Generally in these updates, I try to give a broad view of the happenings in camp over the past few days. I tend to write about things that everyone has been experiencing rather than just the experiences of small groups of campers. (An exception being the recounting of my super fun trip to the ER earlier this session. I have strategically decided to spare you the complete accounting of all of my ventures into the Essentia emergency room…oops, there goes that strategy!)
Having said that, today I am going to deviate from that practice and share just one segment of our program with you…our nature lore program. I don’t have a specific date for when the actual nature lore program began, but in looking through the photo albums, it is clear that nature was being taught here from the very early years of camp; apparently it has always been a significant part of our program. No matter when you were a camper, you can probably name the nature program director. And to each of us, the nature program was defined by that person. Throughout my camper years, he was simply known as Brother Nature. In the ensuing years, the name morphed to change with the times and became more personal. We were taught for many years by Nature Dave, and Bro-Nat-Matt, and several others. They have always been big personalities around camp. This year is certainly no exception. Sam, our nature program director this year, is a very big personality. A former camper and cabin counselor, he spent his early 20s working as a chocolate farmer (Yeah, I didn’t realize there was such a thing either, but Sam can make anyone believe just about anything. So he was able to pass himself off as an agricultural chocolate expert to some naive folks in Chile!), found himself with a free summer, and inquired about a job teaching nature. We snapped him up…and thus a new flavor of the nature program was born.
This summer, nature lore is about learning as much as possible about the land that camp sits on. Project periods are spent exploring every nook and cranny of the place. From slogging through bogs to learn about the different life that inhabits them to scouring the woods in search of signs of animal life, the hallmark of the nature program this year is exploration.
Perhaps the coolest of their discoveries has been part of the ruins of the lumbermill that operated on these grounds from the 1880s until 1907. The boys have unearthed a double-sided axe blade dated to the 1860s, bricks used for the building structure from 1850, a large sawblade (date unknown), a still working log rolling mechanism for moving timber around, and a medicine bottle dated 1885.
While admittedly it is a serious stretch to classify the excavation of a destroyed lumbermill as something in line with the nature lore program, digging up buried treasures, and from a lumbermill no less, is the stuff of summer boyhood dreams! Can you even begin to imagine how jazzed your boy is at the prospect of unearthing a 150-year-old axe blade used by the lumberjacks back in the day? The best notions of Tom Sawyer, Treasure Island, and Stand By Me are all coming to life right here at camp. We are all in!
One of the coolest parts of this summer’s discoveries is the appeal that it has to all ages of campers. Normally, the nature lore program is populated primarily with younger campers. However, the sawmill discovery and exploration has drawn a huge variety of campers. The bookish, the too-cool-for-school, the sporty…everyone has been clamoring for the opportunity to be a part of the excavation. This has facilitated a really nice connection within our community. With older boys and younger boys working together to seek out the different treasures out there, there have been some really nice mentoring relationships and friendships borne of this work. So not only is it great fun but it’s great for community building.
So, sure, perhaps our nature lore program this summer is a bit less nature-y than usual. (Again…keep in mind that my nature “expert” passed himself off as an “expert” gourmet chocolatier, so I am hardly the first to be duped!) But I have always maintained that while the specifics of our program do matter to me, most of our activities are, just as importantly, vehicles for achieving our loftier goals here at camp. Ultimately we want our campers to discover how much fun there is in this world (without screens!), to foster friendships, to try new activities, to create a strong and healthy community, and to build up a physiological tolerance for tetanus. (Just kidding…I swear…sorry…I just find myself hilarous.) It’s not our traditional nature program this summer. But that is just fine by me.
All is well in the North Woods…