Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Magic of Camp

"The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one.” ~ Elbert Hubbard

It is the second day of camp and we're out on the kayaks, four leaders and ten campers, stroking our way through the placid waters of the Sound.  The weather is beautiful as only Seattle in summer can be, sunny and cloudless with a gentle breeze, temperatures hovering in the low 80s.  These summers are our reward, we hardy Seattlites, for the nine long months of grey we endure each year. 

"Anna" paddles beside me for much of the trip.  In these first two days, I have been struck by how much she reminds me of myself at fourteen: sweet, shy, a little hesitant, nose frequently buried in a book.  I was a little surprised, and pleased, when she signed up for kayaking rather than one of the quieter activities.

At the end of the hour we approach the shore, heading back toward camp life.  The lifeguard tells us that we're free to flip our kayaks if we want, just to experience what it's like in a controlled, safe environment. The little Keowees we paddle are wide and sturdy, difficult to flip by accident, but when you intentionally lean far to one side, they roll over easily.  I tried it last year for the first time and loved it: a moment of fear and disorientation, the shock of the cold waters, and then, finally, the exhilaration.  In most years, perhaps a third of the kids try it. 

Today I am the first to go over, demonstrating how it's done.  The water is a tiny bit warmer than usual but still icy, perhaps 60 degrees rather than the usual 56.  It is so cold that after the first few seconds you don't feel it.  I gasp, shriek, then laugh.  I love this; camp is my favorite week of the year.

Anna looks down at me as I swim over to grab my paddle before it can float away. "How is it?" she asks.

"Really cold, but you get used to it quickly."

She nibbles her lower lip.  "I'd kind of like to try it, but...  I don't know..."  Her voice trails off.

"You should," I said.  "It's fun.  Exciting."

Still she hesitates.  "I don't know..."

"Oh, come on," I say.  "Think about it.  How many times in your life are you going to get the opportunity to do this?"

If she says no, I will let it drop, of course.  It needs to be her choice.  But instead, she reflects for a minute, then nods.

"You're right," she says.   "You're right."  I watch as she takes a deep breath, puts her feet outside the kayak, and leans toward the water. 

She shrieks as the cold hits her, then disappears for a second, resurfacing, shouting, "COLD!"  She is laughing. Exhilarated.  "That was FUN!" she exclaims.  Her face is pure joy.

And this is the magic of camp.