Sundays are special at Camp Nebagamon. It’s surely obvious to all of you who spent summers at camp—a bit like saying that DQ blizzards are refreshing. But I’ll say it again: Sundays are special. In fact, I’d argue that the whole day is refreshing.
It starts with a late wake-up, which is always nice (unless you happen to be a Swamper counselor), followed by a breakfast of cinnamon rolls or coffee cake. No complaints about that. Ever. So the camp family actually starts the day refreshed.
Then the Sunday Service, which is always a wonder to me on several levels. First, the camp family arrives in silence. I always find it remarkable that the same campers who turn the Rec Hall into a cacophony of sound can muster up the restraint to arrive quietly at the Chuck Hirsch Shrine and remain respectfully silent for the duration. Refreshing.
The Sunday choir is always a revelation, too. Over the years, it has transformed only slightly. What was a piano back in the day may now be a guitar accompaniment, or a bongo, or maybe even a saxophone. And there are at least as many campers as counselors in the choir (this may have something to do with escaping cabin cleanup duties). And the songs aren’t always traditional (Cynthia Rolfe opted for “Monster Mash” a couple of summers ago). But always, it’s comforting to hear a subsection of the camp family singing beneath the whispering pines. And always, the songs are relevant to the subject matter.
That subject is chosen by the speaker, of course. And as you’ll see in the “SUNDAY MORNING” piece in this newsletter, there is no shortage of topics. But we choose the speaker, and it’s a deliberate choice. When Stephanie introduces the person and highlights their background, I am constantly reminded about how impressive our staff’s accomplishments are—both within camp and beyond it.
Then, of course, once they start speaking, I’m reminded further. Surely, alumni recall their favorite Sunday Services. I’m certain the current campers and counselors will, too. Two summers ago, when associate director Adam Fornear talked about how “There is always a way,” the notion of finding a means of solving problems via advice and imagination undoubtedly resonated with campers who might be eyeing a big trip or trying to make the archery team or navigating relationships with cabinmates. And when Jaye Hensel discussed her lifelong experiences with a physical disability, there was certainly nobody sitting under those pines who wasn’t profoundly moved. In this day and age, when it seems like civil discourse and an appreciation of wisdom can be in short supply, respectful listening is, yes, refreshing.
Another Sunday tradition: watermelon. Always refreshing, too. And quite the tradition, as you’ll see in the photos in the “SUNDAY AFTERNOON” section of this Keylog.
And then, of course, the Sunday evening activity (see “SUNDAY EVENING”)—a Council Fire. I suspect there aren’t too many alumni who didn’t participate in one way or another—either as a writer, a speaker, or a cast member. I’ve always contended that the Council Fire is the best part of each week. Through skits and monologues, humor and profundity, we get a full understanding of camp’s connections, camp’s challenges and successes and lessons, camp’s summer-specific inside jokes, camp’s magic. From the beginning (“Our camp family is now assembled”) to the end (“All Night, All Day”), Council Fires are the heart and soul of camp.
Take initiative. Challenge yourself. Support a friend. Make good choices. Have a good attitude. Be your best you. Whatever the topic, it is always another reminder—of the creativity of our staff and the amazing ways in which they are able to mix a dollop of silliness with a heavy dose of perceptiveness.
They do it all in front of a comfortable crackling fire that fades as darkness descends. And then it is time to, yes, refresh that fire. The Keylog Ceremony may be my favorite moment of my favorite part of my favorite day at camp. It offers several things:
Opportunity: A camper or staff member can offer a very public thank you or homage, whether it’s toward a counselor who helped them overcome homesickness, or a friend who helped through a challenge in the Boundary Waters, or a family member struggling at home. More than a few campers simply find the words to thank Nebagamon itself.
Inspiration: I find it inspiring that anyone, whether age 8 or 68, can find the courage to stand in front of a few hundred people and emote. I suspect it stems from gratitude and a certain self-realization. But I always find it life-affirming.
Finally, a physical metaphor: All of that gratitude, that emotion, slowly but surely rebuilds the fire into a raging flame. It punctuates the Sunday with an exclamation point—just before we head back to our cabins, we warm ourselves by a fire generated completely by the kindness and consideration of the members of our family. And after all, we all aim to Keep the Fires Burning.
I love Sundays.