It used to be that I would say that the most powerful moment of any summer was the Keylog ceremony during the final Council Fire of the summer. Who could possibly argue that the power of heartfelt and tear laden words, shared by a camper on his last night as a camper, are not the emotional high point of any summer? Indeed, that night surely is the most trying on my emotional self-control. Their emotions affect me deeply. The realization that the summer is coming to a close, and the fun, the laughter, the singing, and the intensity of connection are about to be shelved for the winter deeply affects me. And the realization that that particular group, the camp family of that particular summer, would likely never again be assembled on this planet, deeply affects me.
Still, I have to say, over the course of the past few years, I have found the power of a different annual moment at camp to be even more poignant to me. That moment occurred yesterday afternoon…..and totally delivered. It is the moment when the 9th graders return from their two week trips to Canada. The arrival has been choreographed in such a way as to have all of the 9th graders arrive at camp in a caravan of 15 passenger vans at precisely the same time. Not ones to ever let a potential moment of emotional significance go underplayed, we have the lead car call in to camp about ten minutes before they turn into the Range gate. We then ring a special bell in camp so that everyone knows that the trips are about to arrive. It doesn’t matter who, or what they are doing at that moment…sailors, photographers, kitchen staff, office workers, everyone drops what they are doing and sprints down to the waterfront to watch it happen. (Ok, well not our climbing wall instructors. Having them drop what they are doing immediately would have complications!!!) The four vans pull up along our lakefront, and then the doors fly open. In an instant, 35 smelly, dirty, and exultant young men, and their trip counselors, come flying out of the vans and make a mad dash into the waters of Lake Nebagamon. With the entire camp assembled and cheering wildly, they all pound into the water screaming at the top of their lungs. The next five minutes are spent hugging one another, chanting together, singing together, and congratulating each other. In so many ways, this final entry into Lake Nebagamon for these boys signifies the culmination of their camper experiences as a whole. Their camper careers started out, for so many of them, seven years ago as frightened Swampers, jumping into the cold waters of an alien lake to take their first swim tests, terrified about what lurked below. I believe, in that moment, the Swampers feel like they are alone. Seven years later, their camper careers end with the very same boys, once again jumping into that same lake. But this time, that alien lake is nothing of the kind. It is home. Its water feels as warm and comfortable as the most welcoming bath. And not a single one of them feels alone. They are surrounded by, exhorted by, and embraced by their brothers.
It used to be that my sole focus down on the waterfront during this special moment was on the 9th graders themselves. But lately, I also have been noticing the other campers and staff as they share in the moment. I notice the Swampers and Loggers, who while they clearly do not yet understand the significance of the moment to those older boys, are very clearly aware that something big is happening and cheer loudly and excitedly as it happens. They look on admiringly at these guys that they have seen throughout the summer in different leadership roles. They have been looking up to them for three or seven weeks…and they are happy for them. I notice the Axemen, boys that have recently realized that next year, they will be the leaders of camp, they will be the Lumberjacks. And while they still have two years until they will be entering Lake Nebagamon in this way, it is clearly on their minds. I notice the 8th grade Lumberjacks. They always position themselves in the best vantage point possible to make sure they can see every second of the proceedings. The looks on their faces are oddly serious. As though they understand that this is the last time they will ever be spectators to the event…..next time it will be real….next time it will be them. And I notice the staff members. Those for whom this is their first summer at Nebagamon, stand slack jawed and awed at the spectacle. While they have no first-hand experience with the feelings and excitement of these boys, that emotion and energy is palpable and easily assimilated. Those staff members that were campers themselves stand silently and wistfully. While they are generally supportive guys that are all about the kids, and are genuinely happy for the returning 9th graders, in this moment, I notice that in this moment, these veterans turn inward. It is clear that the sight of these boys returning to Lake Nebagamon at the end of their Quetico, and camper adventures, transports these staff members to that moment years before when they were the ones running into the lake. They remember that exaltation of that moment, they remember the bittersweet nature of that moment, they remember the power of that moment…..they stand silently in their own transported worlds and remember.
I cannot do justice to this moment through an update. Its power is truly amazing. It is a moment that signals individual success, incredible camaraderie, a true camp family, and, indeed, a lurking sadness borne of a realization that it is all coming to an end very soon.
It is certainly time to admit that we are coming to the end here. While there are still a few AMAZINGLY fun, moving, and exciting days ahead of us, we have all become aware of the fact that our days are numbered here. Tonight will be our annual visit from the Chief of the Yo Yo Islands, A.K. Agikamik. He loves to visit with the boys and hear about all of the funny and outrageous things that have happened over the course of the summer. It is a truly hilarious, and, admittedly, truly weird night!! Tomorrow morning we will head down to the Shrine for our final Sunday (shhh….don’t tell them it is actually a Friday huh?) Service of the summer. The final Sunday Service is a group effort; the summer is viewed as a book that has been written over the days we have shared at camp, and we review that book together. As a camp family, we share the moments during the summer that made us laugh hardest, the moments that made each of us most proud, and, even our favorite meals. Everyone shares their thoughts and experiences. It is a great hour of reflection for all of us, and really crystallizes each of our summers as we prepare to write the final few pages of our books in the next couple of days.
I really love this job.
All is well in the North Woods….