyan sycophants.
And then, of course, everyone will walk down into the village of Lake Nebagamon for a Dairy Queen treat. And what better way to cap off a family day than with a walk into town to the Dairy Queen.
The way that Cruiser Day is structured, I suppose, is sort of like the way that I, as a parent, fantasized that weekends would be with my family. The dream went like this. On Friday evenings we would all sit down together with the world as our oyster, and plan out the most exciting family days imaginable for the weekend. (Unless, of course, the Bears were playing, in which case a seminar in football appreciation would be our sole activity on Sunday.) We would have a fun-filled weekend full of perfect activities and top it off by a carefree trip to the neighborhood ice cream shop. Well, given that I work seven days a week all summer precluding a DQ jaunt, and that in the off season the nearest Dairy Queen to our house is about five miles away in a strip mall, that fantasy seems about as likely on a regular basis as getting my kids to eat a raw oyster!
I was struck today by how fortunate our guys are at camp. Here they get to live that fantasy Mayberry life that seems so unrealistic these days. (I know I have made this Mayberry reference before in previous years…..but it really does speak to me. Please tell me that the Mayberry reference makes sense. That I am not so old that our parent body no longer shares the experience with me of being home from school on a sick day with nothing to watch but Andy Griffith, Petticoat Junction, and Love American Style!) They can grab their best friends and make up a silly day about Hodags, or drilling for bug juice, or creating a Paul Bunyan Day with a twist. And then they can, as a family, take an afternoon walk into town to the retro Dairy Queen, with the walk up window and the ancient neon sign, just to get an ice cream cone, sit on a park bench, and plan the next day. Pretty great stuff….
Perhaps camp is Mayberry. Perhaps that is why this generation sends us their kids. They grew up watching reruns of Mayberry and wishing that place for themselves, and if not for themselves, for their kids. (While I am certainly as funny as Barney Fife, I am not nearly as good looking!) I admit, I am a little worried about what camp will look like after this generation grows up and is looking to share their television neighborhoods of The Real World and Big Brother with their kids. It will mean some changes around here…..but for now, Mayberry seems pretty good.
All is well in the North Woods….