When I was 11, my best friend asked me, and our other best friend, if we would go to Mint Brook Camp with her that summer. Mint Brook was a week-long sleep-away camp, run by our church, and we were finally old enough to go. C’s mom had volunteered there for years and both of her sisters had gone. Her middle sister would even be one of our counselors!
I can’t tell you how thrilled I was when my parents said yes! The next months were spent in anxious anticipation of the first week of August. And the camp fun began the moment our parents put us on that yellow school bus and sent us off down the highway. The singing, oh the singing! The patience of bus drivers is truly remarkable. “I go to Mint Brook Camp so pit-y me. There’s not a boy in the vi-cin-i-ty …”
For us, camp meant freedom and adventure and fun and independence. Ten girls in each of ten little cabins, playing, singing, swimming, learning together for 7 whole days and nights. It was kind of like a week-long sleepover party. But with rules and daily cabin inspection and early morning wake-up calls to attend flag raising. We were all assigned daily chores (peeling vegetables, gathering firewood, mopping the dining hall, etc.), and we signed up for activities in 3 sessions each day (swimming, canoeing, crafts, and more). Every evening brought some type of activity, plus chapel, and campfire. Our days were full and definitely structured. But nothing felt like a burden. Every moment was filled with the laughter and joy of trying new things with friends new and old.
It’s hard actually for me to pick a favourite memory. Everything to do with the water was amazing. Learning to paddle a canoe was certainly a highlight, as was the year that C and I were allowed to take our canoe up the river on our own, no counselor, with a younger camper in the middle seat. We knew every rock and log and shallow spot in that river. We knew which side of the island had the weaker current. And we knew just how close to the waterfall at the end of our paddle we could safely go (the bottom part of the waterfall, not the top, don’t worry). We felt so mature and trusted.
And one night we slept under the stars certainly stands out. We all took our sleeping bags out onto the field and lay there staring at the night sky, looking for constellations. It was a perfectly clear night, and I had no idea before just how many brilliant points of light were up there. Truly gorgeous. That was an eye-opener and something you just could never experience in the city.
I continued at Mint Brook, spending a week there each summer until I was 17. My last two years I graduated from camper to counselor-in-training. I taught rowing to the girls twice each morning and led canoe trips in the afternoons. I taught them the campfire songs that had been taught to me, calmed their fears at night, or sometimes told them the camp ghost stories if I thought they could handle it. I organised nature walks and introduced the girls to the trails I had come to know over my years there by the river.
I grew up at that camp. I made friends and met family (literally – no less than two distant and one not-so-distant cousins I didn’t know!!) And I made memories that I’ll always have, even if I can’t find the pictures to prove them! (Damn days before digital cameras and my need to capture every potentially bloggable moment …) We started the Teen at sleep-away camp when he was 11 as well. And I can’t wait to send Little Boo when his time comes.