Camp could not have a better vibe to it these days. It is difficult to put my finger on the exact reason for this great energy, but there is no denying that it exists. It could be that, by now, cabin groups and friendships have gelled to such a degree that there is little else exuded besides these positive feelings. It could be that all of the special events and activities have really created such a great energy that the boys have had no choice but to catch the wave. Or it could be that the boys have begun to realize that the end is drawing near, and that they have committed themselves to milking as much fun out of their limited time here as possible.
This is the typical rhythm of camp towards the end of the summer. With just over a week to go, the energy in the air seems to be elevated. As I mentioned before, this has a great deal to do with the fact that things are going so well, but I have also come to believe that this is in part due to the amazing human ability to live in a state of denial (insert your favorite snarky political comment here). I guess I believe that the boys somehow convince themselves that if they scream loud enough, sing loud enough, run around intensely enough, and play hard enough, that they can somehow deny the reality that in just a week, screaming will be against the rules, singing at the dinner table will not quite fly, and running around…well that is just out of bounds at home! Now, don’t get me wrong, certainly there are many aspects of home that they are looking forward to like sleeping in their own beds, not having to sweep their bedrooms on a daily basis, not having to run back and forth from the kitchen to get food for their cabin of ten, and, of course, seeing their parents again. But, they are here now…and this is really fun…and leaving is something that they are not ready to contemplate. So, they put it off and pretend like the end is nowhere in sight.
And so it was that we had an absolutely perfect day of camp yesterday. It was not a special day, just a regular one. But it was a perfect day for me to take a walk around camp and soak it all in. I take these walks around camp often. But the ones toward the end of the summer are particularly fun. This is the time when I don’t need to cast such a critical eye on everything that I see. By now, things work like a well-oiled machine in virtually all program areas. I don’t need to worry about whether the athletics staff is enforcing the no flip flops rule. I don’t need to double check to ensure that the barrel lanyard stitch is being taught just the right way. (Okay, I admit I neither can identify nor teach the barrel stitch. I’m not even 100% sure it is a stitch!) This is the time when I can just wander and admire camp. Best of all, I get to watch the campers in action. At this point in the year, the land that is camp is truly theirs. They feel completely at ease here…it is their home. You see it in how they walk around.
To be clear, they each walk around in their own way, which is how I know that they feel so at ease here. There are many different styles. There are those that absolutely sprint from activity to activity. They cannot possibly imagine wasting even one second of their time here and attack each moment with a reckless abandon. There is simply too much going on at camp, and they have to make sure that they take advantage of it all. To them, there are simply not enough seconds in the day. They need for things to happen…and happen RIGHT NOW!
Then there are the other kids, the ones who lazily make their way from place to place. They walk with another boy, or boys, wandering slowly, and talking about…whatever…who they think will win the World Series, what they thought about the amazing s’more rice krispy treats that we had for dessert last night, who they figure will win the all-important staff Horse-N-Goggle tournament which began last night. (This all-important tournament is basically a 130-person rock-paper-scissors tournament that pits staff members against each other…and rivets the entire camp! What can I say? This is Camp Nebagamon!!!) Sometimes the conversations are quiet and calm while at other times, heated and animated. (The kid that was championing my prospects of winning the Horse-N-Goggle tournament was particularly animated…extra s’more rice krispy treat for that kid tonight to mend his broken heart as I was ousted in the first round for at least the 5th consecutive summer!)
Then there are the boys that are out walking on their own. Those that walk lazily around by themselves are perhaps the most interesting to watch. Sometimes they walk as though they know where they are going, and at other times, they just seem to be walking for the sake of walking. They wander around as though they have no idea where they are going, and, more than likely, they do not care. They may stop to watch a field hockey game, or to look at a goofy camp sign, or to admire a big beetle crawling in the dirt.
Finally, there are the skippers. I have to admit, I cannot remember the last time I skipped. It is something that we adults leave behind as a part of our childhood. I admit I am no exception to this. But, boy-o-boy (an expression that only camp directors get to use!), to watch a kid skip when he is in transit from one place to another is a GREAT sight. To me, skipping is one of the most unselfconscious and pure expressions of happiness and comfort that exist. I have been sitting here for a few minutes trying to come up with the right words to describe the way it makes me feel to see a boy skipping through this place, and have completely failed to find the words. All I can say is that those skippers send off some vibes that makes everyone around them stop, notice, smile…and envy.
At this point in the season, for all of our boys, camp has become their backyard. Camp is their neighborhood. Camp is that time and place that has virtually vanished from our busy and fearful modern society. Gone are the days of my childhood when I was turned loose into the neighborhood in the morning and just had to worry about being home for dinner (or calling home from the kid’s house that I was going to be eating at that night). For one reason or another, this free-wheeling world has vanished. Whether it is because kids are so highly programmed when they are at home or because the media tells us to be afraid of letting our kids out of our sight or because of the legitimately frightening situation that humanity is slogging through right now with COVID, there can be little doubt that our kids, particularly over the past year and a half, have not been getting the experience of just running free…except for the four or eight weeks our kids have gotten to spend up at camp. Camp is that neighborhood, it is that backyard, it is that playground, it is that space removed from the intensity and anxiety of the outside world. The gift that we give our kids by allowing them to freely experience the neighborhood, the backyard, the playground, is the gift of their childhood. All kids deserve to have that place where they can just wander, just explore, and just enjoy. It is where the best memories are made, the best friendships are cemented, and the best dreams are conjured up. It is the time and space that they all so desperately need to escape and to heal.
Please figure out a way to slow down time…this is going too fast.
All is well in the North Woods…