The Teachings of Camp

It was just like any other dreary January day in 2007: an ominous sky, snow and dirt lining the roads, a brisk breeze. I have found that when every day of the month is a repetition of this gloomy weather, all the days seem to mesh together, and I can’t remember one from another. On one gray day that month, my Mom informed me that she had signed me up for sleep away camp that summer. I was handed a brochure for YMCA Camp Nellie Huckins, an all-girls camp on Lake Ossipee in Freedom, New Hampshire. Skimming through it and only really looking at the pictures, all of which were of girls wearing eccentric outfits, the frown on my face became more and more prominent. “These girls are all freaks and weirdos,” I yelled as I stormed down the stairs into the basement and then into the office where I fed the brochure to our paper shredder. My Mom shouted to me as I ran back up the stairs and to my bedroom that I was only on the waiting list, but I couldn’t hear her over the sound of my sobs and the slam of the door. It was nothing like any other dreary January day.

In May of that year, I got a green letter in the mail informing me that I had gotten in to camp off the waiting list. As you may have guessed, that went in the paper shredder as well. The whole family came along for the hour and fifteen minute ride to Freedom on August 4th, the day after my ninth birthday. It was the last place I wanted to be.

On the second day, one of my counselors, Nicole, sat me down on her bed and asked, “What’s all this talk about you hating camp?” I had a preconceived opinion about camp before I had even gotten there: I hated it. I told Nicole that it had been the worst 24 hours of my lifetime, but she had me all figured out. It was then when I opened my mind, and since then, I have walked into every experience with the thought that it could be the most fun I’ve ever had.

Camp taught me to be optimistic.

It’s two summers later and I’m the one in the eccentric outfits, which I now know are a starred item on the camp packing list for dress up lunches and program days. However, it’d be entirely acceptable to wear a clown suit on any normal day just for kicks. It’s such a treasure to be in a place where quirkiness is embraced, a place where everyone is embraced. My hair is un-brushed, my face is bare and sun-kissed, I wear t-shirts that give off an ‘it came with that dirt stain’ vibe. At camp, the people are permissive. It was when I walked out of Cabin N my third summer at camp wearing suspenders made out of masking tape, sunglasses with the lenses poked out, a striped polo with the collar popped, and socks with Birkenstocks and was judged by not a single person.

Camp taught me the value of acceptance.

“Just remember on the way home that you were never meant to feel alone,” was a quote that hit me hard when my best friend, Merry, said it to me as we wept through our goodbyes at the end of our seventh summer at camp. We exchanged letters that we’d written for each other to open once we got home. Lying in my bed a few hours later, I was crying harder than I had been on that dreary January day, not because I had to go to camp, but because I had to leave behind such an extraordinary place filled with such remarkable human beings.

Camp taught me the value of friendship.

It was 3:56am on August 16th, 2014, and I was lying on the tennis courts with seven of my fellow CITS (counselors-in-training) in a circle with our heads in the middle. We gazed up at the sky, marveling over the New Hampshire stars, and I don’t think I’d ever seen a sight so beautiful. Throughout the past 27 days I’d been at camp, I had been the one with her camera always out. I got a nice new Nikon for Christmas the past year and was certainly putting it to good use. We didn’t so much pose for photos, but just captured moments. Right then though, as I lived one of the final hours of the most legendary night of my life, I didn’t want any artificial light ruining the illumination of the shooting stars above me. The CITs and I loved documenting our adventures that summer, but right then, I didn’t want to have a picture because sometimes a moment is so special that the only place worthy of it is in your head and your heart. It was then when I learned to cherish the laughter I thought would be endless because I knew a time would come when it was.

Camp taught me to live in the moment.

Flash forward eight years later from that dreary January day and I find myself crying tears of joy for my green letter saying I got in. After two summers of evaluations, training, and ultimately proving myself, I have been invited back to be a counselor in 2015, my ninth summer at camp. As I talked on the phone with my friend Maggie, a counselor in 2014 and a close friend whom I kinda consider to be my mentor, I told her about the conversation I had had earlier that day with my friend Allison. Allison is in the grade below me and had just received her green letter inviting her back to be a CIT in 2015.

It was so cool to me because Allison was asking me all these questions about what it was like to be a CIT, and just last year, that had been me asking Maggie about what it was like to be a CIT. That was when Maggie said to me, “That’s what’s so great about camp; You gotta pass it on.” Not only is “Pass It On” an iconic song in the camp song book, but I was beginning to understand the value of it. As I embark upon a new journey in 2015, I will see camp in a whole new light. Instead of being the camper that is being inspired by her counselors, I will be the counselor inspiring her campers. I get idyllic just thinking about it, finally having the opportunity to give to girls the experience that camp gave to me.

Camp taught me to give back, or rather, to pass it on.

After all the time that has passed, I can still remember that dreary January day from any other. I am enamored by the place I had once tried to avoid like the plague. As I observed camp out the suburban’s window on August 4th, 2007, I was entirely unaware that I had just found the most precious part of my life without even knowing I was looking for it.

Camp has taught me a thousand lessons and given me a thousand memories. Maybe one of the most unexplainable lessons I’ve learned though, is that no pattern of ink on paper can capture the feeling a place can give.

This was written by Anna D. in her A.P. English class. Anna will be returning to Camp as a JC.

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