( Aug. 12th, 2009 05:20 pm)
The summer between fourth and fifth grade, I had my first sleep away camp experience.  This is not to be confused with camping trips with my dad - those were many and always SCA related, be they for Pennsic or Border War or something else entirely.  Anyway, so there was sleep away camp, and it happened to be a church camp.

Now, before I get into the camp bit, I have to say that I love church.  I love the quiet and the smell of wooden pews and the music and the stained glass and watching the processional and recessional and the organ pipes and the imagery and the symbology and everything about it - or, well, almost everything.  I love being a part of something, and I was always that at church; there was Sunday school/youth group and acolyting and all sorts of fun stuff.  I just . . . don't believe in a lot of what's said and to be honest, I don't really think I ever did.  Camp resonated with me so strongly for reasons entirely removed from the Jesus bit, though under the trees, by the lake at sunset, tucked in a dark corner of the lodge basement for a pseudo-reenactment of an early Christian rite, it was really, really easy to believe in god, or gods, or . . . well.  I was encouraged almost from the time I could read to look into what interested me and believe what seemed right, and I started reading at a very young age.  As long as I've been reading and researching, I've known that I have strong pagan tendencies, but mine are more naturistic (I think that's the word) than specific pantheon based, and so it gets along well with church most of the time.

Especially camp.

So!  That first year at camp, I met people who I'm still best friends with to this day - friends that I talk to regularly if not as often as I'd like, friends who serve as godparents to my kids.  One of the priests I met that first year officiated my wedding.  That first year was also around the time I started being interested in boys and girls both, and so I had a crush on a different person every year, though of course I only ever admitted to the boys until . . . oh, high school or maybe even after, I don't remember when exactly I let the camp crowd know such things.  Not all of it was good, mind; there are people I resent to this day too, though I'm not in contact with them as one might imagine, so it's not the intense sort of dislike I felt for them ages ago when we lived together for a week at a stretch.  Camp is where I first learned that all the coolest kids play guitar.  It's also where I learned that the 'cool kids' are more or less the same everywhere, and the camp ones don't really like geeky, bookworm-ish, bespectacled, gap-toothed red heads any more than the school ones do.  It's where I learned that cheerleading is hard work and a real sport as opposed to something that pretty girls with little brain capacity do (because yes, one of those aforementioned best friends and her twin sister were cheerleaders, as well as various other campers of various levels of import) instead of reading.  It's where I fell IN LUV for the first time, and where I had my heart broken the first time.  I cried more on the property of the camp than I've ever cried anywhere else in my life; some of the tears were happy and some weren't.  The first person I was close to who died was one of my counselors - she died of a form of leukemia, if I remember correctly.  I know it was cancer, anyway.  As a camper, I spent a week every year but one from that first summer until the summer after my senior year in high school at camp, and then came back a couple years later as a counselor.

I got in trouble, that summer I was there as a counselor, for telling a cabin full of a dozen to fifteen ninth grade girls that having sex probably wouldn't get them sent to hell - something about how some of them were looking for an excuse or license to go off and do it at the first opportunity, while my reasoning for saying what I did was that some of them probably already had found that excuse or license.  And yes, I'm still friends with some of those girls.

I'd be a very different person today if it weren't for that camp, I think.  Sometimes I can smell it, or see the sunrise or sunset over the lake behind the lodge.  I still call skim milk 'green milk' if I'm not careful, because of the color of the carton (two percent was blue and whole was red - yeah, I call them that too).  My kids know the 'get your elbows off the table' rhyme and will gleefully throw it at me any time they catch me breaking the rules.  We do 'cabin checks' during the summer in our house, during which I may well snatch a stuffed animal or two to be returned at lunch time.  But mostly, camp taught me to believe, I think, and was a big part of forming what I think and believe now (though I'm not sure how pleased the various priests and counselors and fellow campers would be to hear that, given).

Pennsic and Border War and other events - all camping ones except for Val Day - hold special places in my heart too, but none like camp does.  And now the summer is almost over and I've been missing it for months, but I turned my head just so earlier and smelled the bonfire down by the lake, and the odd but not bad combination of bug spray, sun screen and sweat of a day of playing, worshiping and all sorts of fun stuff.  The nostalgia, it chokes me up.
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