The last week. The last of a lot of stuff for the summer, and it is hitting the staff pretty hard. But I’ll get to that later. First, Crusoe Camp!
Crusoe Camp is the ultimate outdoor/into the woods adventure offered here at Camp. From Tuesday through Friday morning, the tribe lives in hand-built shelters in the woods without returning to any real civilization. (What they don’t know is that our campsite is about a two minute walk from Camp!) It was an awesome time, and to top it off, my co-counselor was Elm, again! No Jr. CIT for us, though.
The guys were basically just a bunch of teenage boys, so there was a lot of foul language. But, almost all of them had been to Camp before and had a passion for the outdoors.
NO loved fishing and searching for animals, but was very opposed to raccoons. He became a little bit of a leader in the group in the sense that he just ordered his new friends to do things and they did them, for some reason.
NA was a delight who mostly kept to himself through the first half or a little more of the trip, but eventually warmed up to other members of the group. He was very interested in learning a variety of survival skills from a book that Elm brought, especially building a bow and different traps.
ST was a hard worker and incredibly helpful to his tribe mates through the week, but just constantly said inappropriate things when around more than one other person. And he used sarcasm constantly. He sawed wood for fires all week long and helped other members of the tribe start theirs.
SN was a bit of a challenge. He did not express his needs at all and probably had difficulty really figuring out the reason for his discomfort when he had it. He was picked on a bit by the other guys because he was the one that got singled out socially by the group of teenage boys, which happens. Well, really only picked on by NO and ST. But he tried really hard to fit in. He also swore a lot.
AC was a really awesome kid. A natural leader in the group, he even stepped up a little during the week to try to get the guys to be more appropriate, although not particularly successfully. But he was always up beat and funny.
MX was another great kid who was able to function very successfully by himself. He was always fun to be around and just listen to/observe. He definitely made the most successful shelter.
MW has been coming to Camp for over a decade and has been doing Crusoe for as long as he has been allowed to. He is also a very large, strong, intimidating guy. His time at Crusoe does mean he gets treated a little differently than the rest of the campers. When he gets frustrated, he storms back to Camp and usually gets sent back up to our site, if one of the counselors does not go and retrieve him. He also walks back to the bathrooms to poo. But, when he is not upset or frustrated, he loves to chat about dangerous animals and entertainment wrestling.
Monday went much like every other Monday. Gather gear and food in the morning. Greet and entertain campers as they arrive in the early afternoon. While our guys were arriving, I had them transfer their gear from personal bags to some backpacks that camp owns, if they wanted. Then, they just kind of hung out and chatted until everyone showed up. When Elm joined us, we got away from all of the rest of the campers and counselors to discuss tribe expectations and consequences. It almost worked. They got distracted by the fact that they would get to fish during the week and spent our time digging through the detritus, collecting about a pound of worms. I’m about 65% sure they at least heard that the group agreed to be respectful through the week. Some of them certainly did not act like they heard it. When it became clear that we were getting no more out of them with any degree of focus, we went over to check out the fishing poles Camp has to distract them until dinner. Their eternal hunger had been apparent since about 3:00p. After dinner, thankfully outside, we took them to the beach to go fishing and then to go shoot stuff – slingshots and archery. It was pretty much exactly what they wanted to do. MW really needs a lot of one-on-one attention, so the one counselor with him and one with the other six had already started for the week. The guys even caught (and released) a couple fish at the beach. After shooting, we got our stuff together to go to bed under the stars. Elm had this great idea to read Robinson Crusoe to the tribe as they went to bed every night. Neither of us having read it, both of us thought it was a really terrific idea, to kind of give them a different perspective on the goals of the camp. Well, I started reading it and was hardly able to stay awake enough to read semi-coherently through the first chapter. Monotonously written and obnoxiously punctuated, there is no way that it kept their attention, but at least I think it put them to sleep.
