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Campfire Tales

Mine wouldn’t be so harrowing had I had Bay Weekly’s annual Camp Guide

I sure wish I’d had this week’s Camp Guide back when I coerced my mother into sending me 800 miles from home into the wilds of Minnesota for six weeks at Camp Wood ’n’ Aqua.
    Parents, read on lest your kids wander into an experience like mine. Our annual Camp Guide will give you choices, and I’ll give you some practical guidelines in the form of questions I wish I, or my parents, had thought to ask.
    If you’re past that life stage, read on, reminisce — and keep right on reading into Camp Guide. There you can dream, because the camps we’re writing about are awesome.
    Camp Wood ’n’ Aqua had sounded pretty awesome the afternoon its owners pitched its wonders to the assembled third through eighth graders of Our Lady of the Pillar school. I came home after their talk — illustrated with slide images of the Land of Lakes, woods, paper-bark birch trees, canoes and happy campers — to tell my parents they had to send me.
    Persuasion took some doing. Wasn’t the distance far and the stay long? I was nine years old and had never been away from home alone. I was also a pest, and I drilled them like mosquitos around a campfire till they could take no more.
    Preparation was an adventure. Mother and I shopped for a shining black metal chest and filled it with neat stacks of required camp wear. She bought labels printed with my name and stitched them on every blouse, pair of shorts, jeans, underpants and socks, sheet and towel. She gave me lessons on fixing my own hair, and along with soap and shampoo we packed hairbrush, hair bands and bobby pins. I added a stack of books and comics, and she tucked in tablets, envelopes and stamps.
    In the grand dark caverns of St. Louis Union Station, Mother, Dad, my grandmother and most of the staff of our restaurant waved and wept. The train trip north could have been my little ride on the Orient Express — had I not been in oxygen deprivation, holding my breath to keep terror at bay. Instead it felt like a first-timer’s journey on the Hogwarts Express. Despite my stiff upper lip, I was already lonely.
    On the first day of 42, I discovered that we girls weren’t the only swimmers in Minnesota’s thousand lakes. In the bathhouse, as we pulled off our wet one-piece swimming suits, we found shiny black blemishes on our legs and stomachs. Our lake was inhabited by leeches. We poured on salt — boxes were on hand for that purpose — to remove the slimy parasites.
    Rule 1: Ask what flora and fauna you’ll go to camp with, and how camp organizers promote peaceful coexistence. Campers can be taught to avoid poison ivy, like the vine entangling my granddaughter’s camp cabin, and skunks. Avoiding leeches means staying out of the water, but what’s the fun of camp if you have to stay out of the woods? Check out tick precautions.
    At Camp Wood ’n’ Aqua, I spent my time on the water instead of in it. That’s where I learned to paddle a canoe. The amber waters, cloudscapes and peppery smell of ozone before a storm drew me back years later for long canoe and camping trips on the Canadian side of the Boundary Waters. On these adventures, we made up our own family party of two or three, so I had the fellowship you hope for at camp instead of loneliness. Which brings up …
    Rule 2: Ask how counselors promote friendship, defuse cliques and guard against bullying.
    Whether camp friendships are easy or hard, campers are never alone. For an only child used to being solitary, the constant companionship of this big makeshift camp family felt like being in the zoo instead of visiting it. So I suggest …
    Rule 3: Make sure your camp provides quiet time. Camp days are full steam ahead. Most kids, wild things as well as introverts, need the relief of calming quiet time.
    Finally, Rule 4: Broaden your choices. The camps you’ll read about this week in Bay Weekly’s Camp Guide offer about everything under the sun, from animal training to zip-lining, all in manageable installments from hours to half days to overnights to weeks. As you find ones you and your kids like, go beyond the introductions we make in these pages. Study websites. Take notes. Visit camp fairs and open houses; you’ll find many noted in these pages. Talk to organizers, ask questions and consider what you learn. Imagine what it will be like to be there. Then go have fun — or envy the kids who will.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com