Happy Paul Bunyan Day!
Remember when I came to your house and I touted Nebagamon as a place where competition was not a big deal? Well, today is different! For those of you that are not aware of what Paul Bunyan Day is, it is the one day during first session where we let our competitive juices really flow. The camp is divided into four teams (the four lumber companies of Weyerhaeuser, Long Bell, Great Lakes, and Red River) and they compete in a huge variety of contests. With activities such as running races, canoe relays, trivia, speedball, ultimate frisbee, chess, and 5v5 basketball (on our BRAND SPANKING NEW FULL SIZED BASKETBALL COURT!!), there is something for everyone today. In fact, that is one of the beauties of this day. It is designed so that everyone, no matter what their talent or interest, can contribute to their team and engage in some contests that will be fun for them.
I cannot tell you how much fun it is to walk around this place today. I have been able to witness legitimately exciting contests. There were a couple of classic battles in the tug-of-war, which in my mind is the most pure form of athletic contests. A rope and a group of people on each side…you pull the rope and whoever pulls hardest, wins. It is that simple…and one of my favorite things to watch. The crowd cheers lustily for a good tug-of-war every time. Then again, one of my favorite parts about Paul Bunyan Day, and for that matter, Camp Nebagamon, is the fact that the crowd cheers just as vociferously for a good game of washers. Washers is a simple camp game involving tossing some, you guessed it, washers, into a wooden box about fifteen feet away. For those of you that used to watch Bozo’s Circus growing up, it has a very similar feel to it as the “Bozo Buckets.” Hardly the most sophisticated or athletically intense of contests….but…when you see the intensity and focus with which our boys engage in this game, you would think that they had spent a lifetime training for this event. Word has it that the NCAA is considering adding washers as a division I sport this year….though admittedly, in other places, washers has been plagued with various doping scandals. Not here, though there was an allegation that one of the more prolific washers players took an extra cup of bug juice at the last village barbeque!
Watching the boys compete throughout the day has been unbelievably cool. From watching the chest thumping basketball machismo to the equally audacious displays of peacock feathers after a particularly impressive quiz bowl answer, it is just plain fun to see the kids get so singularly into the games. It is fun to see them play like their lives depend on the outcome of the game. And then, when the game has ended, it is even more fun to see them realize that, in reality, the game was just a game. The campers immediately recognize that, whether they are the winner or loser of that game, there are people on the other team, people that need to be congratulated, or consoled……and that ALWAYS happens. No joke…..it literally always happens. The winners seek out the losers and the losers seek out the winners. To be clear, that is not a tradition that we force upon them. That tradition came completely from the kids. I have no idea when it started, but, man, it is a beautiful thing.
But, while the intense spirit alone would have been enough to make even the most humble camp director proud, my pride stems from watching what happens interpersonally on those teams. While we generally don’t have very rigid divisions between age groups at camp, there are still some natural barriers built in to the scheme here that make inter-age connections a bit more challenging. Whether this stems from the fact that cabin mates are all of the same age and the cabins themselves are also within age specific villages, sometimes it is easier just to hang out with kids that are your own age. But, on Paul Bunyan Day, these inter-age connections are not only possible, but they are necessary. On Paul Bunyan Day, each team is a family of 9-15 year old boys working together for a common goal. They all know that no one is meant to be more important than any other and, with this in mind, they all look out for each other and support each other. Every year, Paul Bunyan Day burns images into my brain of our older and younger kids cheering together, consoling one another, and just walking and talking together. Nothing breaks down those age barriers like this day…..I love watching it….
And then there are those acts of sportsmanship. There was the Voyageur Rendezvous, a rope and balance game that the Boss Loggers play against each other at the very beginning of the day. One of the Boss Loggers suffered a rope burn and was clearly having trouble with the game. His opponent easily could have finished him off in the game and claimed victory for his team. Instead, he stopped the game, made sure his counterpart was ready to continue and continued. There was the moment during the firebuilding competition when one team’s fire went completely out. EACH of the other teams stopped what they were doing to offer advice and support. And all teams started cheering for the team with the extinguished fire! Amazing.
One of my other favorite parts of Paul Bunyan Day is watching leaders emerge. Each team has a ninth grade camper leader that was elected by his peers, the Boss Loggers. These four guys organize their teams, lead cheers for their teams, counsel campers on their teams, and, most importantly, make connections with the campers on their teams. We have an amazing group of Boss Loggers this year. In the past, I certainly have seen Boss Loggers who put winning first and organized their teams so that they were positioned best to win the contest. These four terrific leaders have taken a different approach. These fellas have organized their teams so that they are positioned best to give everyone on their team the best day possible…the best feeling of connection to the day possible…and the best feeling possible. It is the Nebagamon way…and these four guys totally get it. We are all proud of them.
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of today is the presence of SUGAR CEREAL on the breakfast tables! We figure that this indulgence twice a summer is ok! They also enjoyed, and will enjoy, their traditional Paul Bunyan Day meals of flapjacks for breakfast, chili for lunch (kind of a tough lunch on what looks to be an 80 degree day….but….tradition reigns supreme!), and a great ribs barbeque this evening.
Tonight we will all enjoy our Paul Bunyan Day Council Fire. This is a Council Fire that is very unlike the ones that I brag about here every week. There is no profound message, no deep meaning, no provocative ideas. Nope. This one is just meant to bring us back together as a camp family after a day of competition. To me, this particular variation on the Council Fire symbolizes just how right we are doing it here. Despite the fact that EVERY SINGLE PERSON in that Council Fire Ring is dying to know who the winner is, nobody complains about the distraction. We all know that the results will be announced soon enough, but before that, we are all totally psyched to spend 45 minutes laughing together and being completely silly. Again, I am not sure where the tradition of the Paul Bunyan Day silly Council Fire started, but it is genius. It takes the edge off of the sting of poor performances, and it truly brings the camp back together as a camp family….united. No more teams….no more cheers….just laughs.
At our Council Fire tonight we will all laugh together, then we will announce the winning team and we will all scream together. Then we will all go to sleep, and camp will be normal tomorrow.
Great day here at camp….
All is well in the North Woods….