It Takes A Village

By Jacob Hoffman PhD

When Noah asked me to write this update, my first thought was redundant.  “It feels really good around here”. Since we can’t write two updates in a row about the same thing, I thought we could dig in a little bit deeper.  Though the good feeling remains around camp, it also doesn’t tell the whole story.  Each village has a different feel, a different vibe, a different set of stories.  Being a Swamper and being an LJ are not the same, so the things that feel good about those villages are also not the same.

For this update I thought we could talk about the villages:

The Swamper Village

The Swamper village exists on the Hill, and for our Swampers, the hill is a place of safety.  It is a protected haven within which to learn the rules, a place to try and to fail, and to fail safely.   If you’re a Swamper, the hill is inhabited by gentle giants, your counselors and pushes.  They tower over you, looking out, looking over, always there if something goes wrong.  In a place like this, you can play and laugh and fall down and cry, but ultimately you know everything will be alright, that your summer will be a good one.  Being a Swamper is all about getting a feel for camp at its most fantastical.  While we as a staff work to create an environment where this is possible, we are aided in this endeavor by the boundless imaginative energy of our youngest minds.   When you’re a Swamper, the legends are real.  Paul Bunyan walks among us, the Swamp Gouger stalks at night, it snows in June.  For Swampers, camp is designed around whatever trains of thought inhabit their minds, it is our job to take those trains and build them tracks.  The Swampers this year are also playing four square, albeit with a gentler set of rules that teach the game while allowing for a more permissive learning environment.  My favorite moment of Swamperness this year was when some of the campers from Swamper 6 decided to put both their arms and legs into their sweatshirt sleeves, walking around the hill proudly declaring “I’m a potato.”  This spud-like declaration brought joy to everyone on the hill that day.

The Logger Village

Full disclosure:  I am the Logger Push, so I may have the most to say about this village.  

Being a Logger is a little different.  While still imaginative, Loggers are starting to get a better feel for reality.  They are starting to develop the willful suspension of disbelief that is inherent to much of what we do at camp.  So while the Loggers can still buy in to creative, larger than life activities, it is with a wink and a nudge; with an understanding that what we do here is sometimes a little bit corny.  

Another part of being a Logger is testing boundaries:  You’ve done this for a year or two, you know the ropes, and you want to see how strong those ropes are.  Loggers this year have pulled their first pranks: While the climbing signup normally occurs on “The Logs Behind Logger 1”, Logger 2 engaged in some creative relocation, making them “The Logs Behind Logger 2” for a day.  Although they had to return the logs to their rightful place, this demonstrates the mischievous energy of the Loggers this year.  This tentative rules testing is apparent in the games they play as well.  Logger four square is an entirely different beast than Swamper four square:  The rules are strictly enforced, and special moves are not only allowed but encouraged. Every G-Swim, the Logger four square court is animated by tree-serves, slams and jedi jumps, showcasing the athletic prowess of the 5th and 6th graders.  The Loggers are also getting their first taste of leadership.  As the oldest boys on the hill, they are learning what it means to set an example, to make space below them for the younger boys to have the kind of experience they had just a year or two ago.   I have witnessed this dynamic in action this summer, with pride:  I was on the hill, and it became apparent that a mixed group of three Swampers and one Logger wanted to play one of the camp card games, euchre.  The Swampers didn’t know how to play, and while the Logger knew how to play, he wasn’t very comfortable teaching the game.  With some gentle urging, I watched as this Logger got outside of his comfort zone and taught the younger boys the rules to the game.  It’s stories like this that make Camp Nebagamon such a cool place.  This was a huge moment for all of those campers:  Both ages were learning something new; the Swampers how to play, and the Logger how to teach.  

The Axeman Village

Once you’re an Axeman, things get a little bit different.  The Axeman village is an island, geographically isolated from the rest of camp.  Located across range road, their village serves as a quiet enclave to house the transformations that our 7th graders are undergoing.  At the age of the eyeroll, being in the village is less about losing yourself in fantastical stories as it is about building strong peer relationships and learning how to belong.  The Axeman village this year exemplifies this concept.  The lines between cabins seem to be blurred, with so many intra-cabin friendships that to an outsider like me it becomes hard to keep track of where one cabin ends and another begins.  The Axemen this year have become enamored with “Secret MOD”, a mafia-like game with a Camp Nebagamon twist.  They are also playing one of my all-time favorite camp games, Rindi Ball.  Rindi ball is a perfect game for Axemen.  As they begin their physical growth in earnest, moving the ball game from a cramped four square court to a more spacious and higher roof acknowledges their growing stature in the Camp hierarchy.

The Lumberjack Village

When you become a Lumberjack however, the village changes again.  You are the undisputed leaders at camp, and part of that leadership are the trips you can go on.  Unlike the younger grades, the Lumberjacks go on Big Trip.  These trips, while crucial parts of the camp experience, also change the dynamics of the LJ village. Trip groups will be gone for weeks at a time, making the LJ village often much smaller than would be expected based on numbers alone.  The feel of the LJ village this year reflects this.  With a set of Quetico’s leaving early this year, in addition to some normal-sized trips going out, the LJ village has had an essence of tranquility.  At night, the LJs play pickleball on the brand new pickleball courts, they shoot hoops on the 10 foots, and though there is energy there, you can tell that our leaders are out on trail.  That all changed yesterday when the first set of Quetico’s returned.  The Lumberjacks have this cheer.  At the meal, their push will shout out “LJ’s!,” to which the Lumberjacks will respond with a single, chanted, “HUUUH.”  From where I sit in the center of the rec hall, this cheer is usually something that I can hear, but don’t give much thought to.  But yesterday was different.  Yesterday the first Quetico’s came back, and though I was theoretically aware of that fact, it didn’t quite hit me until that cheer.  Last night, the cheer was impossible to ignore, a deep, resounding declaration of presence that had me thinking “that’s what it means to be an LJ.”

So the villages all feel good, but they all feel different.  As this summer moves on, one thing I’ll be paying attention to are those feels, the ways that they change and the ways that they stay the same.  For now though, I’m just going to enjoy how things are.