To be sure, this is high tripping season around here. One need only set foot into the Rec Hall to notice that the din of the place has lessened a bit these days. As I write this, there are nearly 80 kids out on various wilderness excursions. There are boys on five day hiking trips to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Sleeping Giant Provincial Park and the Superior Hiking Trail. There are others on their three-day cabin trips to the Eau Claire chain of lakes, and paddling down the Brule River. Still others are paddling in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. And then there are our Lumberjacks that are out on their Big Trips that pull them out of camp for a full fourteen days to either Quetico Provincial Park in Ontaro, Canada, or to Isle Royale National Park in the middle of Lake Superior.
If you can remember back to when our Assistant Director and I came to your home to talk to you about what to expect if you become a camper at Nebagamon, you will remember that we bragged a good deal about our wilderness tripping program. We advised your son to take advantage of the wilderness tripping opportunities offered at camp because this was likely the only time that these opportunities would present themselves to them. I mean, let’s be honest here, how often does someone appear at your dining room table and offer you a six-day canoe trip with your best friends in the world to a place where the water is so clean that you can literally drink straight from the lake (though we do filter it…..)? I am betting it has been a while…but here, these offers come virtually every day.
To be clear, while I truly believe that our in camp program is exceptional and offers amazing opportunities for the boys to learn new skills and to hone already existing ones. Our wilderness tripping program is, in my opinion, unparalleled in the field. When staff members join our tripping program for the first time, most of them comment that it is much more “hardcore” than they expected. That is to say, what we do out there is truly a legitimate wilderness experience. If the goals of coming to camp are to learn about self-reliance as well as interdependence, then there is perhaps no better way to gain these two skills than on a wilderness trip experience. It is an experience in which your bed is only as soft and dry as you and your trip mates make it, your food is only as good as you and your trip mates cook it, and you only travel as far as your and your trip mates arms and legs carry you.
Several years ago, I read a book that discussed the notion that boys in our culture were in trouble, in part due to the idea that they have lost any socially acceptable ways to be “macho.” While I am not totally sure what I think about this theory, the author brought up some interesting points. He mentioned that the role models of this machismo today usually are extraordinarily violent movie stars and often vulgar music icons. The adults in boys’ lives make it clear to them (appropriately in my opinion) that these are not desirable embodiments of what “macho” should be.
On the other hand, wilderness trips are the perfect vehicle to allow the boys to explore their own machismo. After all, what is more tough and macho than climbing a summit with a 50 pound backpack, or, or carrying a canoe over a mile long portage, or braving a thunderstorm when out in the woods? To watch the boys puff up with pride when describing their “on trail” challenges and accomplishments is a wonderful thing. In my mind, this is “macho” in its best and most desirable form.
Beyond all that esoteric stuff, our wilderness trips get the kids out into places that are, for lack of a more eloquent word….AWESOME! The unspoiled natural places that our campers get to venture into are among the most beautiful spots that there are anywhere. The ability and ease with which our campers are afforded the opportunity to not just see those places, but to live in those places for extended periods of time, clearly makes a difference. And it is my firm belief that the simple act of taking people and putting them into beautiful places, shifts their heads into a different gear. They think differently. They think more deeply. They savor moments better. They connect with each other on a deeper level. And it doesn’t take sophisticated programming….just a beautiful sunset.
I admit, it is during this time of the season, when I have watched so many of our boys tromp off into the wilderness, that I wonder if indeed, as I have always maintained, I have the best job in the world. It very well could be those trip counselors…I envy the fact that they get to facilitate all of this growing up out in the woods. I envy the sights that they get to soak in on a regular basis. I envy those magical campfires that they get to be a part of every night. Then again…I do smell way better than those guys do….so it is not all bad!
Our smaller numbers in camp also create some great opportunities for the boys that are here. The M.O.C.A. (our cooking program) horse-n-goggle (a random way of selection when numbers are limited) that is normally so huge, becomes much smaller. There are ALWAYS spots in target shooting and waterskiing, no matter what period you want to attend. And the feeling of an even smaller camp just deepens the already great feeling of community that exists here. Opportunities abound…
All is well in the North Woods…