Tuesday started with French Toast over a campfire, and then launched into our expedition. We walked down the beach to take kayaks around on the lake for a bit to get to a beach around a corner. Then, we hike on a trail (the one I run regularly) to a seemingly arbitrary point and veer off into the woods and up a hill to our campsite. Throughout the week the guys, especially SN, accused me of having no idea where I was, without any way to prove I knew where I was without them getting someplace they recognized. MW barely made it paddling out into the lake and turned back with Elm to take the short route to the campsite and I took the other six through the woods. Once we arrived at Crusoe, we went about setting up camp. First, the guys launched right into building their shelters as we waited for one of the directors to bring our gear up to the site, because we didn’t really want to carry our personal gear and several days-worth of food. I’d rather not imagine how much they would have complained if they had to carry anything more than a water bottle on our half-mile hike. When the gear showed up, we had lunch and returned to building shelters with the addition of tarps. On our trip to WalMart to purchase food, I made the invaluable purchase of a hammock. Such a great way to sleep in the woods. Elm had one, too, so we set ours up with a rain tarp over each and kept our stuff delightfully dry. Camp staff is a little obsessed with hammocks. Some of the shelters looked better than others, but Elm and I decided to go with the experiential learning route of shelter building. To be fair, none of them really asked for help to start. Of course, to go with their shelters, they all wanted a fire pit, so everyone dug themselves a fire pit. To aid their success, we taught knife and saw safety that afternoon, along with fire safety that night. The individual fire pits turned out really helpful, though, because there was always at least one fire going, so finding a heat source to start up a new fire was always easy to find. That afternoon evening, we also spent a lot of time searching out firewood (very important for Thursday dinner) and a couple hours fishing. Well, Elm and six of the campers did while I stayed at the campsite with a napping MW. He really does not like hiking, so pretty much stays in camp all week, unless he has to poo or gets frustrated. I had a great time – got to sit in my hammock and read The Princess Bride. (Yup, like the movie with Andre the Giant. The book is so much better, which is saying something as the movie is awesome.) With everybody back from fishing (they caught a fish!), we made spaghetti and broccoli for dinner. Surprisingly, they even crushed the broccoli. I had a fun time fire roasting the stalks. After dinner, they pretty much just hung out at their own fire pits trying to get a fire started from our hot coals and once they had accomplished that, the guys that caught a fish cooked it over their fire and everyone got to cook their own banana boat in their own fire. Then we put the kids the bed with a second chapter of Robinson Crusoe. What really surprised me was how a couple of the guys hardly slept at all. One of the things I had heard about Crusoe was that the campers would sleep a ton, and here we had a couple guys maybe sleeping three hours a night. Well, according to them. But this also helped keep a fire going and have hot coals to start other fires later! And they didn’t cause problems while others were sleeping, so we just let it go. (The other thing that I heard about Crusoe campers is that they LOVE pooping in the woods, and at least four of the seven had zero interest in that.)
Wednesday morning came with a bit of rain. After egg, bacon, cheese muffins for breakfast, we went about fixing up the freshly messed with shelters to better protect the campers from the rain that would surely come again that week. With improved shelters (and tarps over the cooking fire and the wood pile) the guys wanted to go fishing again, so I took the six after lunch while MW hung out with Elm. We tried to get them motivated to try building things around camp (like a latrine), but there was just no interest when there was fishing to be done. We also got a large hole dug for Thursday’s dinner and a lot more wood collected and sawed. Unfortunately, at the swimming hole, I was less lucky than Elm and we caught no fish. Back to camp after a couple hours, the guys got to cook their hot dogs over their own fires to go with a pot beans with veggies. Wednesday night we also had our first behavior from MW. Apparently, MW and SN (sharing a shelter) had been storing their firewood in a pile in the woods (poor storage place if you ask me) and the ST, AC, and NO (sharing a shelter) had been taking and burning the wood. MW and SN got upset, and then MW started to front and AC fronted back and a few threats later, MW stormed off down to Camp without taking his evening meds. So, I grabbed his meds, and with the help of a couple other counselors who he really likes (because MW really dislikes being followed when he is angry), I got him to take his meds and walk with me back up to camp. Then, we made s’mores! As we were getting them to bed, we gave them the option to have us continue reading Robinson Crusoe (which Elm agreed was awful boring after taking her turn reading a chapter) or hear camp stories. They eagerly elected camp stories. As you’ve probably figured out, this is a pretty chill camp. Really the only challenges that we had to deal with through Wednesday were the guys swearing and talking about way too inappropriate things quite frequently.
