Sing Around the Lake and Canoe Formation!

Camp Illahee summer camp for girls canoe formation.
Canoe formation is a special Illahee tradition.

It’s hard not to get a little sentimental during tonight’s evening program, and I was caught off guard tonight when I got a lump in my throat several times during the Slide Show. I have to set the scene cause it’s hard not to picture grandma’s vacation slides when I say, “slide show.” This was something that Laurie and I started back when we first got to Illahee and when we started taking so many pictures. With big bright screens on the backs of cameras, you can imagine each time an image is captured, a request would follow. “Can we see it”? So, we have a blanket rule we all follow…”not til the Slide Show.” So, all these images you all have been flipping through every night will be new to your campers after they get home…except the 400 or so that Gretchen hand picked for tonight’s show. Set to favorite songs, the program is half sing-a-long, half cheering as each image comes up, and an occasional sentimental “awww” in unison. We start the festivities by pulling a handful of early camp photos of CITs, staff and Sparks. They are projected and then their current picture. Some are pretty funny…all are adorable. So many of the images are of events during camp that most of the campers are unaware of…like the girls racing at the NOC camp cup on the Nantahala River…or what Trips Climbing looks like when you are 100 feet off the base. Hopefully, younger girls are inspired for subsequent summers as to all that they can accomplish at camp. The first lump? A picture of several Sparks who I have known since they were missing front teeth in a reflective moment together, knowing that friendships like these will last a lifetime. The other? Several pictures of counselors in the cabin with their campers…one is asleep and her camper is cuddled up next to her mugging for the camera in a shot that just exudes security.

I hope that you will allow your girls to get online…even if they don’t normally, to look at the images with you. You can read the “newsy” parts of my updates and start the “conversation.” Almost as important as the experience itself is helping girls verbalize and process it. The stuff that happens here will sustain many through a hard school year…we call it “filling the tank.” It has been an extraordinary session and summer, one that we will remember fondly for years. Many of you will hop in the car tomorrow, and this may be the last time you check in with us for a while. Know that we appreciate your confidence in what we do here, and we love being on our “mission trip,” especially with girls like your own. It is a privilege and a blessing that we have been allowed to do what we do…nothing short of extraordinary, really.

A few days ago, campers and staff were digging out their hoodies and sweatshirts…today they overwhelmed the Lost and Found box! It was a beautiful sunny day, and the Swim Lake was the place to be. I did get around to all the activities this morning, and they were going strong. We had one camper make it all the way through Sitting position today to earn her Experts in Air Rifles. That’s unheard of and takes amazing concentration! Though our four-weekers are finishing up a relaxed and full activity schedule, we emphasize to our activity instructors that this is an important day of classes for the two-weekers…so they all finished strong!

The food today was a crowd-pleaser all the way around…hot pancakes and sausage for breakfast with syrup and strawberries…chicken tenders and salad for lunch with honey mustard and ranch sauces. Dinner was bag supper out by the lake…our usual Wednesday traditions. Our 3 day trips folks returned today with success written all over their smiling faces. The climbers especially were exuberant after experiencing the exposure and beauty in Linville Gorge. “You wouldn’t believe it (didn’t tell em I’ve climbed it many times 🙂 ) Gordon”! “We felt like we were on top of the world”! I have to brag on our Trip Leaders. It takes a special breed…there are lots of technicians out there, but fewer who love to teach their passion. This crew is happy to forego the really big water or epic climbs to “turn” the younger generation on to paddling or climbing…pretty great stuff.

Evening program tonight started with the slide show and then ended in an Illahee tradition…Sing Around the Lake. Each hill processes to their own spot and campfire around the swim lake…which is situated in a perfect hollow that echos sound several times before releasing it. They serenade each other back and forth and then take turns with the verses to a single song. It’s really quite magical. As the final stanzas fade, canoe formation begins. Set to classical music, our canoe girls take their craft through the paces with formation paddling…a C and I for Camp Illahee…a pinetree, stars, wheels, single file…lit with red torches, and misty smoke low on the water…it’s also a sight to behold. Our final couple of days are well orchestrated to help girls bring their summer to a close. I heard one Pineview girl walking back to her cabin tonight say, “I’m going to be a wreck tomorrow. It’s not time to leave.”

So Friday, pick-up will work a lot like drop-off. Your camper will be in her cabin where you will meet her after you drive through and get her trunk loaded. We will be ready after breakfast at about 9:30 am. When you get to the cabin, look for any smaller items…things that are easily left like riding helmets, laundry bags, toiletries and such. We have a big day tomorrow…lots of final activities.

2 responses to “Sing Around the Lake and Canoe Formation!

  1. Bill and I can’t thank the Illahee staff enough for the absolutely incredible job they do at camp. I’ve gone to sleep every night for the past 4 weeks knowing that Catherine couldn’t be in better hands or with better role models. I received a letter from Catherine’s counselor, Stephanie, this week that had me shedding happy tears. Her kind words and insights about Catherine were so thoughtful and heartwarming (and needed since this was our first 4 weeks without her!). What exceptional people our children are surrounded by! Keep doing what you’re doing because it couldn’t be better.

    Most fondly,


  2. Thank you so much for making this first time away from home camping experience wonderful for Rickelle. Being able to view the photos daily, and especially reading your blog, has made it bearable for me. I know that this is an incredible experience she will never forget and Im sure this will be her new summer tradition. I’m really looking forward to hearing all about it from Rickelle.

    Thank you for your care and concern for our girls.

    Dana Kibbey

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