Gratitude and Camp — Adam Gives Thanks

By Adam Kaplan

There can be little doubt that this has been a tumultuous year for so many folks around the world. With tempers flaring across the globe on a huge variety of topics, our own political system redefining the word broken, the Chicago Bears toiling in a miserable season filled with unmet expectations, and various other challenges that we are all facing, it is easy to lose perspective on what is right in the world… and what we need to be thankful for. Given these challenges and the fact that Thanksgiving is right around the corner, I thought this might a good year for the cliché Arrowhead article about what we need to remember to be thankful for.

We are thankful for Paul Bunyan. That simple statue that stands so powerfully just inside the front gate to camp. Paul has welcomed thousands of boys to camp over the years. Paul has re-welcomed thousands of alumni as they make a pilgrimage back to camp after many years away. Paul is a wonderful symbol to all of us that we are home.

We are thankful for that camp smell. The one that fills our senses the moment that we arrive at Nebagamon after some time away. It is hard to put one’s finger on exactly what that smell is. It might be the pine trees. It might be the fresh unpolluted air of the North Woods. It might be the smells that waft off of beautiful Lake Nebagamon. Most likely it is a combination of all of these things. Impossible to define…yet we all know it and recognize it the moment that we arrive at camp.

Big and Little Brothers, sharing s’mores at the Soiree

We are thankful for camp Big Brothers. Those older boys who take it upon themselves to make camp a more comfortable and welcoming place for new campers every year. In an era when folks often talk of the self-absorption of 13-15 year olds, we are all thankful for the special ones that come to camp and unselfishly focus so much of their attention on creating a true camp family.

We are thankful for the camp staff. Those men and women that forgo the siren call (and occasional parental command) of the “real job” to spend the summer working to provide for the safety, health, happiness, fun and growth of the boys that venture into the North Woods every summer. While there can be little doubt that our staff takes a huge amount out of their summer experiences (and that is just in those massive salaries!), ultimately how successful we are every summer boils down to the quality and commitment of those special people. They have affected and improved the lives of literally tens of thousands of boys over the years.

We are thankful for pizza nights. Those raucous meals every Sunday night when we all let loose a bit in the Rec Hall. We eat (way too much), we sing (way too loud), we dance like nobody is watching us…. and we laugh… and laugh… and laugh.

We are thankful for Cruiser Days. Those wonderful Wednesdays when we all get a chance to break up the routine and engage in Olympic Days, Harry Potter Days, Guinness T. Nebagamous Days, and other silliness that reminds us all about how much fun it is to play and be a kid. On that note, we cannot forget to be thankful for Dairy Queen Blizzards… chock full of all things chocolaty, sugary, and sweet that we know we should not be eating!

We are thankful for Council Fires. Those hours that we all spend together as a camp family gathered around that huge roaring fire laughing together, learning together, sometimes crying together. No matter from what era they hail, anyone that has ever been to camp will tell you that it is the Council Fire that helps us to understand what friendship is all about…what kindness is all about…what Nebagamon is all about.

We are thankful for camp friends and camp family. Those folks with whom we love to play, with whom we love to debate, with whom we love to lie on our bunks after taps and swap stories, with whom we love to joke around, and with whom we just love to spend time. They are the people that help us when we are struggling and support us when we need a shoulder to lean on. Certainly we all have friends that exist outside the camp world…but there is something different about our camp friends, something more enduring, more accepting, more understanding, and more unconditional.

We are all thankful for our other families as well. You know, our traditional families. Our parents, our siblings, and for some, spouses and children. Those folks that easily forgive our failures and challenges. The ones that always are in our corners cheering us on regardless of how daunting the situation may be. They are always there for us…

On a more personal note (sorry, but I am going to use this bully pulpit for some more personal thanks this month…one of the benefits of an autocracy!), I am thankful for the giants upon whose shoulders we stand. The incredible vision, hard work, passion, intelligence and skills of Janet and Muggs Lorber, Sally and Nardie Stein, and Judy and Roger Wallenstein invented, nurtured, grew and improved this very special place called Nebagamon that so many of us know as home. I think about them often.

Finally, I am extraordinarily thankful for the campers and camp parents that put so much trust and faith in me. I am profoundly grateful for the mere act of either deciding to come to camp, or to send one’s child to camp. It is a message of great faith and one that both humbles me and warms me. I am profoundly grateful for their messages of support and trust in challenging times as well. The power of those messages cannot be overstated.

Certainly, this particular moment in history can shake one’s faith a bit. But I think if we all take stock of things a bit, we quickly learn that despite the challenges, there is much more to be thankful for…

I think I will whip up some pizza and bug juice for dinner tonight…