22 Jul COPING WITHOUT CAMP
If you’re reading this, you likely have a Nalgene covered in stickers and your city friends have probably become all too familiar with the phrase “my camp friends”. Overnight summer camp is all you’ve ever known, you never really understood “homesickness” and camp quickly became your home away from home. Whether it was your obsession with Sperry’s in 2012, Bass Pro Shop hats circa 2015, or rationalizing the purchase of an overly priced hammock because you know it’ll give you “camp clout”, there really is no denying that summer camp has made us the people we are today. Now picture this, summer is just around the corner and you’ve already started scouting some new wool socks to pair with your Birkenstocks, when suddenly, your entire world flips and all your summer camp plans come crashing down. Now to the untrained eye you might be thinking “big deal”, but you honestly couldn’t be further from the truth. This is pretty much the biggest deal since we found out about Patagonia baggies. So if you’re seeking a new summer persona and don’t know where to start, well fellow camp counsellors, this one’s for you.
It’s pretty common knowledge that I’m a cryer – any of my friends can attest to that, in fact, even some complete strangers can attest to that. Whether it’s goodbye on the last day of camp, stepping on the bus before a two-week canoe trip, or laughing with campers until tears fill my eyes, I think it comes as no surprise that this summer’s cancellation truly hit home for many of us. Although I expected this outcome, the reality still hasn’t quite registered with me. I haven’t ever really known what a summer “at home” entails. Typically I’ve been at my “home away from home”, surrounded by all the things that make me feel my most “me”. With so many cancellations, camp had been that one thing we were all crossing our fingers so desperately for.
I can still hear the blue chairs in the dining hall shuffling against the floor as we eagerly fill the building, hugging, laughing, and catching up with one another. I hear a chorus of pens taking notes as we learn the same tricks our favourite counsellors had too once learnt. I can see us grouping with friends, both new and old, bonding over our excitement for the upcoming months while summer sun warms our skin and the cool lake breeze twists our hair into a windswept array of tangles. As we drive down camp roads, windows open, we take a deep breath of the fresh air which is ridden with scents of pine. It feels so good to finally be home.
As I think back to summers gone by, every inch of camp feels like my most fond memories, all of which I carry proudly in my everyday life. Each memory sparks another, until I am overwhelmed with layers upon layers of my younger self becoming the person that I am today. This never ending grasp that camp has on us isn’t easy to explain to just anyone, and I can see why nearly a decade and a half in a northern Ontario forest doesn’t seem appealing to some. But to me, everything that comes along with camp feels like sinking into a familiar hug, time and time again.
When we first got confirmation of camp’s cancellation, my mom was surprised at how much it hit me, and honestly, so was I. Each summer when I return to camp, time fades away as days blur together into one constant wave of happiness. You know that famous saying: “this summer will probably be my last”, but for a moment, once it actually hit me that last summer could have been it, I knew that I was nowhere near ready to say goodbye.
So, no matter how long this next year will seem, I can say whole heartedly that absence really does make the heart grow fonder, and that the camp community lives on far beyond any entrance gate. Camp gave me my most important life lessons, teaching me that being mature doesn’t mean knowing all the answers, and that responsibility and immaturity are not mutually exclusive. No matter the distance and no matter the camp, it’s spirit is forever in our hearts, even while we’re learning to cope without camp.
“Camp is, and forever will be, the most formative experience of my life. For the past thirteen summers I have been taught tangible skills such as knots and fires, but more importantly skills such as resilience, patience, empathy and communication. As a camper, I was encouraged to recognize how capable I was, even within challenging situations. We were often taught to approach activities or tasks we may have found difficult and say, “I can do hard things”, implementing an optimistic mindset. As a staff member I truly began to understand the intent behind each action or phrase used at camp, soon recognizing how leading by example and fostering meaningful relationships could transfer to my time spent at home. Throughout lockdown, I’ve carried these lessons into my daily life, further realizing that camp lives within me year round – no matter the distance I may be from the cabins or dining hall. I feel prepared to approach unexpected situations as a result of my time at camp, understanding that if I need support, a camp friend is just a Zoom call away. I believe camp is the common denominator in all of my life experiences, knowing that wherever I go I will always have my time spent at Tawingo in my back pocket. Despite the uncertainty of the past few months, and those which lay ahead, I know it is only a matter of time before I can finally go home again.”
– Lauren, Camp Tawingo
“I can easily say that last summer was the best experience of my life for many reasons, but the instant family I joined was one of the main reasons that I so desperately wanted to come back this summer. I’m from England and used the recruitment agency ‘Camp Canada’ as I’d never had the privilege of going to camp in my younger years. However now as a 20-year-old from a small family, I finally experienced what a huge, caring, summer community is all about. Although I felt a great sense of loss not being able to return this summer, something I learned is that no matter what age you start going to camp, or what role you play in the summer, the family you are part of never leaves you behind. I may be 3000+ miles away from some of the best people I have ever met, but through the power of summer camp and unbreakable bonds, I am constantly connected.”
– Emerald, Camp Canada
“Camp has always been one of the biggest parts of my life. …For the first time in eighteen years I will not be standing under the towering pines that stand tall about my favourite place in the world. If you were to have asked me six months ago what camp has taught me, I probably would have said the importance of fun and what it means to prioritize fun. Always strive to enjoy what you’re doing and always above all have fun, and while that is still true, I believe my answer has changed, camp has taught me how to appreciate every day for what it is. With our current situation that reigns true above all. We don’t know what is going to happen in the coming months but all we can ask of each other is to appreciate today. ”
– Caroline, Red Pine Camp
“Camp is my happy place because it’s where all of my favourite memories come from. Growing up at camp I managed to learn a little something from everyone there, it’s not just the buildings, the land and the lake, it’s the people who become so much a part of us.”
