Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Things They Carried

When they arrived to their cabins they carried sleeping bags, pillows, plastic drawers stuffed with perfectly clean and folded clothes for the week, snack boxes with extra candy to share, mini fans, plastic shower caddies and anticipation for the week. New campers carried nerves and curiosity while returners brought plenty of excitement and expectations. The first few days they all carried button name tags so they could learn strangers’ names. Soon the name tags and awkwardness were forgotten.

The counselors carried backpacks--the big kind that you can easily fit a swimsuit, towel, change of clothes and clipboard inside. They were always prepared carrying their cabin schedule, clinic attendance lists and the flexibility to make any situation fun. Molly Henry has Catawba cabin pictures taped inside the cover of her clipboard, Maggie has extra Parent Letter paper and Alli has her chapel wrap-up for tomorrow morning.

Inside the zippered backpack pouch, each counselor carried a pocket manual with directions for starting a fire and all the words to the Order of the Oar and Welcome to the Family. They carried first aid kits in Rubbermaid containers—band-aids for flip-flop blisters, alcohol wipes for cleaning cuts from a Plunder wipeout and anti-itch cream for the mosquito bites after sleeping out at the Haven.

The 15-year-old members of the CILT pack all carried neon hats on their heads which makes it easy to pick them out in a crowd. In their second week they start carrying wooden name tags. Small wooden medallions sliced from tree branches. They carry them around their neck as proudly as you would an Olympic medal. Younger campers like Lilly Fair, who have aspirations to be just like their CILT one day, often volunteer to carry the CILT’s hat, backpack or name tag for them.

CILT girls carry Annabelle, a porcelain doll, who has battle wounds from her summer at camp. Longhouse counselors wear plastic beaded best friend necklaces.

Everyone carries things on their wrists. Plastic swim bands from Llama that give you permission to jump off the high dive or keep you constrained to the shallow end whirlpool. Waterproof watches so you’re on time for John Amy’s directions at the Richard G Marsh Lake or the staff meeting on Sunday at 12:44. Campers and counselors alike carry stacks of friendship bracelets on their arms. Tornadoes and candy stripes that Braves painstakingly made during clinics. Intricate patterns made by experienced knotters who can weave rainbows of strings into Tanzanias, earthquakes and 4-squares.  The bracelets they carry on their wrists leave behind tan lines so even after the bracelets are taken off the memories of them remain.

They carried Crocs still crusted with mud from the hike to Ghost Creek and tennis shoes for playing Dominican Chaos in Main Field after dinner. Braves carry pillows so Cherokee and Kickapoo can have a pillow fight battle. Blazers carry sleds to go down the Black Hole. Warriors carry harnesses for the zip line. Pathfinders carry paddles and life jackets for their float trip around the Tippecanoe River. They carry the lyrics to every cabin and unit cheer, the River Women stomps and the Blazer’s beat.

They take turns carrying red trays back to the indoor for refills of baked oatmeal, pizza and grilled cheese. If you’re lucky, you carry two boxes of Cinnamon Toast Crunch back to your seat after fighting through the mob around the cereal cart in the morning.  10-year-old Cam carries back a concoction of ham chunks, shredded cheese and ranch dressing from the salad bar.

They carry Camelbak water bottles all day long. After pop stop they carry cans of Diet Coke or bottles of lemonade.

They carry the Empire key as they sprint to take pieces from Vallanor’s treasure box and bring them back to Thallion. They carry gold rocks from the OT all the way back to their counselor who is waiting for them outside the pool. They carry half-finished-gymp, pierced riflery targets and the choreography from hip hop clinic.

Ellyn carries the Buffalo Queen staff that’s covered with artifacts from monarchs of the past. She carries a golden plastic crown on her head and everyone knows that this CAC Queen is now double royal.  Always with her radio on her hip, she carries basket reed, mosaic glass and bottles of paint.

On Sundays and Saturdays the staff wear Tecumseh polos. When they put on that royal polo for the very first time they are putting on decades of tradition and pride that comes from the staff that counseled before them. They're joining a legacy, joining a community.

On Wednesdays they wear wolf shirts. 

Counselors carry a collection of neon nike running shorts, party tanks and quarter zip sweatshirts. They carry bins of dress up clothes that spill over with tutus, 80s prom dresses, fanny packs, hair bows, jerseys, overalls and suspenders. They carry their creativity in their costumes.

On Fridays the whole camp walks in a parade to Closing Campfire carrying unit shirts of orange, green, brown, pink, blue, purple, red and yellow. They carry props for show choir clinic, guitars for playing M & Ms or CILT graduation hats. Chief Noonway gives the oldest campers a simple leather medallion, a torchbearer candle and the responsibility to carry camp’s mission. It's a rite of passage for the Torchbearers to carry tears, the sobbing, loud kind of tears, as they line up down the long road with their candles.On the way back to their cabins that night everyone at camp carries their friends’ hands. They carry the realization that the week is really almost over. Brave counselors always carry at least one of their campers who have already fallen asleep.

When they go home on Saturday morning their things are slightly different. That sleeping bag  now carries the smell of bug spray. Their plastic drawers are filled with smelly clothes still carrying the dampness of sweat and chlorine. 

They carry home stories. They carry traditions. They carry brown paper bags stuffed with love tank notes. They carry those words and compliments-- that encouragement that will stick with them in the weeks and months after they go home. They carry the memories and conversations from devotions and chapels in the Green Cathedral. Strung on bracelets and shoe strings, they carry the beads that will remind them of the Sagamore Creed. They carry the friendships of counselors and campers that have become a family in the past seven days. Even when they drive off in different directions, they will carry each other until they come back again next summer. 

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