Thursday morning came with a fresh down pour. While Elm and I sat pretty and dry in our hammocks, the guys were a little less lucky – a lot of wet sleeping bags and clothes. We fixed what we could – putting up a clothes line and such. I am aware I have mentioned Thursday’s dinner twice without any extra clothes, but let me tell you know. It is tradition for Crusoe to prepare and enjoy a pit cooked turkey dinner on Thursday night! So, with the pit dug and the wood collected, I spent Thursday morning burning a lot of wood in a hole in the ground (and the green grass grew all around, all around, and the green grass grew all around). The hill we have Crusoe camp on has a lot of clay in it, so we’re able to do the pit cooking method. After burning wood all morning, you have a pit somewhat full of hot embers. You then bury the quadruple-foil-wrapped, and seasoned, bird in the hot embers, and cover them with dirt to keep the heat in. The clay does a really good job of keeping the heat contained and cooks the bird over the next six or so hours. While I worked on the fire, Elm took four the guys that still wanted to go fishing, fishing, and NA, MX, and MW hung out with me at camp. At first they all just did their own thing – working on their tribe gifts, trying to build a trap, drawing, etc. – but by the time the turkey showed up, they were all chatting together, which was a delight to see. When the guys and Elm got back from fishing (with four fish, none-the-less, I’m clearly the bad luck) we had lunch and prepared for the afternoon while the turkey cooked on. That afternoon I took the six sans MW on a hike into the park camp is right next to. Because the routes that Camp shows the counselors expanded this year, I took them a way that most of them had not gone before, so it was a new experience for them. Although, not an entirely enjoyable one. Apparently a 45 minute hike is just far too painful for them. At one of the falls, I gave those that wanted to the opportunity to shower using biodegradable soap (Dr. Bronner’s, if you are interested). We then spent an hour going about a quarter mile down the stream from the falls to the river. It took an hour because the guys were so darn excited to find crawdads, salamanders, and whatever else. They collected about half a dozen crawdads to bring back to camp. And, yes, they cooked them up. Going down the stream, I was really having some issues with SN, refusing to keep up with the group and “feeling sick”, which he continued through a lot of the trip. I think a lot of the time that his “stomach hurt” was a more emotional problem with a couple of the guys being mean, us trying to be nice and trying to help him improve his language, and a ton of other things which would seem like nothing to you or me. So, after we got over the Dam, and several of the guys took the brief appearance of civilization to poo, I had a very difficult time getting him to move his feet to get back to camp. The night before he had gotten frustrated with NA, stormed off, and wouldn’t respond to me when I followed, well, besides throwing sticks, but did respond to Elm. So, I was a little nervous about where this would go. Partially he just didn’t want to have to walk all of the way back to camp, which was even shorter than the walk we took out, but you try explaining that to someone who kind of wants to be upset. He was really insistent on my not having any idea where I was, without giving me anyway to prove that I knew where I was. At least he thought on it for a minute when I pointed out that he had not given me a way to prove I knew where I was. Then, out of nowhere, he asked if I could time us on the way back after I said it was about a half hour walk, if we walked quickly, and he was rearing to go. It took just under half an hour. He felt very satisfied that he proved me wrong, it being less than thirty minutes. When we got back, it was time for turkey and sweet potatoes and ears of corn and Dump Cake for dessert (better than it sounds, trust me). The turkey turned out absolutely amazing. If you have never eaten something cooked in a pit for many hours, I strongly suggest it. It was, by far, the most moist turkey I have ever eaten, and there was hardly any dark meat, which was the impressive part. I want to dig a pit to cook things in frequently. Dump Cake is simple: dump pie filling in a dutch oven, dump Jiffy pie crust mix on top, heat until crust mix is golden brown and filling is doing a bunch of bubbling. We did cherry pie dump cake. Finally, after three full days of the guys saying how they were always hungry, they felt satiated. They also cooked some of the fish they caught and boiled the crawdads. Around dark we got them settled into their beds, a little slowly – they were all jacked up on a lot of food and sugar and it being their last night in shelters – and Elm told them a story while I went down into Camp to get more water for the next day’s cleaning and cooking breakfast. When I got back, NO was particularly freaked out about raccoon visitors because we had a big bag of trash we kind of had to leave out and he had heard something. But, they all went to sleep eventually, and were rather quiet.
