Her Eternal Calling And My Eternal Love for Camp
Living through another summer without girl’s camp makes me remember those summers.
I’m fond of girl’s camp because of my mom. You see, Mom worked for a summer as a camp counselor for a girl’s camp here in Utah. When our church decided to incorporate girl’s camp into the Young Women’s program, they had in mind the same survivalist skills that boys learn in the Scout program; the Young Men’s program already had the Scout program as its center for weekly church activities. Girl’s camp used to be held in one place in Utah for all the individual wards to schedule time to use and to attend. Then, at least, this is how it might have logically happened, the church spread outside of Utah and girl’s camp became something that each church group, each called a stake, created for themselves.
So, soon after Mom moved down to Albuquerque, she got called as Stake Camp Director, and she created a girl’s camp. I imagine she used the girl’s camp manual to make sure we covered the basics, but camp is about traditions and activities and lots of different things to do and places to go. That takes a lot of organization. She remembered singing songs to eager faces during the summer she was engaged to dad, so she re-learned how to play them on her guitar, picked through the chords, wrote down the lyrics and printed books for everyone there. And I was one of her eager faces long before I was old enough to go with her in the truck with the trailer full of all the stuff girls need to camp.
She created camp necklaces. She figured that girls liked to paint beads (even if she didn’t herself) and that she could give out a bead for every activity they went to. Kinda like merit badges, only for girls. Thus we spent lots of time in leather shops, buying wooden beads by the bulk for the hundreds of girls and their leaders. I have memories of sitting around with a group of ladies, talking and painting all these beads. I have my own camp necklace, one strand for each of the six years I attended, each bead a memory.
She coordinated with the camp cook, the camp nurse, and each of the wards’ Young Women Presidents; each stake is split up into congregations called wards. They set aside a Saturday annually before camp to pass off some of the safety stuff the girls needed to know for camp. Some of it was stuff that was applicable to emergency situations (what to do if someone gets heatstroke, how to carry a girl down the mountain if she breaks her ankle, how to treat a broken leg) and some of it was just awareness skills (like where lightning will strike if it’s raining, how to react if you meet a bear). They set up a nifty situation where the older girls taught all this stuff to the younger girls so all the stake ladies had to do was reserve the building for that Saturday and bring the food. And bring painting supplies to paint beads, of course.
And camp itself was full of flag ceremonies (featuring a properly-folded flag and lots of sleepy girls wrapped in blankets and trying to be clever with camp cheers to answer roll call), devotionals, different hikes for different age groups, and all the appropriately camp stuff like s’mores.
There were also a surprising amount of spiritual moments. There’s just something about being out in the wilderness and among a group of all females. Some of it came as we did an obstacle course on the last day of camp. The first part was a teamwork exercise: it usually involved getting the whole group over a bar that was tied horizontally between two trees about three feet in the air. Or something similar, something that required brainstorming and communication skills.
The second part was a spiritual metaphor. It usually consisted of a blindfold and a simple trail with a few rocks or logs in the way. We (the older girls acting as leaders) would put the blindfolds on the girls, then, after telling them all to be silent, we had them grab a place along a rope. As soon as we physically established that they needed to walk in a line while holding onto the rope, we’d lead the entire rope of girls through that field of fallen logs. Some of us were designated to whisper loudly to select girls that they ought to let go of the rope and follow the voice. If they did what whispered, the voice fell silent and the blindfolded girl was left stranded with no physical indication of where to go.
Others of us volunteered to be a silent help. We would grasp other girls by the hand and help them over the logs or through the rocky trail. I had the privilege of being a Youth Camp Leader when my little sister went through the obstacle course. I was a silent help; as I grabbed her hand, her hands recognized my nails. You see, I’ve grown my nails out naturally since the eighth grade. Not too many girls wear long nails to camp, but as I’m such low-maintenance, I would just let the dirt pile up and let them break off as I normally do. They look hideous by that last day, but their feel was unmistakable.
“Oh, hi, Kate,” she said instinctively. I couldn’t say anything, but her silent help was smitten.