Anyone who knows me knows that when it comes to camp, I am a hopeless romantic. I am a firm believer that camp can change the world and lives, and as a camp professional and a camp we have the amazing opportunity to create an environment that is contrary to the “everyday”. I’m not alone in this idea… if you look carefully you’ll see that campers believe it too – whether they realize it at the time or not.
At camp, there are fewer rules, time means nothing, kids can be kids, and making messes is all a part of the fun. There is also the desire to leave your mark. After all, this is the place that has meant so much to you, albeit for a short time. This is the place where you have been transformed, this is the place where you have made lifelong friends, challenged yourself in new ways, and tried new things. This is the place that you will remember for the rest of your life; so it’s natural to want to leave your mark. Some small sign to others that you were here and it was awesome.
This idea of leaving your mark has always been prevalent at camps and perhaps it’s the folklorist in me but has always intrigued me. I’ve seen some camps that have made yearly totems which dot the trails of the camp for years to come. Some camps have areas with sidewalk pavers decorated by each camper and the camp I grew up at and first worked for has a large beechnut tree with 75 years of names and messages carved into its trunk. Amazing that both tree and marks have endured but if you look carefully you can find an image of a turtle carved in the early 80’s by this one day camp director.
It was this love and belief of camp history and ethos that prompted me to purchase a dozen cans of paint in 2008 and instruct the counselors and campers to start a mural on the blank white wall of the dorm. This mural would be a living piece of art and storytelling for all to see and remember “that summer when…” for years to come. It was great fun and now each year when campers come back you can often see them place there now two sizes larger hand on the wall to show contrast as to how much they’ve grown. Or hear them say… I remember making that or this is mine, or I remember her.
However, sometimes our good ideas take a left turn and eventually develop a mind of their own. The wall in the dorm could not last forever and what began as a good idea has in past years gotten a bit unruly. So with heavy heart I took roller to wall last week and covered those seven years of living art. I won’t lie… I got embarrassingly emotional standing there alone in the dorm with roller in hand. Perhaps I’m being a bit too sentimental and maybe it just means more to me than anyone else since I’m the one who can step back and see the connected history of the camp seasons through each of those campers or guests. Either way… I was sorry to see it go.
Camp culture, history and lore can be quite powerful. It connects campers over generations and illustrates the perpetual transforming power of the Holy Spirit and that we are all one in the Spirit. Even though I hate to see the end of that messy, ugly wall, a blank wall means a new beginning and you can be sure I’m already working on improved and more enduring ways for campers to leave their mark.