I don’t know how it started. Thinking back I am not sure what it was that triggered the conversation but Nancy and I had a lot of laughs on our way to church today. Rayann had spent the night with a friend so it was just the two of us. We got to talking and remembering our times at summer camp. I was a counselor for a number of years. I loved it. There was a group of boys who came every summer, all summer. Each week they would show up and we would start camp all over again and after the first two weeks they new our routine better than we did. The director, Jerry, came to me and said, “Dan, I am going to give you these older boys…you take them and do special things with them…make their summer memorable, and help them grow in their relationship with God.”
Now what do you do with a bunch of 11 and 12 year old boys who are “bored” with the same old camp program? Well, we had some fun, created adventures that everyone wanted to be a part of but were special to our cabin. It started simple. We would “sneak out” during nap time and use those two hours to build a special camp area deep within the woods. We had all kinds of shelters. Over the weeks of camp we built our own little community deep within the woods. Nobody knew where it was but us. The cook was a friend of mine. We would “sneak” to the back of the kitchen and he would load us up with everything you would need for a campfire feast. The nights we spent in our own little camp were sacred. The conversations around our fire pit were special.
There was a pond on the property. One night each week we would camp on the banks of the pond and fish all night. As soon as we caught something we would clean it up and the boys would grill it over the campfire. They thought it was the coolest thing ever to catch and eat fish by the moonlight. It is amazing the kind of conversations you can have sitting on the bank of a pond waiting for the next fish to bite.
The camp we were at had mini bikes. There was a figure eight track out in the middle of the field where all the campers were taught how to ride and some basic bike safety. Not our group. We would get on the bikes and head for the trails out in the woods. We would ride for hours while the rest of the camp was doing arts and crafts. Yeah, they thought they were pretty special. We even packed up some tents and overnight gear and rode off into the woods for a bike / camping trip. It was epic.
I think one of the biggest deals was walking into the mess hall after one of these adventures. We would come in for breakfast and it was clear we had not spent the night in a bunkhouse. We smelled of smoke, fish and mini bike exhaust…we were men and the boys knew it. They loved walking in and telling stories of the nights adventures. Jerry and I would just sit together and laugh.
There is one boy who stands out in that summer of adventure. His dad dropped him off with these words, “My son is afraid of heights. Whatever you do keep in mind he is terrified of heights.” I kept that in mind as we moved through the week. I “protected” him for a season and yet saw him bonding with the other guys and working hard to overcome his fear. Deep within the woods there was a cave. Not a big cave, just a hole in the ground that you could fit twenty to thirty people in…the perfect size for about six boys and one counselor to go exploring in. We had a rope and lowered it into the cave, one by one everyone came in and we spent some time exploring. It was time to go and one by one the boys climbed out until it was just me and the young boy afraid of heights down in the cave. I grabbed the rope and climbed out. Looking back down I said, “Now it is your turn.” He was not sure, he spoke of being afraid. What happened next was amazing. The other boys circled the top of that cave and cheered him on. They encouraged him and spoke life into him. He grabbed that rope, scrambled out, and was greeted with the cheers reserved for teams that win national championships. A few days later his father showed up to pick him up from camp. The boys had come up with a surprise for his dad. Dad found me and asked for his son. I pointed to the top of the biggest pine tree on the property. “You will have to give him a minute, he is with his friends in the top of that pine tree.” When we looked over there were six or so young boys hanging from the tree waving, smiling, and laughing together. Dad turned and asked, “What did you do?” “Your son had a good week” was all I said, I figured some things are best left untold. That story makes me smile every time I think of it.
Nancy tells me, “I would never be allowed to do some of those things today.” She is probably right. All I know is that there was something magical about that summer for those boys and for me. The adventure and excitement was life giving and it created opportunities for conversations about life and God that were sacred.
I miss summer camp. It was not an easy job but it was a fun one, and I thank God for the memories.