– Sara, Camp Wanakita
“Camp is the first place that I heard the phrase ‘this too shall pass’. It was the perfect place to understand the power that these words have, as hearing them at the peak of my happiness immediately reminded me of the agonizing last day feeling. While this phrase was not particularly enjoyable to digest in the moment, these words turned out to bring a sense of comfort and relief during the never ending days throughout the school year. This year I held onto this phrase especially tight, knowing that school’s challenges would soon be replaced by the feeling of the northern Ontario sun beating down on my lifelong friends and I. It was shocking when the stresses of school were instead replaced with a whole new set of challenges, but as I continue to navigate these trying times, where ‘disappointing’ is an understatement, ‘this too shall pass’ remains just as relevant.”
– Annika, Camp Ramah
“Camp has taught me that no matter who you are and what you do, there are always ways to improve yourself, and that’s something that should be celebrated. It is in becoming better that you truly show your strength. Many people have gifts, talents and natural inclinations towards certain traits, and they should be proud of these things and learn to use them in the most optimal ways they can. However, it’s also okay to have areas to improve in. Camp is the place that I learned that getting feedback doesn’t mean you’re doing a bad job – it means you have a chance to grow. Going out of your comfort zone and doing something difficult is a gift that will help you learn, and at camp, it’s always safe to take a risk. Learning to view difficult situations as opportunities for growth has changed the lens through which I view challenges, COVID being no different. Not knowing what camp will look like in the future, not to mention the whole world, is a scary thought – but what gets me through it is the fact that I know there are ways that I will grow without camp this summer community is not built in a building, but is built in people.”
– Maddie, Pearce Williams Camp
“Camp has taught me that plans can change in a matter of minutes. As someone who finds comfort in routine, a year without camp was hard to get used to, but I can confidently say it has helped me adjust to a new way of life. One minute you’re walking to the beach with campers, and the next thing you know, it starts raining and suddenly you have ten eight-year-old children crying. Kind of like how one day you’re trying on St. Patty’s outfits, and the next day school is closed for the rest of the semester. Because of my time at camp, I have learnt how to be comfortable and tackle this change.”
– Claudia, Camp Kanawana
“Trying to explain what summer camp means to me is a truly impossible task. This summer would have been my fourteenth summer at camp, and also sadly my last. Growing up I went to a summer camp that was all girls. The summers I spent with my best friends made me into the woman I am today, teaching me to be brave, independent, caring, respectful, honest and with a deep admiration for nature. After twelve amazing years I decided I wanted to try something new, I loved camp and I wasn’t ready to give it up yet so I took a leap of faith and switched camps – something not a lot of people are willing to try. Being so used to the way things are in one place, the traditions, and memories, change can feel like an overwhelming, but I can promise you, it is worth it. When I was old enough to join the staff at my family’s summer camp, they welcomed me with open arms. I have never felt so comfortable in a new situation in my entire life. With COVID, it was heartbreaking for us to not be together at our most special place, but we have done an amazing job keeping touch. Something that I hold close to my heart is the saying ‘day is done’. I got this recently tattooed on my arm to remind me of the many days I spent living my absolute best life, the saying comes from ‘Taps’ – a little melody we sing before bed each night. It reminds us to cherish each day and find the beauty in what you have accomplished and lived. Now everyday I look at my skin and I am reminded of the lessons I learned at camp!”
– Erin, Kilcoo Camp
“This summer I was meant to be leading a 36-day canoe trip in Quetico Provincial Park – my dream job at camp. As much as I’ll miss having this experience, I am so lucky to have learnt the lessons that I have throughout my time at camp. The constant change and unknown of a canoe trip is something I feel I am still navigating during this challenging time, teaching me the importance of achieving or doing anything I put my mind to – no matter where I am. Camp is not only about the place but the people, and you can truly take camp wherever you want.”
– Allie, Taylor Statten Camp
“I have learned a lot over my past twelve summers at camp. Tan has created a space where I can be my most true self, make genuine connections with those around me, and challenge myself to grow. During my summer as a counsellor, I learned that even the best laid plans often don’t work out as expected. The eleven-year-old girls in my cabin taught me to adapt to any curveball that was thrown at me, making me more patient and flexible as a result. I believe that these lessons from camp in particular have helped me cope throughout the past few months of COVID restrictions. Rather than focusing on the experiences which we have missed out on – especially not being able to return to camp – I have found positives in having normal life put on hold, such as spending more time with my family and doing hobbies which I normally have little time for. My time spent at camp has really given me the patience and resilience to make it through this uncertain time, and has made me even more excited to return next summer.”
– Nicole, Camp Tanamakoon
“You can take the kid out of camp but you can’t take the camp out of the kid”, and as a twenty-one year old kid still loving every second of camp, no matter where in the world I might be, there is no denying that one summer away has absolutely no chance of changing all that it has taught me – sorry! While I can’t argue that I wish I was surrounded by evergreens and a glistening lake as I type this, being away for another year hasn’t put a hold on my love for camp even in the slightest. When I was younger my greatest fear had always been growing up, and thus growing away from camp. But what I know now is that camp never goes away if you don’t want it to, and if this summer has taught me anything, it’s that camp is not a physical place, but a feeling. You know what they say, it’s not goodbye, it’s see you later.
– Amy, Camp Tawingo
HEADER IMAGE SOURCE: Amy Newnham