At the summer camp in Oregon where I’ve spent my last two summers, there’s a big, green bridge over the Sandy River that you cross just before getting to the camp. When we take kids over it, we count down from three and all say together “THE BIG GREEN BRIDGE!” When solely among counselors–crossing the bridge listening to blasting music and swerving around forest-highway corners in the fuck-all-invincible fashion of dealing with our own lives–we yell in unison “THE BIG GREEN FUCKING BRIDGE,” as an act of some sort of adult-y rebellion.
All of camp is kind of like that. Pure magic on the kids’ side of things. Something else for the counselors. Magical still, of course, but not in quite the same way.
I grew up going to a religious camp from when I was eight-years-old to eighteen. If the amount of time I spent there wasn’t an indicator, camp was my shit. I was a painfully shy kid growing up and didn’t have m(any) friends. Especially during Phoenix’s long, hot summer breaks, I was almost completely isolated and, even more, kept inside from the 100+ degree heat. Summer camp, for me, meant friends, belonging, sharing ideas in a safe space, getting to go outside. Camp, without even fully knowing it, was everything I would grow up to love in my post-Phoenix evolution into the trajectory of my adult-self. While I didn’t know this at the time, I knew that camp was right; camp was the week I was happiest all year.
Taking the next step into being a camp counselor was a transition, though, to say the least. My first summer as a counselor was not at the same camp where I was a camper because they considered nineteen too young there; I went to a YMCA camp with no standards instead. Really, laughably, no standards (I cooked meals for the camp sometimes without a food handlers card, etc., etc., etc.). Being a camp counselor–especially at this camp–was hard fucking work, the hardest I had ever yet experienced at that point in my life. Initially, it devastated me. I mean, not necessarily because it was hard, but because each struggle was an exposure to the cracks in the perfect camp picture I’d held in my head for the majority of my life. Over the course of the summer, though, I learned to get over these cracks and love being a camp counselor anyway, in an accepting an imperfect world and growing up kind of way. I learned that year that, as a grown up, magical moments have to be created a whole lot more often than they were received as a child.
I was a camp counselor for two more years after that, and I have loved spending my summers outside with kids perfecting (or at least trying to) that art of creating “camp magic” for others. This past summer, I moved up a bit in the camp world and became a Unit Director, or, as I’ve been telling my friends, a counselor for counselors. Unexpectedly, I have discovered that being one more level removed from camper, at least for me, actually takes away a considerable amount of even more magic. There are more cracks in the picture. The structure of things feels more real world. I am forced to be more like my school-y outside world self than the separate camp entity I seek to inhabit during my summers.
It is too recent for me to put my finger on what exactly it is, but I am stuck wondering how far this removal from magic will go? Is there a limit where camp doesn’t have any more joy? I remember Walrus, my boss’s boss’s boss, saying at the end of this summer that he tried to come to a closing campfire, where we were all crying and emoting like crazy, and he could only pay attention to the fact that a tree was going to fall on one of us and hurt somebody. He sees camp through a different lens now, he says.
I have, in the past, toyed with the idea of summer camp-ing forever and permanently existing in a world where my happiest week of the year can last for fifty-one more. But, after this summer, I know that I am done. Camp has made a world of difference in making the person I am today and I owe it more than I can articulate. But I do not want to enter a time where I’m far enough removed from a camper to loose all the magic. To overwhelm my bridge with a little too much of the FUCK.