The first night we stood in pouring rain as two cabin groups brought down a flag so wet it looked like it was weeping. The next morning that same wet flag was raised while we stood in a semi-circle, eyes puffy with not-enough-sleep, voices singing America froggy in the saturated cold air. Puddles the size of small ponds were scattered throughout camp, so it was impossible to walk anywhere without stepping in one. It rained every day. The cold was a constant presence, burrowing through our layers into our bones.
Monday breakfast, the first of our official camp meals, consisted of pancakes and peaches in heavy syrup. Every meal but one was brown, full of starch, low on protein: bread, pasta, potatoes. Lettuce was served once. Vegetables were canned: beans, mixed, carrots. Fresh fruit was served three times, but in limited quantities.
The women's cabin was overcrowded this year. All nice people, but all on different sleep schedules and with different ideas about how to spend the cabin time. Half thought it was a slumber party. Half just wanted to go to sleep. Several snored loudly enough that sleep became impossible for those who didn't snore.
Camp was everything I feared, and the gifts I anticipated were everywhere.
My class did the big waterfall hike on the first morning. It's a highlight of camp every year, an almost four mile round trip of steep climbing on narrow root-heaved trails. As we set out, the rain eased a bit. The hike was vigorous enough that no one noticed the cold. The kids were chattering happily ahead of and behind me, occasionally shouting out discovered wonders: neon orange mushrooms, conks, nurse logs, deer trails. One boy challenged me to a duel with the sword ferns. At a particularly steep place in the trail, a girl in the back said, "Nature makes stairs." Roots were shoring up the trail so that there were indeed natural stairs for us to climb.
For the rest of the week, stairs appeared through the mud and downpours and fatigue.
The rest of the waterfall hike was amazing. The sun came out several times, and the heavy rain held off until we were down. The waterfall itself was a torrential wonder, so heavy I couldn't see the kids standing on the trail behind it. No one whined. No one got hurt. And for the first time ever on this hike, I felt no pain and was able to enjoy every step.
The kids were all we could have hoped for kids to be. They learned and had fun and were in awe of the beauty surrounding them. They hugged and smiled and asked countless questions, their curiosity deep and wonderful. They sang and laughed and declared the food the best they'd ever eaten.
This year for the first time teachers were with their own classes the whole time, which meant we had to teach every field study. We received the lessons the week before camp, and most of us had specialized in one or two of the eight in the previous years. The result of that were free-form lessons in which I was decidedly not the expert, in which the kids and counselors often provided answers to questions, in which we all learned together, in which many questions went unanswered.
There were many times when stairs appeared for me as personal gifts.
A volunteer, the oldest person there, a former teacher, at the end of our astronomy lesson which was way more question than answer, saying to everyone what an incredible teacher I am and how lucky the kids are to have me. It's such a rare gift, to be told how you're seen by someone who knows how hard this job is.
The day of our fire lesson, which I didn't have to teach (thank goodness, or we'd still be staring at wet wood), sitting around a crackling blaze, my kids sitting quietly with their counselors, the volunteer showing the steps to building a fire, I watched ravens fall silently into the trees around us like bits of perfect emptiness in the shining green air. I saw them study us and decide we had nothing they wanted and slip away into the afternoon leaving behind shadows of themselves that only I could see.
On the morning of our final hike, we were on a creek bank looking for rocks. The creek roared past us in flood, more river than anything, but receded enough that the kids were having great success finding the perfect rocks to take home. I had just looked up to tell the kids to gather gear and head back when I noticed movement directly overhead. Flying upstream, no more than twenty feet from us, was a Bald Eagle, who turned and looked directly at me just before she disappeared out of sight in that magical way of eagles.
Like all grand adventures, this one left us changed. On Friday morning—yes we had regular school on Friday—when I let my kids into the room, they were singing camp songs. United as a group singing happily as they went about the morning routine. The hugs I got were a little tighter, the laughter we shared was a little lighter, our conversations enriched by the unspoken bonds forged on the mountain in the rain.
Camp was everything I feared, the challenges as difficult and uncomfortable as I knew they'd be. The only real surprise was in the abundance and quality of the gifts. Nature makes stairs—always. We just have to be willing to allow our feet to find them, our hearts to accept the grace of gifts not sought but so much richer than anything we could ask for ourselves.
|The size of a backpack, this is the rock the kids found for me. We did not bring it home. :-)|