Friday morning, we finally got to wake up to sunshine! SN was particularly difficult to get up. He continued to complain about some indescribable (as in he would not describe it) stomachache, which I believe was just transition issues or homesickness as he acted similarly the next morning and was suddenly all better when he saw his family. After a breakfast of oatmeal, fruit, and granola bars, we set about making sure we left no trace of our campsite. During breakfast, MW got frustrated about something which I can’t even remember at this point – it was tiny and had to do with (not) getting seconds on something and he stormed down to camp. One of the behavior specialists, Turtle, was kind enough to take care of him for us. We took down tarps and shelters, filled in fire pits, packed up all of our gear, scattered wood, and picked up trash. The guys did so with a lot less vigor. Finally packed up, we took the short hike down to Camp, which I’m 85% sure surprised most of the guys, and spent the rest of the morning in Camp cleaning our stuff up – dishes and tarps. With clean dishes and tarps, we returned to shooting things until lunch, where we let them devour whatever leftovers we had for them to eat. After lunch, we got to go on the ropes course! My favorite! I was pretty excited for this because I was pretty sure there would be some guys who would crush it and some guys that I could push to complete it, and that is exactly what I got. They were actually very respectful during the introduction and paid attention beautifully, for the first time. MW has done it a bunch of times, so just opted out, which we didn’t bother to fight much. Sure enough, up there the six guys kind of split in half. Three of them rocked it out and three of them were pretty freaked out. Two of the freaked outs cried (one of them was one of the bully-ish guys from the week) and two of them did a bunch more than the two required elements to go down the zip line. I only had to perform one rescue/help when SN fell off of the boson’s chair (the hardest to get back up from, no doubt) and I only had to stay with NO across the missing link bridge. Plus, best of all, all six of them went down the zip line! It was very satisfying. And Elm and I did the whole thing by ourselves, which was not easy, but we did it! After the ropes course, we took our stinky boys to get showered before taking them into civilization for dinner. We tried to take our tribe to Cici’s Pizza, but the one nearby location is currently closed for renovations, so we ended up going to an asian buffet really close to that location. Unfortunately, MW had apparently had a poor experience at that very location in the past few months, so we had to negotiate with him a little to get him to go in, but he finally did and I think he had a decent time. And nobody threw up, so there was that. And the guys got some very appropriate fortunes in their fortune cookies. MX, one of the nervous guys on the Ropes Course, got one about taking that first step. Then, we drove back to Camp to watch a movie before bed. We chose Batman Forever, which they enjoyed and it put them to sleep. While they enjoyed that, Elm and I took turns taking care of ourselves – our own showers, fresh clothes, social time with other counselors, etc. – as well as making awards. We named them all after different outdoor professions: Wrangler, Guide, Prospector, etc…
Saturday was much like the other Saturdays. Hard time getting SN up, again, even though it was his birthday! We had the very sugary breakfast, including a candle in a donut for SN and a song from the dining hall. MW got upset he couldn’t go up to get cereal right when he wanted to, even though he knows the deal by now, I’m sure, and stormed off to see his sister and other counselors who he likes, then spent the rest of his time with them. As soon as breakfast was done, we hopped back in a van to get our guys away from the chaos of lots of people at camp. We went to the fire tower in the park next door, climbed it, and then went to the GeoCache nearby, and finally to the Dam to do our processing. SN decided to act super tired during processing, for whatever reason, but we did backscratchers (like last week), Thumb-o-meter (patent pending), and got them to share a little something from their week using an imaginary body bag, but it was a little like pulling nails for most of it. After we figured we couldn’t keep them partially focused any longer, we drove back to Camp for the closing ceremonies and potluck. The two things that stand out to me from that pot luck were a big hug from MW just