Here we are at Family Camp, at Camp NeeKauNis.
It’s the only place I can think of where daily life truly does fall away and become a distant background. As soon as I get here, it’s hard to remember what my priorities were when I was at home… Not the fundamental ones, of course, but the to-do list – the little things that nag at us and seem so important in the home sphere.
In fact, it’s the fundamental priorities that suddenly become the only ones, here at Camp: children, family, friends. Meals, playing, running around, sitting quietly. Getting in the lake when it’s hot, making a fire when it’s cold. Getting jobs done cooperatively, community-style. Listening to crickets and cicadas, watching the sun go down, smelling the forest and the grasses.
One of my favourite things ever in the world is watching children of all different ages, sizes, and colours running around being crazy together. That’s one of the perks of being here.
Also, getting to watch kind and wonderful older children, especially the boys (age 9-12), being a protective, gentle influence on my son. Seeing my little guy go off playing with other kids, with no need for me, and knowing he’s safe.
I wrote the following about five years ago, for the Canadian Quaker magazine The Canadian Friend.
My first trip to Camp NeeKauNis in Waubaushene, Ontario was when I was two months old. Twenty-nine years later, I’ve never missed a summer. Somehow, I’ve always found a way to make it to at least one programme. Yes, it’s partly habit – summer wouldn’t be summer without Camp – but it’s more than that. Camp helped raise me, teach me, shape me. I would be an entirely different person without it – and, I think, a much lesser one. Every time I get back to Camp, I feel my better self renewed.
I don’t remember my first few Family Camps as a baby, but it’s clear from the photos that I enjoyed myself. As a toddler, I spent at least one whole camp topless. I was best friends with a little boy who later brought his own little friend to Camp and broke my heart (well, ticked me off anyway). I was intimately familiar with all the important parts of Camp: the climbing set, the swings, the path to the beach, the art room, the kybos. My dad was the king of swingset rides, purveyor of the famous Tornado. I played hard, and had the wind knocked out of me for the first time falling off the monkey bars into the sand – a terrifying but strangely exhilarating experience.
There were many other firsts for me at Camp, especially since I was a Homeschooling kid. It was the first place I stayed without my parents for more than one night, for Junior Camp. There, I also went to my first dance – my cabin-mates even lent me lip gloss – and got my first crush. Camp is where I learned to play badminton (at age 10 my serve was dubbed “the 1000-watt serve”), soccer, Ultimate, euchre, Speed, and all varieties of Wink. At age 11, for Talent Night, I performed my first self-choreographed dance with a dear friend – she is still my dear friend today, and I’m still choreographing. At Intermediate Camp, I had my first official boyfriend (we lasted 3.5 days) and subsequently my first kiss. Camp is the first place I ever slept under the stars, skinny-dipped, cried for happiness, fell in love. The things we do at Camp are simple, universal things, but somehow extraordinary when surrounded by the layers of beauty.
Beyond rites of passage, life lessons are eloquently learned at Camp. As child care staff, I passed along to my charges all the piggyback and spinny rides I’d been given by my many Camp parents. As kitchen staff, I learned that doing work well is much easier and more satisfying than trying to avoid work. I learned what it is to bond with your friends – bond so that you know that right then, your friendship is the best and most important thing in the world. I learned that when the planets align just right, those bonds can encompass a whole group. That even deep pain, suffered together, holds joy as well. That given the right atmosphere, we can all access within ourselves infinite wells of kindness, generosity, empathy, and love.
It seems fitting that last summer, on August 6th, I celebrated my first wedding anniversary with my husband at Camp. As you probably guessed, we can hardly wait to bring our children there someday, to begin their simply extraordinary Camp education.
Now it’s five years later, and Sean and I will be celebrating our 7th wedding anniversary here at Camp. I’ve still never lived a summer without it, and neither has E – this is his fourth Family Camp (his first was when he was seven weeks old). He says it’s “good”.