Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Woods, Lake, and the Super Biffy

My sister and I at camp a few years back

     The creaky cabin door slams behind us and the smell of the pine woods follows us.  The cabin screens are protected with a tarp hanging outside which makes the inside of the cabin dark even in the bright sunlight.  There are four camp cots that have been improved over the years with slabs of wood under the cot mattress as opposed to the old springs.  The cabin smells like dirt and sand which is collecting on the floor and humidity that stays trapped inside.  It is rustic and perfect and more my home than any of my houses have ever been.

      If you talk to anyone who has never experienced camp, they cannot understand what the draw is.  We don't even actually camp as you would in a campground in tents.  There isn't much fishing happening, we don't always go for long hikes, but we always love our surroundings.  What we do have are an abundance of happy memories and a reminiscence that pops out around every corner.  This place fills us with a spiritual happiness and protects us from the rest of the world for a few days.  We have a vocabulary of words that only those of us that have experienced camp know: hopper, biffy, superbiffy, the real dining hall, and all the unit names that don't exist anymore but are forever burned into our minds and hearts.  We learned to wake up to the toll of the bell and show up throughout the day for meals summoned by that same bell.  We learned to walk through the woods with the help of a flashlight on nights with a new moon and without a flashlight on full moon nights.  We learned to build a campfire and enjoy staring into it well into the night.
My mother at the camp bell.  

     I literally owe my entire existence to this special place.  My parents were of the first generation to form ties to Camp Webb.  My father actually came up with his youth group and built many of the things that exist on the ground today.  Every time I take the steps down to the lakefront, I feel my dad with me.  He worked hard with the groundskeeper to maintain the camp property.  My mother came up to work at camp not through a church connection, but because my grandmother was friends with someone who was working there.  My parents met at camp and had a beautiful wedding in the outdoor chapel there (at least it looks beautiful from the pictures I've seen).  They continued to be friends with many of their camp friends and especially were close with the maintenance man and his wife.  It was through this connection that I came to know the camp as my home away from home even before I was old enough to be a camper.
The camp logo.
     My time as a camper holds many memories:
  • The meals in the dining hall while Ruthie was still the cook were amazing.  My mouth waters just remembering the Ruthie rolls we used to eat.  
  • The talent show each week in which the staff would put on these goofy skits for us.  
  • The singing, I love the singing.  Camp songs for church and campfires alike and hilarious graces that made praying fun.  
  • Lessons in the lake in swimming and sailing and canoeing.  
  • Crafts in the arts and craft cabin.  
  • And every Friday, for the end of the camp week, we had a dance.  
Every summer I went to camp for the week of my birthday.  I loved the goofy fun of being the center of attention at a camp meal for the few moments it took to sing happy birthday.  Each summer at camp, the place inched its way into my heart and soul a little more.

Little Hills Lake 
     My parents continued to be involved in the camp as well.  We went up to camp for family camping whenever we had the opportunity.  It became a yearly tradition to be up there in the same week in August almost every year.  We got to be there with the families of some of my parents' friends from camp and we all enjoyed this connection.  My father also served on the board of directors for a few years.  I was so proud of the fact that he was helping make some of the decisions that needed to be made for the future of camp.  The biggest way that we continued to be involved with camp is our frequent visits to the caretaker and his family.  We would drive the camper and later the motorhome up to camp and park it next to the house at the end of the driveway.  We spent countless weekends visiting our family friends and roaming camp land at will.  I got to know every inch of that beautiful space better than I would have if I just went there as a camper.
The steps my dad helped build.
     When my father died too young, his camp friends dedicated a cabin to his memory.  He had been such a big part of building the camp and I was able to feel his presence while on that land more than in any other space in the world.  The time I spent on the pier at night gazing up at the vast universe of stars, really helped me to grieve and to know that I would see my dad again in heaven.
     The summer I worked at camp, I felt my father's presence in everything that I did.  I enjoyed the goofy fun of camp as a staff person.  I led the music at camp and rejoiced in the way that I got to enjoy every shred of singing possible.  I basked in the sunshine and jumped in the puddles and lived a great life that summer at camp.  I made a whole new set of memories in this space that already held so many.
    And then, a few years ago, our diocese decided to sell camp.  We were frantic thinking about how this sacred space would become condos and lake houses instead of the campground we had learned to love.  We all went to camp to visit "one last time" and began to think about what life would be like without this special place to go to.  Luckily, the current owners came forward to buy the camp.  Although the space is now Camp Lakotah instead of Camp Webb, this is still our special place to go.
   Nowadays, I don't get up to camp very often, but when I do it is an awesome experience.  I recently returned from a women's retreat there at camp.  Being on that land is a peaceful and emotional experience for me.  The first breath of crisp pine air in that forest reminds me of a life connected to something bigger in this space.  Rejuvenated by my experience in the presence of memories, I return to my house thankful that this space that is "home" will be there for at least a while longer.

    Do you have a home away from home?  Did you experience camp as a kid?  Leave a comment below.