Thursday, September 2, 2010

On cabins and campfires

This short piece on Feministe inspired me to write a bit about camp.

When I was about 7 or 8, a woman came to my Pioneer Girls (think Girl Scouts in church) meeting to give a presentation about camp. By the time the promotional video got to the part where girls were swinging from belay ropes and shooting rifles, I was transfixed. I wanted to go, really, really badly wanted to go.

My parents said no. I was too young to go by myself. I also suspect at this point that we didn't have the money. I was persistent, though, for three summers, and finally (FINALLY!), when I was in fifth grade, my parents said yes. My mom came with me, mainly because we got half off the price, and I got a small scholarship as well.

My parents had no idea what kind of monster they were unleashing.

Adirondack Camp Cherith (now Camp Cedarbrook in the Adirondacks) is one of those places that lodges itself into your soul and will not get out. It's all girls. It's rustic--no electricity in the cabins, lots of bugs and dirt and pine trees. It was paradise, and it was stability, especially since we moved when I was 13. Even as my life changed drastically, camp stayed the same: swimming and archery and ropes and canoes and cookouts and silly songfests. I'd go for a week every summer (we couldn't really afford more) and spend the rest of the summer looking forward to the next, when I could go back. When I hit high school, I joined the service crew as a Kitchen Aide, which meant I got to go for free if I worked a certain number of hours a week. I ended up on staff the year I graduated as a kitchen assistant (which meant I got to cook instead of just clean), the year after as a counselor. After that, I would go up for a week or two every summer and do whatever they needed me to do.

I'm never quite sure how to explain CCA's effect on my life. I say that it's where I learned that being a girl was awesome. I doubt that, like Joy (the author of the Feministe piece), I'd say it's where I learned to be a feminist, mainly because most of the staff is quite conservative. But they emphasize skill-building and learning to be independent, and that's extremely important, even if you grow up and never build a one-match fire or shoot a bow and arrow again. It's also where I learned, sometimes the hard way, to get along with other people, because if you're living in a cabin or a platform tent with seven or eight other girls, there are bound to be conflicts. It's where I could be a complete goofball (some of the pictures of me during dress-up-the-counselor for Cabin Time are hi-larious), and it's where I could be absolutely serious.

Camp's where I really learned to appreciate the wilderness. My family is very outdoorsy, see (my parents went backpacking on their honeymoon). We went camping as a family a lot when I was a kid. But I never really got the appeal of the outdoors until camp. There it's 500 acres of pine trees and waterfalls and a lake, and every time I smell pine I get a flashback to camp.

I think, also, it's where I learned that I could be in complete disagreement with people and still love them. Because, you see, I'm a recovering evangelical turned Catholic, and CCA is very evangelical. So my theology is different, and my politics (because I'd call myself a liberal Catholic) are different from most of the staff. And I had to learn when to keep my mouth shut and when to speak up. And if I sometimes feel uncomfortable, well, such is life. These are people I love, some of whom knew me at age 10 and through my very, very awkward adolescence, who know my parents and who watched me grow up. My friend Melissa, for example, got married last year, and there were about 30 of us camp girls (women) at her wedding. I've known Melissa since we were Trailblazers (ahem, sorry, 5th graders).

So that's camp, and here are some pictures, because the place is gorgeous, and I miss it:

The Lower Road


The lake.

Me and Sphen (Lara) after getting our hair "done" by 9-year-olds.


  1. I think the secret to everything may be really loving the people you disagree with. And not in the "I'm going to keep hammering you over the head with my judgments and trying to convince you of the truth because I love you" sense. It's one part recognizing that the other person is still beautiful and human, and one part recognizing that you, yourself, could be, have been, and will be wrong about things, and it's not the end of the world.

  2. Yes, definitely. It helps to remember that we're all human and we screw up, too. Loving the people you disagree with is a valuable thing to learn and practice.

    Doesn't mean I've always been very good at practicing it, though. It's harder for me when I feel that the person I'm disagreeing with is advocating something that hurts other people.