A camp story
"We need to get all of the canoes off the racks before we set out the paddles and life-jackets," Beef explained, "so everyone needs to help. Let's go team!" He claps his hands together and all of the CILTs swarm the truck to unhook the bungee cords and then lift the giant silver canoes in the air. It takes at least three campers to carry each one from the top of the hill down to the bank of the Tippecanoe River. There are forty-six of us which equals out to fifteen canoes. I'm impressed by the girls that jump right in to carry another canoe and don't insist that they need a boy to help. I'm equally impressed by the boys that work with the girls and compliment them on their effort. We're breaking down gender stereotypes.
Once all of the canoes are unloaded Shelby and Kaitlin pass out the bright red life-jackets and plastic paddles to all of the kids. "Three people to canoe, no two from the same cabin, and the counselors each need to be in a boat too," we explain and then the kids scramble to figure out who they'll be with. I spot Molly and Mark, two campers I don't know very well yet, looking for a third. "Hey Molly," I yell to her, "I'll be with you guys. We can be the lead canoe." She gives me a thumbs up and says, "Yay! I'll get a canoe."
Mark gives us a big push away from the shore before jumping into the front of the boat. Molly sits in the middle, the sit-back-and-relax-without-paddling-spot. I've got the back seat since I prefer steering through the rapids and close to other groups for prime splash positioning.
The sun is shining bright and we can see moss covered rocks and shells at the bottom of the river. There is something about float trips that just makes you want to sing. Molly suggests we sing songs from musicals, she's in show choir at home. Luckily all three of us are musical experts and have no problem finding songs we all know. We glide across the water belting out "Defying Gravity" from Wicked, "Seasons of Love" from Rent, and "Doe, A Deer" from The Sound of Music. Molly is loud and confident. With no paddling to take care of she makes dramatic hand motions for each song. I'm impressed with Mark's commitment to singing along with us. When other people come close they jump in to sing along if they know the words.
About half-way through our trip we veer to the right and pull up to CILT island. Everyone else follows our lead and soon we're all docked. Together all of Team CILT wades back up the river a little bit to a bolder that sticks up out of the water. A few sessions ago we figured out that if we all splash up an enormous amount of water at the same time we can create the illusion of a rainbow. "1, 2, 3, GO!" I yell and everyone starts slapping the water. You have to squint your eyes to see because there is water spraying everywhere. After a few seconds the sun filters through the wall of water we're creating and a rainbow prism appears. "Whoah!" the people who can see it yell and we keep splashing. Then everyone rotates spots and we make the rainbow again so more people can see it.
When it's time to leave we all float in the river's current. A rainbow of bright rubber Crocs sit on top of the water and we lay back, our life-jackets easily keeping us afloat. Before we pile back into our canoe I scavenge CILT island for a handful of the perfectly smooth rocks. I put them on the bottom of our canoe by Molly and then take my seat in the back again.
This is one of my favorite CILT mornings. I love that we have three hours to just go on an adventure with Team CILT. The extended float trip is something these campers have never done before at Tecumseh, making it all the more exciting. We're only a few days from the end of session so everyone is comfortable with each other and trying to enjoy every last bit of this experience.
As we paddle we're on the lookout for the "attractions" of the bend. Molly points out the "River Rats" door with the giant painted rat. Mark sees "Osama's playground" first, a little wooden frame with a noose. An old man out fishing gives us a wave as we paddle past. After we go under the power lines we're on the look out for the porch of the Main Lodge that juts out of the trees ahead. We're close. I steer us close to the shore and then we come up onto the sand by the Black Hole.
Everyone works together to carry up all of the canoes, paddles, and life-jackets as we come back. We smell like the River, a few people are a little bit sun-burned and everyone is ready for lunch. Finally all the canoes are back on the racks and everything is put away in the giant tubs in the back of the truck. We release the kids to go change before lunch.
All of the girls practically run back to the Longhouse. Once inside I realize their priority is not changing out of their smelly clothes but eating any and all of the snacks they can find. Everyone pulls out bags of gummy bears, chips, pretzels, tins of cookies, and boxes of cereal. We turn on the iPod and everyone sits together on the floor eating and talking before lunch.
I set out all of the rocks from CILT island. This weird tradition has become one of my favorite parts of the float trip. With a supply of Sharpies, I write a message on each of rocks for other counselors. Anything at camp can be a treasure. The plastic ring from the top of a gallon of milk? Yep, we call it a minglet and fold it into a heart. A mess of knotted string? It's a precious gift from an eight-year-old. A purple plastic bead? It represents joy from the Sagamore Creed. A rock from CILT island? It's a friendship rock.
When the bell rings to signal the end of the morning clinics all of the the CILTs hurry outside to find kids from their adopt-a-cabin to play with. It's time to rejoin the rest of camp. I carry out all of the rocks and find Kiersten and Ryan, two Blazer girls I've gotten to know well. One by one I give the girls a rock to deliver and point out the recipient counselor. They run across the field and deliver the friendship rock. Usually the counselor looks at them strangely, confused about where these girls came from and why they just got handed a rock. Then they notice the words on the rock and smile.
We hear the "Ding! Ding! Ding!" of the lunch bell and everyone runs inside leaving behind their games of tether ball, ga-ga, and four-square until later. Friends walk in together, talking about their morning and how they hope we're having grilled cheese for lunch.