before he left and a chat with NM’s family (from last week) and seeing NM again. Because she stayed the weekend, this was her parent’s first time seeing her again and getting a chance to talk to the counselors, so I had a very pleasant chat with them. And I could tell that she had fun and made friends despite continuing to insist that she didn’t. I also met her sister and worked on talking her into trying to come to Camp. Then, everyone was gone and we were free! Really, for the afternoon we were free. We had the next few hours off to get ready for the official staff party (clean-up was all of Sunday). Staff party was just wonderful. We had a really delicious dinner and time to just chat with each other. Counselors who had left earlier in the summer to go off to other things came back to say hi. There was a piñata. But then the most important parts happened, we gave out staff gifts. First, we presented the Jr. CITs with their awards for doing a great job during the summer and I presented one to the one who worked with me weeks 1 and 5. Then, it was onto staff gifts. Back at the end of week three, we all drew names and had to get/create/make/innovate an awesome gift for the person on the sheet. Luckily, I got a guy who I worked with and roomed with and thought was awesome AND had an awesome gift idea for. When you present the gift, you also say a bunch of nice things about them, so they and everybody else knows how awesome they are. It was a wonderful couple hour experience. Then we just kind of bummed around for a little bit, packing a little, playing around, playing music, chatting, and then the night got deep. One of the good friends I made this summer had to leave right after breakfast Sunday morning, so several staff members (about seven of us total) forced her to go through and process the summer to help with her transition. It was an amazing processing. We went through the whole body bag first, and as we’re all a bunch of heavy thinking, crunchy counselors, there were some great stories and thoughts. Then it got better. To close out, we went around the circle and all said something nice about every other person in the circle. Everyone got their chance to hear everyone say something nice about them, and it was truly magical. If you have not heard six people, or even one person, speak eloquently and from the heart about how wonderful a person they truly feel you are, you are missing out. It was really an uplifting and empowering evening. Of course, all of this took a few hours, so it was about 2:00a by the time we wrapped up, so we just had a big cuddle puddle in the middle of the hall.
One of the reasons the counselor leaving early and I clicked well is that we both run. We had run every weekend together, so we got up at 6:45a to go for a run and abs work out on her last morning in camp. And it was a gorgeous morning for a run through the woods. There was breakfast, a Cinnamon Roll hug (also strongly suggested if you’ve never had one), and then we launched right into cleaning everything up. Cabins, trip camp supplies, offices, initiatives garage, maintenance garage, basements, … just everything. But, after it was cleaned up, we got to relax and ignore the packing we all have to do. Chilling in hammocks is delightful.
And thus concludes my (first) summer here at Camp. I am planning on sticking around for the fall OE, so luck forward to more adventures along the track. I will leave you with my body bag.
Happy Face: My happiest moment from the summer came from way back in week one when KS got to and went down the zip line. I literally cannot imagine anyone being happier than she was in that moment.
Heart: In my heart, I will take the infinite love and acceptance that exists here at Camp, with the goal to share that where ever I go.
Fingers: I was touched by all of the counselor’s unceasing patience and care for the campers.
Guts: Having to restrain and work with KS in week three was definitely the time that took the most guts for me this summer.
Brain: I think that I really learned this summer how to treat people how they want to be treated and how to find out how they want to be treated so that I can love, respect, and treat them that way.
I encourage you all to look at what you do through this simple processing method. Happy Face – what made you happy, Heart – what you will take in your heart, Fingers – what touched you or what you touched (figuratively or literally), Guts – what took guts, and Brain – something you learned.
Thank you all for reading so many freakin’ words!
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