Without a doubt the most circled day on the Nebaga-calendar of a first four week camper is Paul Bunyan Day. (Now, in all honesty, for me the most circled day is Rueben Day in the Rec Hall, but that is because I have a legitimate Reuben problem. But that is a discussion for another Update….or not.) And YESTERDAY WAS PAUL BUNYAN DAY!!!!
For those of you new to the Nebaga-world, Paul Bunyan Day is the one day during the summer when we toss aside that whole concept of non-competitiveness and go after VICTORY with reckless abandon. The campers are split up into four teams, the four famous logging companies that are no doubt household names around your home – Long Bell (yellow), Great Lakes (blue), Red River (um…red), and Weyerhaeuser (green). The boys compete in a variety of activities such as running races, tug-of-war, canoe tug-of-war, field hockey, fire building races, orienteering, euchre, 4 v 4 basketball, cribbage, quiz bowl, speedball and there is even an event in which the boys have to try to fill a bag with rice as close to a pound as possible. (One of our more…meticulous…boys, no kidding, actually hit the mark on the dot!) There are activities to suit everyone. No matter who you are and where your talents lie, everyone is important to their lumber company’s success. Everyone makes a difference.
The day began with the Boss Loggers running from cabin to cabin waking up their team members. After breakfast (and the one-day appearance of sugared cereal to the tables!), the day of competition began.
Certainly the contests themselves were really fun to watch. But the most fun thing to witness was what happened on the teams.
Watching the boys compete throughout the day was, as ever, unbelievably cool. From watching the chest thumping basketball machismo to the equally audacious displays of peacock feathers after a particularly impressive quiz bowl answer, it was just plain fun to see the kids get so profoundly into the games. It was fun to see them play like their lives depended on the outcome of the game. And then, when the game ended, it was even more fun to see them realize that, in reality, the game was just that…a game. The campers immediately recognized that, whether they were the winner or loser of that game, there were people on the other team, people that need to be congratulated, or consoled……and that ALWAYS happened. No joke…..it literally always happened. The winners sought out the losers and the losers sought out the winners. They earnestly connected and let each other know how much they appreciated the others. To be clear, that is not a tradition that we force upon them. That tradition came completely from the kids. I have no idea when it started, but, man, it is a beautiful thing.
But, while the intense spirit alone would have been enough to make even the most humble camp director proud, my pride stems from watching what happened interpersonally on those teams. While we generally don’t have very rigid divisions between age groups at camp, there are still some natural barriers built in to the scheme here that make inter-age connections a bit more challenging. Whether this stems from the fact that cabin mates are all of the same age and the cabins themselves are also within age specific villages, sometimes it is easier just to hang out with kids that are your own age. But, on Paul Bunyan Day, these inter-age connections are not only possible, but they are necessary. On Paul Bunyan Day, each team is a family of 9-15 year old boys working together for a common goal. They all know that no one is meant to be more important than any other and, with this in mind, they all look out for each other and support each other. Every year, Paul Bunyan Day burns images into my brain of our older and younger kids cheering together, consoling one another, and just walking and talking together. Nothing breaks down those age barriers like that day…..I love watching it….
One of my other favorite parts of Paul Bunyan Day is watching leaders emerge. Each team has a tenth grade camper leader, the Boss Logger, who was elected by his peers. These four guys organize their teams, lead cheers for their teams, counsel campers on their teams, and, most importantly, make connections with the campers on their teams. We had an amazing group of Boss Loggers this year. In the past, I certainly have seen Boss Loggers who put winning first and organized their teams so that they were positioned best to win the contest. These four terrific leaders took a different approach. These fellas organized their teams so that everyone on their team would have the best day possible. It is the Nebagamon way…and these four guys totally got it. To be clear, I have been the director here for 17 summers now and seen lots of Boss Loggers….and with no disrespect to those that preceded this year’s crew, I have never seen it done better. They were all remarkable…
At the end of the competition we all enjoyed a great feast of barbequed ribs on camp’s lower diamond. After having engaged in wholly partisan activities for a full day, it is great to watch the camp meld back into one family again. Plus, I cannot tell you how much we all look forward to that rib meal! Then we headed to the Council Fire Ring for a totally silly Council Fire in prelude to announcing the winner. To me, that symbolizes just how right we have it here. Despite the fact that EVERY SINGLE PERSON in that Council Fire Ring is dying to know who the winner is, nobody complains about the distraction. We all know that the results will be announced soon enough, but before that, we are all totally psyched to spend 45 minutes laughing together and being completely silly. Again, I am not sure where the tradition of the Paul Bunyan Day silly Council Fire started, but it is genius. It takes the edge off of the sting of poor performances, and it truly brings the camp back together as a camp family….united. No more teams….no more cheers….just laughs.
Camp was quieter this morning. Certainly this is partially due to fatigue as Paul Bunyan Day is long and exhausting, but, I am fairly certain that this morning there was not a single non-hoarse voice in camp. The battle cheers and screams that have been shaking the walls of the Rec Hall and reverberating throughout camp over the past few days were testament to the legitimate enthusiasm and connection that each kid felt towards his teammates. They were loud, they were passionate, and they were bonded….truly amazing sights and sounds.
Truly amazing day….
All is well in the North Woods….