Doing battle with daily dragons

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Kum Bah Ya

We’ve been having some beautiful cool, damp mornings in these dying days of summer. For the last few mornings, as I’ve stepped out on the deck of Galileo, I’ve been reminded of my time served at summer camps when I was young. (er) (My parents would most likely reprimand me for referring to “my youth” at 30 years of age)

Summer camp is a uniquely American kind of tradition. Brits that I’ve met have only really experienced the phenomenon through instructional videos such as “Friday the 13th”, “Meatballs” and the gritty documentary, “Ernest Goes to Camp”. To be fair, a good deal of the Hollywood summer camp experience rings true, (canoeing, campfires, ghost stories, panty raids, bugs, etc) although it does take a few liberties. (mass-murdering un-dead psychopath hiding in the lake, murdering fallen virgins.)

I spent 3 summers at Camp Manidokan just up the river from Harper’s Ferry. It was a church sponsored camp, so perhaps my experience might have been vaguely different from someone who attended a secular camp. (At a secular camp, there was no real moral code that prohibited one camper from hitting another camper over the head with a dead snake.) I remember it with tremendous feelings of fondness now, although I’m fairly sure that, at the time, the weeks I spent there were full of tremendously bewildering feelings.

As I was 12, 13 and 14 during my years at Manidokan, I believe that one of my main focuses was probably trying to find someone to snog. I wasn’t an entirely attractive pre-teen; while my skin remained mercifully clear, I endured the social death of braces, which I wore for 4 of the most formative, cruel, growing up years that anyone who has ever been a teenager endures. But, as most awkward teens find, the people you want to snog are always wrapped around someone not quite so awkward, which tends to fill one with the idea that one is, and forever shall be, intrinsically un-lovable. So, Marc Pepper, wherever you are, now that I am 30 and married, I forgive you.

The nostalgia I’ve been experiencing for the last few mornings has little to do with the hormonal mishaps of youth, however, but rather the memory of waking up in the forest in a vaguely damp sleeping bag (due to condensation, although there was always the temptation to dampen your bag personally rather than endure the trek to the outhouse in the middle of the night where you would undoubtedly be savaged by Screaming Jenny or the Dwayo or whatever hellish monster was reportedly waiting out there for you.) and watching the sun come up through the trees. The early morning trek down to the bath house where you’d endure a cold same-sex group shower (with everyone in bathing suits, of course) was the most brilliant way to wake up; the woods coming alive, the early sun on your face, the smell of pancakes drifting out from the cafeteria and the promise of a challenging day, whether it meant the gruelling all-day hike up Maryland Heights, the long canoe trip down river to Harper’s Ferry, or the slog through the forest to the swimming hole that was turn-you-inside-out cold.

My favourite part of the week was inevitably the last night when we moved all of our sleeping bags up to the campfire hill and spent the night, weather permitting, under the stars. There were always a lot of smores, dramatic, teary good-byes, stolen fumbly kisses, (I can only imagine) and laughter that was impossible to stop even when tired, cranky counsellors threatened to throw all offending parties on the bonfire. (The spirit of Christ, though meant to be present throughout the week, was wearing a little thin by Saturday night.)

I hope that when I have kids at that age, I can find somewhere in the woods to legally leave them for a week or two so they too can discover the joys and fellowship of the Great Outdoors.

But first, I’ll tell them about Screaming Jenny.