Saturday, July 13, 2013

Letting Go

I'm a camp girl.  It's true.  I am.

I am many other things: a teacher, a coach, a daughter, a sister, a friend.

But mostly, I'm just a camp girl.

If you had told me that this is who I would grow up to one day be when I spent my first night at camp 27 years ago, I'd have called you a liar.

I spent four summers as a child at camp.  I had my first "real" job in life as a camp counselor in 1995.  And I've done almost everything in camping for the 17 summers since at both that camp and another.  Until this one.  For the first time in a very, very long time, I didn't spend my first day of summer break playing get-to-know-you games or singing silly songs.

How and why I'm not at any of my 3 camps anymore aren't all that important to this story (and it's a story I've been trying to write for weeks now).  It involves all the regular players in any interesting drama: anger and heartache, power struggles and finger pointing, change and loss.  But the how and why have hurt me and hurt my friends, one after another, for almost a quarter of a century now, and I'm trying to find a way to say goodbye to all that hurt.  I've run out of room for the hurt.

I've been trying to remember all the wonder and magic and memories while letting go of all my bitterness, but it's terribly hard.  They seem to walk hand-in-hand, this love and rage.  And so, each day, I wake up, wishing that I were sitting down in the already-sweltering Texas heat to some biscuits and gravy or a sweet potato muffin or even a corn dog disguised as a pancake pup. 

I took a trip out to my 2nd camp several weeks ago.  I've been trying to write this post since then, and I couldn't find my words.  I think I've been searching for them since the day I last took off my red counselor tie.  Although it's not where I started my camping career, and it's not where I ended it, I have always felt that it was the place I became me.  It's the source of my silliness, my leadership, and my strength.  It gave me my confidence (even though it still fails me at time) and the best friends I could ever know (who never fail me ever). 

There are moments, even now -- 18 summers later -- when I can feel myself standing at the edge of the bridge for the very first time, taking a deep breath, and walking across to change my life.

Sometimes, I don't think of it at all.  And then on other days, I am drowning in nostalgia
  • the feel of the wooden benches in Main Lodge
  • the sound of the bell at mealtimes
  • Flag Medley
  • the thrill of finding a friendship rock
  • the tepid water of July creek walking
  • the rush of the waterfall at Shannah's Lagoon
  • the smell of cedar
  • the sound of cicadas
  • the shake of the swinging bridge
  • the blare of the WWII speakers at the slab
  • the pop of a bow and the thwack of a bulls-eye
  • the pop of Miss Maddie's wooden spoon as you reached for a roll (an obviously unnecessary roll)
  • the smell of Miss Linda's homemade cinnamon rolls
  • the cool breeze through the chapel
  • the singing, the laughter, the tears
  • Diet Cokes and picnic tables
  • the sweating at Council Fire
  • the sweating at lunchtime songs
  • the sweating at rest time
  • the sweating that began as soon as you got out of the shower
  • My God, the sweating.  Always.  The sweating.
  • the way Lower Pool completely shredded your toes
  • sprinting past RuLoHo at midnight
  • Screened in cabins
  • Screech Owl
  • The Big White Truck
  • The lock on the CC
  • The sandals in the safe (they're probably still there.  Nobody could open that damn safe.)
  • dancing on desktops in the office
  • late night programming
  • 2 AM all-camp planning
  • Montana's cheese fries
  • trail rosters
  • circle-up
  • the Blackmon-Mooring van
  • the Live Oak grove
  • the Redwood 'Hood
  • the Horizmen
  • fireworks on the Brazos
  • secret campfires at the point
  • secret smokes behind the maintenance barn
  • Pig-Out Day
  • the glare from the road
  • the shade of the trails
  • dance parties
  • kitchen raids
  • ice cream on the back porch
  • and on and on and on...
So when the invitation came to return for the day, we went.  None of us were sure we wanted to.  The wounds and scars on a few of us are still fresh and tender.  Of course, I was afraid, as always, that Sad and Bitter might hitch a ride too.  But there's safety in numbers, solace in friends, and salvation in letting go. 

And there were new eyes with which to see it, this great and mysterious thing known as Camp.  See, in the 18 years since I made those incredible friends, they've produced more (although smaller) incredible friends.  So we journeyed to our past with little pieces of our future.

It was pretty amazing.

The feeling I got seeing the boys run and play and hike the trails was as close as I've ever gotten to truly remembering what it was like to be new at camp.  Their excitement was infectious, and although we went (begrudgingly) to welcome change, we wound up still celebrating all that we once knew and treasured.

Elliott making his way across the swinging bridge for the first time.
I love the casual hand in the pocket.  No big deal.

A little video of the first crossing of the wiggly bridge. 
Squeals of fear were soon replaced with "I like it now!"

Hayrides up to middle camp.

A little chase outside the new lodge to avoid breaking
something inside the new lodge.

Elliott and Marcus. Destined to be camp buddies.

There's still water in Fall Creek.  It's obviously not July yet.

The new equestrian center.

The new lodge.  

The new office.

Marcus making friends.

Tyler, just dealin' with it.

Kathy, LJ, Elliott, and Courtney.  And a little photobomb by yours truly.

Sweet giggles.

This is the old bell.  It is a fixture in the life of camp.
These are my old friends. They are a fixture in the life of me.
18 years in the blink of an eye.

The new "old" bell.  But still old friends.  They're the best kind, you know.

On the way out, we saw a group of new camp counselors, readying themselves for the beginning of their summer.  They were stationed all along the path out, past the bell, through Main Lodge, and across the swinging bridge.  To each, I wished out loud a happy and safe summer, but inside, I harbored a jealousy so heavy and thick that I struggled to draw my last breaths of that sweet cedar air.

As I turned around for one last look across the creek, across the bridge, across my past, I wondered how it is that I could have given so much only to be just a blip in an 80 year history.  I wondered if in another 18 years, my time there would matter at all.  I wondered how a few hundred acres of sandstone and cedar trees could steal so much of my heart.  I wondered when the memories would come alone, without the hurt.

But as I sit here and write, sweating on my couch with the windows open so I can hear the cicadas buzz,  I remind myself that while camp got the best of me for 17 summers, I also got the best of it for the rest of my life.

And I find myself at the edge, looking at my past as well as my future, taking a deep breath and letting go.


  1. XOXO aren't we all campers at heart?

  2. What a wonderful writer you are!!! Thanks for sharing that part of yourself!!

  3. Camp sick. I still count the time of free swim, nap time, cook-out night. The glare of that odd white sand between Upper Pool and Discovery where it was always so hot you could die and swear that Horizon would never appear. . . on the horizon. Oh, the music of my soul.

    1. That walk was the number 1 reason I never wanted to be in Discovery/Horizon. That + the teenagers.

  4. You nailed it. I could picture everything on the list. Visions of people dancing on the desks in the office. What treasured years those were. All of those good memories make me smile at all four of my camps. But there's just something about El Tesoro.

    1. There is just something about El Tesoro. For sure.