Each week of summer camp, we are offering a chance for one of our Summer Staffers to write a post about their experiences. This week’s guest blogger is Elizabeth Stanfield, a first year staffer who is working as a Resident Counselor.
This is Elizabeth Stanfield, an RC this summer at Lakeshore, writing for the blog.
Wilderness. At the beginning of the week counselors move their cars from the top of the hill out to Tent
and Trailer to accommodate the influx of parents dropping off campers, and then walk back up or attempt
to persuade an activity staff member to shuttle them back. Wilderness. At the beginning, our week
starts like everyone else’s. We drive our cars out to T’n’T too, but we’ll be staying there for a while. As
campers show up, we all look like everyone else—freshly showered, clean clothes. Maybe a little less
luggage. Maybe fewer pairs of flip flops.
Wilderness. We hike up the hill for the first time, and now things are beginning to look a little different
from back at main camp. Backpacks start to emerge from within luggage, and we arrive at the tents
we’ll be sleeping in all week. Wilderness. No electricity, no running water. It gets dark up here at night.
You might just see the stars. It’s quieter, too. You might just hear a raccoon or a family of armadillos
shuffling through the woods. Away from your phone and your iPod and your computer, you might just
find yourself in a community with these people you’re with for the next week.
Oh, Wilderness. We name the first aid kit Goku and explain that the only showers are down at the
bottom of the hill. The first morning Tent A wakes to the smell of bacon and biscuits cooking under
their platform, and a cry of, “Wilderness! Come down to breakfast!” and thus, the week has truly begun.
Through this week we will change from the clean people we started as; we’ll sweat from being outside,
we’ll get bug bites, our clothes will dirty, and we’ll have tan lines within days. Wilderness. This visible
metamorphosis will signal an inward change, an emotional change, a spiritual change. We start the week
very much as separate people, but through long days of playing hard in the sun, laughing together and
singing together and eating together and living together, we become very much one community, one
Wilderness. This week we focused especially on High Ropes. Monday, the Climbing Tower. Tuesday,
the Pamper Pole. Thursday, the Giant Swing. And Friday, the Obstacle Course. High Ropes can be a
transformative experience for campers. It requires a great deal of trust in the ropes, in the belayer, and
in oneself. It pushes fears that they don’t always know they have. As a counselor, ropes is one of my
favorite things about camp. Often it’s the first time campers allow themselves to be vulnerable. It helps
them to trust us, too, to show them that we really do have them when we say we do. Ropes at Wilderness
is especially good because the entire camp has to help. They have to be spotters or members of belay
teams. Sometimes the way they help the most, though, is by simply encouraging one another. Having
already done an element or being next in line to go up, they shout encouragement to the camper who just
can’t take that last step to the top of the Pamper Pole, or just can’t figure out the buckets on the Obstacle
Course. They really do help carry each other through it. Wilderness.
At Wilderness and at camp in general, one of our biggest hopes is to allow campers to freely be
themselves. We want them to know that it’s OK to look silly when you dance, to smell kind of funny,
to have dirt and magic marker on your face and arms and legs. That it’s OK to be scared on the ropes
course, to do things you’re not the best at, to shout at the top of your lungs when you sing songs of
worship to your God, to break down and cry, to be happy being yourself. Once when I was a wilderness
camper, I was walking up the trail and I realized that I didn’t act like a better person at Lakeshore; I
acted more like the person God made me to be. At the beginning of the week we smell like shampoo
and laundry detergent. We go to High Ropes—and some of us get stuck. We float the Buffalo River—
and some of us flip our canoes. We walk down the hill every morning and up it every night—and some
of us need someone walking beside us, “You can do it, you can do it.” We swim together. We grill out at the waterfront and eat together. We cut the sleeves off of our shirts. We wear the same shirt all week.
Wilderness. At the end of the week we smell like sweat and dirt and sunlight, but we smell like ourselves.
And that’s where I saw God this week.
This is the last week of campers this summer. As with every summer, there has been laughter, tears, and
a lot of love. At the end of something as big as this, it’s hard to grasp what you’ve been through and
what you’ve done. For me, though, I mark it by the campers I’ve had this summer. The lives I’ve been
privileged to encounter. Much more than anything I could ever teach them, they’ve taught me. It’s a
wonderful happy sad thing to look back on it. Last week a camper did a chalk drawing out in front of the
craft hut of the Lakeshore cross and underneath it wrote
Lakeshore United Methodist Assembly
My safe place
The place I go to be me
A place I respect
I think that sums it up. As usual the campers say it better than we can, if only we listen. As campers,
volunteers, and staff go back to the rest of our lives and the rest of the world, I pray that we listen.