Without a doubt, anyone that has ever spent a summer at Nebagamon would tell you that there is nothing like a Sunday at camp. Sundays here have their own special feel to them. Whether it is the late wake up (Well, late wake up for anyone outside the Swamper Village. Swampers wake up early no matter what we try!), the special meals, or the special programs, the day takes on a completely unique feel.
Yesterday, we began our Sunday with a delicious breakfast of homemade coffee cake. (I am told by well-placed sources that coffee cake breakfast is the single worst meal for which to be KP – kitchen patrol). These poor KPs spend more time carrying food to and from the food window than a parent of a newborn colicky baby spends ascending and descending the stairs with their little bundles of joy. (Yes, my children are well past that stage now, but as you can tell, the scars still run deep!) After breakfast we all gathered at the Chuck Hirsch Shrine for our Sunday Service. For those of you new to the Nebaga-world, a Sunday Service is a non-religious gathering of the entire camp family. A member of our administration or senior staff presents a topic of importance to him or her. Yesterday, our presentation was by one of our Health Center staff who has been at camp for 12 summers now. He spoke to us about variables. Not the mathematical variable, but the idea that there are variables that we can control, and ones that are beyond our control. We should use our mental energy working on the variables that we CAN control, NOT the ones we can’t. In other words, don’t worry about the weather on an upcoming wilderness trip (uncontrollable) but, if you are worried about whether you will be able to portage a canoe on your upcoming trip (controllable), spend some time in the canoeing project improving that skill. And, ultimately, the one variable that is always controllable is our attitude. So, no matter what variable gets thrown our way, we can always choose to respond with a positive mental attitude which helps make any situation better.
During the afternoon, we had normal project periods under a beautiful blue sky and 75 degree temperatures. More on normal projects another day…
Then last night was our weekly Council Fire. A staff member writes a values-centered skit which, with the help of other staff and campers, is presented to the camp family. Of course, this is all done by the light of a huge campfire built in the center of the Council Fire Ring. Ask any camper, staff member, or alumni about Council Fires, and they will tell you that Council Fires are the most important and best part of each week. That is when we get a full understanding of the magic that is happening here at camp, the power of the connections that are being made at camp, and the prospects of what can be accomplished at camp. I have always maintained that if I were within five hours of Lake Nebagamon on a Sunday night, I would find a way to make it to the Council Fire ring. I would have to. Council Fires are the heart and soul of camp. (Then again, I have arranged my life in such a way that I never need to worry about missing Council Fires…clever huh?)
The topic of last night’s Council Fire was Growing up…and staying childish. It was an interesting dichotomy. In adults, our ability to be playful and silly, something that comes so easily to young children who are not yet self-conscious, is often a reflection of our own self confidence and even maturity. Children’s ability to sing unabashedly, to “dance like nobody is watching,” to tap into their imaginations with such ease are things that adults often lose somewhere along the line. There is much to be learned from childhood; adults would do very well to reflect on how children approach their lives. With imagination, playfulness, and enthusiasm, life is often more fun, more productive and just better.
It struck me as I was watching this presentation just how many of us “old folks” choose to spend our summers here at camp. Ostensibly we make this choice to help these younger folks who are so clearly in need of our guidance…but in truth, a large part of this choice has to do with our selfish desires to feed off of and learn from all of these young people that surround us at camp. It is us that are the ones in need of their guidance. And while a big part of the message was about celebrating a childish approach to life in many situations, we also learned last night that as we engage in these childish endeavors, we find ourselves growing up in much deeper ways. This is one of the bedrock principles that camp is built upon. We sing goofy songs, we dance around carelessly, we play silly games, we engage in childish activities…and while all of this is happening, without even realizing it, we discover that we have grown immensely. And this “growing up” is not the kind of “GROW UP!” that is often demanded by adults. We learn executive functioning skills, self-regulation, and build our emotional dexterity. We learn to negotiate, to share, to empathize, to listen, to speak, to self-advocate, to be uncomfortable, to do hard things, to find joy, to find passion, to accept disappointment, to celebrate accomplishments, to be grateful, and the list goes on. Great stuff.
All Council Fires are concluded with a series of, for lack of a better word, rituals that have been done in exactly the same way here for 93 years. We first engage in the Keylog Ceremony. This is a time when campers and staff, if they choose, may take a piece of wood, toss it onto the Council Fire (which by that point in the evening has burned down to a bunch of red coals with no flames to speak of) and then turn to a crowd of 300 people and dedicate the log to someone that has made a difference to them…a public thank you. We heard from 3rd graders thanking their counselors for helping them with their homesickness, campers just thanking Nebagamon for being another place to call home, and brand new counselors thanking the people that brought them to this special time and place. The poetic beauty is that, by the end of the Keylog Ceremony, we have a raging fire once again. It is a fire generated completely by the kindness and caring of the members of our family. It is, in my mind, our very best tradition in this place that is filled with many truly great traditions, and can evoke a misty eye from even the most stolid folks…and schmaltzy camp directors.
After the Keylogs, we bowed our heads in silent prayer for our loved ones everywhere, just as literally thousands of campers and staff have done before us, and then sang the same songs that campers have sung around the Council Fire ring since 1929. Finally, we headed back to our homes for a quiet night together with our families…in our homes. Not bad huh?
All is well in the North Woods…