If I were to write a book about camp this would be a part of it.
"Katie stepped on a pitchfork," he told me to explain why the Mingo counselor wouldn't be at camp that night. It was Monday which meant time for the Women's Journey. All of the Pathfinder girl cabins would be traveling together down the mud hike hill in the Oak Forest and up the path to the Green Cathedral. There we would spend time sharing counselor testimonies, talking in small groups, and finally spreading out on the benches and listening to songs related to the night.
It would be easy enough to have the Mingo girls come along in the big group. By the time we finished the Journey in the chapel and making s'mores afterwards there would be a relief counselor there to take Katie's spot. But the Journey came and went and our fingers were sticky with melted marshmallows. Still no one came.
We hiked back up through the woods to Lake Village for night meds. I led the way with a crate of graham cracker wrappers followed by a parade of twenty very hyper 14 and 15-year-old girls. The sun was already gone when we got to the lodge. I borrowed the nurse's radio and asked what I should do with this extra cabin of girls. It was time for showers and devotions.
The radio crackled back, "Uh, we're still trying to find someone. We'll send a counselor to get the girls from your cabin in a little bit. Just keep them entertained till then." I took a deep breath. Camp is fun but as a counselor you work hard all day long. This job is both physically and emotionally draining and by this time of the night I was ready to wind down, not to take on an extra cabin by myself.
I called to the two cabins of girls, mine and the orphans, and led them back to Teton. Inside the four cabin walls it was if they multiplied. Laughing and shrieking bounced around the room along with the strains of Hannah Montana's "Best of Both Words." It was late. I was tired. I needed reinforcements. Fast.
The girls didn't even notice when I slipped out the door. I ran across the back porch and into Shoshone. Sarah, the counselor, looked up from where she was sitting in a circle with her calm, peaceful, friendship bracelet knotting campers. "I need your help," I said.
I explained the situation to Sarah and we devised a plan. She brought all of her campers over to make a grand total of 30 teenage girls crammed into one cabin. Together we could handle this. We paused the iPod to get their attention, "Ok girls. We're going to play Catch Phrase," Sarah yelled over them. "We need to clear out the middle of the floor and sit down in a giant circle."
These suntanned girls with their hair in messy buns and dressed in every color of Abercrombie camis squeezed into a circle that took the form of the perimeter of the cabin. Sarah and I handed out two disk players and numbered the girls off into two teams. Their screaming guesses were so loud they couldn't hear the beeping countdown. Sarah and I sat Indian style in the center of the circle bent down with our ears close to the timer. At the buzz we would scream, "STOP!" over the girls' chaotic noise and adjust the score. I love order and this was nothing resembling anything close structure.
Sarah and I ate goldfish and twizzlers from campers' junk food stashes, laughed at the insanity of the situation and exchanged worried looks as the clock ticked past 10:45. Would someone ever come to take these extra campers back to their own cabin?
We took back the Catch Phrase disks and turned off the lights to transition to devotion time. When we did our highs and lows each girl was limited to speaking only five words because there were so many of them to share. Illuminated by a flashlight, I read a chapter from Donald Miller's Blue Like Jazz. It was the first one I turned to, about penguin love and how they always know where to find their mate year after year. As I read I remember thinking the devotion wasn't that great but for tonight it would be just fine.
The girls were spread out sitting in front of bunks, lying on the floor and leaning against their friends. During devotions every night the craziness of the day dissipates and is replaced by the sounds of steady breathing, the whirring ensemble of fans and my voice reading. Even with three cabins combined their reliable calm covered all of us. As I turned to the final page the door opened and the silhouette of a counselor walked in and sat at the picnic table that had been shoved up against the door. Sarah closed in prayer and the voices of all the girls joined in, "Amen."
When the overhead light flipped on Amy said, "Hi guys. I'm here to get the Mingo girls." She was just in time. We might have had camp's largest sleep-over next. Amy introduced herself to the younger girls who were very relieved they "wouldn't be forgotten forever." They filed out of our cabin and made their way home to the other side of the village. Sarah took the Shoshone girls back across the porch.
My girls brushed their teeth, took out their contacts and crawled into their sleeping bags. I went from bunk to bunk giving hugs and high 5s before whispering, "Good night girls" into the darkness and falling into my own bed.
The day hadn't ended like I expected. I thought it would be a calm night, at least calm by camp standards, but instead I sat in a circle of teenage insanity and figured out how to survive with Sarah. We had to be flexible because that's just what we needed to do right then. There wasn't another option.
Life doesn't always go according to plan. Sometimes you have to adjust what you expected. Accept that maybe you need to live outside of your comfort zone.
When I tell the story of that night I remember how crazy it was but more importantly I remember Sarah sitting right beside me in the midst of all that screaming. She was the friend I depended on that night and that summer. I never would have planned our Monday night to be like that but I think it turned out pretty perfectly.