“The 7th grade hike is the BEST day ever!” Hopefully, every day at camp touches girls with a similar sentiment. Each session, I take several all-day trips with rising seventh graders on what has come to be known as “cabin adventures.” I have a staple hike that is just so stunning that every Illahee girl who is here through middle school has to experience it. The little bus winds up through the little hamlet of Balsam Grove and then start the serious climb to the Parkway. After a 4000 plus foot ascent, we reach an almost elevation of 6000, about as high as you can get on foot east of the Mississippi. I’ve turned into my dad…I feel compelled to make the girls listen to me about the history of these mountains, from geologic formations and plate tectonics to the construction of the Blue Ridge Parkway by men living in CCC camps as part of Roosevelt’s depression-era New Deal.
Some listen, some pretend to listen, and some say “look at that cloud” in the middle of my oration. My trump card is that all the information I disseminate, extra oreos are the delayed gratification for those who can recall on command after lunch. It was a different sort of hike today. We started in sunny skies with puffy white clouds in abundance. Not long after we summited the first peak, the clouds rolled in and there was one little window to the light…”a stairway to heaven” one camper pointed out. It wasn’t long before we were in the clouds, but they get dramatic in the high country along those peaks, swirling in and out like spirits among us. It never rained on us, but we still got droplets in our hair and eyebrows. Every now and again, we would get a glimpse of the distant mountains, and occasionally a long vista. I am often struck by the excitement of these girls when they experience the beauty of this area. I remember as a boy growing up in middle Tennessee how magical the mountains seemed when we would come over to the Smokies on a family trip. For a girl growing up in the flats of Florida or the plains of Texas, the magic is just as real. The hike ended, and we went to a favorite swimming hole…skinny dip falls…and then celebrated with a few scoops of our favorites at Dollys.
I have a bias toward the four-week session. Used to be, the option for summer camp was eight weeks…or not at all. Of course, summers have shrunk, and other opportunities seem important contenders for our children’s time. There are sports camps to make girls better athletes, tutoring so that she can get into a “good” college, other trips to take and family time. And, at least in North and South Carolina, there is a sentiment among public educators that the reason performance is suffering is that kids aren’t spending enough time in school. I like the four-week session because it doesn’t feel like we are rushing to fit everything in. I’ll let you in on a secret gleaned from almost thirty years at summer camp…the real benefit of camp is negotiating community living. We all arrive as equals in this family, and for some that’s a big shift. There are chores to do, compromises to make…independence thrives and even shows up where it hasn’t been seen before. The time allows campers to settle in, to not feel that compression of time that is so prevalent in everything we schedule for ourselves and our kids.
The Illahee prom was a hoot tonight. We got a late afternoon rain that raised the river enough at Sliding Rock that I decided to postpone the little one’s outing there until Thursday night. For many, it will be a terrific culmination to their camp session since we close the mini-1 session on Friday. So, the entire camp enjoyed a dance party “prom” hosted by our favorite D.J. Marcus. There were plenty of couples…one dressed as a boy, the other as a girl. Pretty cute! I certainly love what I do…and consider it a privilege to spend time with your great girls. It’s been a really full and great day in the Heavenly.