As summer approaches my thoughts drift to camp….
I always had a certain affinity for that dock. It was old, it was worn, and its safety was at times questionable. But, every summer, in the sometimes frigid mornings of mid June, I, along with my friends, who are now my family, would drag the heavy, cumbersome pieces of wood down the steep hill. Without grace or agility, the wood, more battered each successive year would be pushed haphazardly into the water. With torn shorts and worn t-shirts, we’d follow each section of the dock into the chill and fright of the awaiting water. The shore, bare and lonely seemed to be awaiting our arrival. In a matter of days the screaming, laughing and splashing children would fill the silence.
Each June those battered sections of dock were put together with love, with care, with humour and with patience. That dock, like I, had waited through fall through winter through spring to that day in June, that day in June when, with love, with patience and with humour it was to be put together, to be made whole. That place and those people gave those pieces of wood purpose. The pieces of battered wood were so much more than their separate parts. They became that dock. They became whole. They became what they were meant to be. And they were necessary. They became the focus; they became the gathering spot for laughter, for fun, for frolic and for quiet moments of contemplation. Like that dock, that camp also gave me purpose. It made me whole. It made me worthy. It was those late June days and early August mornings where I became. It was home.
The path down to that dock was surrounded by tall, straight, pine trees. Walking through the majestic trees gave the feeling of being part of something bigger, of walking through a path of history. The seedlings had grown, the birds had made homes, and if you listened closely, the woodpeckers could be heard under the shrill song of the cicadas bathing in the heat of the August sun. The original forest which had burnt to the ground had been replaced by hundreds and hundreds of pine trees planted in perfect, symmetrical rows. One path cut between them. Stopping on this path, and looking up, as I often did, and as I had seen others do, had a dizzying effect. It felt as though the trees had stood still, and that I was moving. I sometimes even put my ears up to the rough bark of those trees. I loved the sound of the creaking, the movements reverberating down the trunk. At times the slight winds that swayed the thin tips would change in an instance, and turn loud and howling. In those moments the creaks became loud crashes as the tops of one tree would bang with such force that branches would come tumbling down to the ground. In those moments I had to trust those tall thin trees. They were not brittle but flexible. They moved with the wind, became a part of it. They had stood tall and purposeful for decades. They did not fight the wind, they played in it. In this home, I learned too to stand tall, to play in the prevailing winds, and to be flexible in the moments when my nature wanted me to be brittle.
This was the place where I became. I became who I was meant to be. I learned to live, I learned to love and I learned to be. It was the place where I learned that who I was and how I was, was who I was supposed to be and how I was supposed to be.
In the spaciousness of the air, the sun, and the trees I felt free. There were no doors, no gates, no boundaries. It was freedom. The surrounding forests were thousands of variations of green. Light greens, darks greens, mint greens, more greens than my brain could decipher. The forests were dense and full of hidden treasures. In those days, I looked at the ground often. I looked at the sky often and the water and the stars often. I noticed the green moss that clung desperately to the moist rocks in the sun filled clearing. I noticed the grasshoppers maneuvering precisely but elegantly over a sea of browning grass burnt by the August sun. I took the time to lie on my back on that prickly August grass, staring up at the sky and enjoying the never ending characters that would appear and then seemingly vanish in the blue vastness above. I would lie on my stomach at the water’s edge, peer over and watch the tiny fish poke their heads out from the safety of the dock, looking for its next meal. The water rippling in the distance signaled the defeat of a small water spider. And the stars. At night I would put on my flannel pants, my mismatched vibrantly coloured wool socks, my tattered tan Birkenstocks, and my purple hoodie that would inevitably smell of sweet yet acrid scent of numerous nights spent in front of smoke from the campfire. I would lie on my back. It would be silent. The stars would be so bright they seemed to be talking to me in a language I could not quite understand, but they were telling me things I knew I needed to know.
I learned there that home is in the comfort of the moments. Home is in the comfort of the little things. Home is feeling whole in the majesty of the details. I was taught the value of loving the old. Canoes, buildings and tools showing the signs of age were not discarded but instead were lovingly and painstakingly brought back to life. There was little garbage, little trash, little waste. I composted before composting was trendy. I learned about the great value of a tiny earthworm. I learned that what looks like a most insignificant creature, can change the world. We were encouraged to look deep in the soil, to see the land, and to grow our own food. No, not everything we ate came from the work in the garden, but we had meals with fresh berries, crisp lettuce and the reddest, juiciest tomatoes I had ever seen. And, I played a part in that meal. The children played a part in that meal. We learned about what it meant to treat the earth with respect, to treat materials with respect and to treat each other with respect.
A fresh coat of paint, some oil here, some nails there ensured the preservation of time. I had my hands in that, I had my heart in that. Hours were spent patching canoes, sewing holes in tents, scraping old paint off the side of buildings, and then passing a brush over it to bring it to new life. And likewise, children were brought to a new life. Children who had been given everything they had ever wanted, who went to the best private schools and who had the latest fashions lived side by side with children who didn’t even know what it was like to have a home. They were equal. They were all important. They thrived, they were given a fresh coat of paint.
In the sometimes frigid mornings of late August, I donned my now even more ragged shorts, and worn t-shirt, and braved the cold of the water. Screw by screw, we took apart those docks. We pushed them to shore and with more care and more caution then we had in June, we rested them on the bank. They needed to last another fall, another winter, another spring. They needed us to be patient with them. We gently pushed and pulled the large pieces of wood up the embankment, just nudging them along, careful to not hit a rock too hard, to not drag it against the sharp pebbles and tree roots. They were guided to shelter to weather the months to come, to wait until the following June, when they again would be placed in the water. When they would be home.