I wrote this article for the 2011/12 Winter Cooch Chronicle. The newletter for the greatest Camp on the planet!!!
The year I got my Wholly Rollers III, I was a senior camper. It was my best summer at camp as a child and was the year I realized that camp would hold an important connection with me for the rest of my life. That summer, I earned a coveted award for being able to roll a kayak three times in a row on both sides of the boat. I also navigated my first big outtrip and after weeks of swimming lengths in the lake, I failed my Bronze Medallion.
While the highlights of my time make it easy to explain that particular summer, it wasn’t the things I did that made such a mark. Now, almost 20 years later, I remember the summer I was 13 like it was yesterday. It was the year that my counsellor Andrew Boyd, taught me about the person I wanted to be. This single lesson summarized in my mind, the true value of the camp experience.
Never before in my life had I felt as secure and confident as those two weeks I lived with seven other boys and the coolest counsellor at camp. Our cabin was proud to boast that we were “Boyds Kids” only hours after we first arrived. He managed to earn our trust and loyalty by the end of the first day. We were ready to do anything for him, and somehow we knew he’d do no less for us in return. There were so many things I admired about him; characteristics I never forgot as I grew up.
Boyd listened to us. I remember thinking then as I still do now, that often adults don’t listen! Perhaps it’s because the issues of youth seem simple to grownups who have experienced those same emotions hundreds of times since they were kids themselves. Perhaps that repetition makes the topics now seem boring. Boyd never dismissed us. Not only did he listen, but he took the time to get to know us as a cabin. Our likes and dislikes, fears and interests. He also never missed a chance to introduce us to other staff and campers as we travelled throughout camp. I always felt important when I was with him and always felt part of whatever was going on. In watching over me while I was at camp, Boyd taught me the value of inclusion. Just as it did with me, being inclusive makes everyone feel important and part of the group.
Even though it was my best summer, the session wasn’t all easy for me. In the senior cabin beside me, there was a kid that I didn’t get along with. He was loud and obnoxious - your typical bully. He would often try to single me out or embarrass me, which became a real obstacle in my time. A week into camp, I told Boyd about my problem. By then I was certain I could trust him, exposing my insecurity and frustration, I believed he would have an answer. After listening to my problem, he thought for a moment, then offered simply three points: Don’t ignore it, Don’t be embarrassed by it and Don’t worry about it. He felt these things have a way of working themselves out. For whatever reason, that simple advice made me feel better and in the end, to my surprise, he was right. The very next day I found myself standing in front of a hoola hoop with none other then that bully. Together, we had been challenged to guard a token that rested in the centre. Earlier that afternoon my cabin learned that we were going to be doing our evening program with the other senior boys. The activity partnered us up with the kids from their cabin and was a series of challenges, campers vs. counsellors. By the end of the evening that bully and I had been successful at preventing the staff from taking our token. We were the only group to win that night and both relished in the attention we were given. Before heading back to our cabins, Boyd took us aside and told us how impressed he was in our work together. He felt our instincts must have been aligned. What was truly amazing was that I never had a problem with that boy again. While we were never really quite friends, we had somehow developed a respect between each other which encouraged him to become a constant supporter of me.
Maybe it was luck, but I like to believe it was intentional. In my telling of that story, it was Boyd who organized the entire thing to help me with my problem. In doing that he taught me that when you are up front and honest about how you feel, anything is easy to overcome when you have the support of someone you trust and believe in.
Although I’ve offered only two examples, I have endless tales to tell of my 13th summer of life. As time moves forward and my experiences become more vast, never do those memories fade, not even a little. They reside in me with such strength, that I often speak to the staff team about my camper days during our pre-camp training in June. While I know that those memories have changed slightly over time, and my counsellor, whom I remember to be perfect, is probably not so perfect in reality, the lessons he taught me about the person he was have stayed with me. They have shaped me into the person that I am today. While I never profess to be perfect, I’m proud of the person I am. Not a day goes by that I am not grateful for those opportunities I had as a child; to be at camp, to learn outside and to grow. Those short summer weeks when I was encouraged to take risks, to challenge myself, to overcome fear and to learn how to trust.
It is my most sincere hope that now, at the end of our summer season, the campers of Couchiching have left camp and gone on to other challenges in their lives with some of these same values instilled. Moving forward with more confidence, more patience, with a strong sense of value and with a respect for inclusion. While each experience may differ from person to person and from year to year, I hope that our campers sit at home knowing that for two months every summer, there is a place on the shores of Lake Couchiching that is waiting to support and engage them. A place where the lessons of life are available for the teaching every day.
For me, that is the true value of the camp experience.