Sing Around the Lake and Canoe Formation!

Illahee campers raise paddles during canoe formation
Campers raise paddles in the long standing tradition of Canoe Formation

This week, more than any in the summer, is the one we want to slow down. But, it goes by so fast. Too fast. I love the four-week session, and encourage any of you Mini 2 moms and dads out there considering a longer session to strongly consider this longer July session. Our vision, which was largely realized this summer, is only to grow the out of camp offerings…more canoeing, more tubing, hiking, climbing, kayaking. The four week session allows girls to pursue any and all of those opportunities and still enjoy a full complement of activities in camp. It just feels like the right length. Watching the Sparks get ready for their big night tomorrow night makes me also consider another real benefit…keeping girls excited about camp throughout their teens! We have our moments, but I love being around ninth and tenth graders at camp when they are allowed, even encouraged, to act their age.  It’s all good stuff…it always amazes me that our Sparks and CITs come in looking like twenty-somethings, and within hours, they lose the make-up and the phone appendage…their hair becomes slightly mussed, and they look their age again…better yet, they act like kids. Freedom to do that is elusive these days. Grow up! is the message we often unwittingly communicate, and that’s what they are desperately trying to do.

One of our first summers at Illahee, nine or ten years ago, when picture posting was in its infancy, I realized that parents got to see all these great images, but the girls did not…at least together. The Slide Show was born. Now, with plenty of archival images at our disposal, we have added another element. We begin the show with our CITs first camp picture we can find, and then this summer’s. I got a little nostalgic watching the show tonight. Time does fly. In my mind’s eye, some of our seventeen year-olds look more like eight and ten year-olds. A few have spent almost a year of their young lives with us. What a privilege for us! Then, we pick about 400 of the best of all of the images we took this summer. That’s a tough task that Gretchen has as the editor. There are so many good ones. I know a lot of you like to print the nightly updates, and others are faithfully tagging pictures so your camper can sort through them when she gets home and is “campsick.” There is no better way than that to help your daughter debrief her summer. Watching the slides dissolve into one another…one by one, with music in the background really is a sentimental journey down the session’s path. It’s hard not to think of the success and struggles along the way as each image flashes up. The story behind the girl three-quarters of the way through a flip off the Tarzan…she and I and a lifeguard or two the only ones there as everyone else had headed to dinner. The triumphant smile at the end of the zipline. She didn’t do it last year but was determined to do it this year.

I’ve been videoing a lot the last couple of days, really all session. Four or five years back, I realized that having video crews and editors was a great big hassle…and expensive. Usually for me, expensive has to come with a calculated decrease in the hassle factor. So, I bought some expensive equipment instead and taught myself how to do it. I love “telling the story,” or at least trying. I have realized that I’ll never really be able to communicate the full story, but it is a worthy goal to try. Not everyone gets to be an Illahee girl. Some of you make the sacrifice to allow it to happen for a loved one. For others, it’s a family tradition. (I can’t write that phrase without thinking of Hank Jr…sorry to spoil the moment). So telling the story is important to those who know camp is important. Tonight, I taped a girl who has been with us seven years…she is a true Illahee girl. A great girl. Laurie asked her all sorts of questions…”what’s your favorite activity? Tell me about your counselors.” She is so articulate. But of all her great answers (we taped for maybe twenty minutes and we had all we needed (unheard of in the video world), I was really mesmerized when she said, “I feel like I am who I am meant to be when I am at camp.” Part of me is sad that it’s not like that all the time. As a parent, I want to protect that. But I know that’s not what’s best for her. The world is not like camp. But for four lovely weeks during the summer, we can create our own. And this summer we did.

Illahee counselors sing from the porch
Bringing Sing-Around-the-Lake to a close, Illahee staff serenade the campers from the porch of McLeod

I want to apologize in advance for the moment that you open your camper’s trunk. Know that we spent a solid fifteen minutes with our leadership crew this morning talking about how we could combat the natural consequences of the daily afternoon thunderstorms we have been having. I told you about the water folks calling to tell me we had a “leak.” The Illahee Day spa has been providing hot towels to its most valued campers. We are just using lots of water, and there is an environmental lesson in there that we have been working on. Regardless, I am sure that there will be some decisions to be made regarding some articles of clothing when your camper returns. Hopefully, you will not judge her care nor her experience based upon the condition of her trunk. Now that I have painted a bleak picture, maybe you will be pleasantly surprised.

Breakfast was my personal favorite. Bill’s plate-sized blueberry buttermilk pancakes, link sausages, fresh cut strawberries. Pizza for lunch, and bag supper for dinner. After the slide show, the girls silently processed to their appointed hills around the swim lake. Hillbrook started with “Pooh Corner” and each hill took turns serenading each other across the lake. Main camp is in a natural bowl, and the girl’s voices echoing through the hills was angelic. After Call of the Fire, the Canoe Formation teams paddle canoes, brightly lit with orange flares, through a series of maneuvers that took skill and precision. It is really a sight to see, and the classical music accompaniment sets a sentimental mood. The finale to the night is a counselor serenade to the campers from the porch of McLeod Lodge. The Pine Tree Song and Taps ends the evening. Well almost. The Pine View girls are wandering the other hills with a last serenade. We’re in for a couple late nights so we send them home really emotional and tired :-).

Tomorrow is a big final day. There is some packing, but we also have choice period, a the horse fair, cabin plaques, and then final night banquet and campfire. We’ll look forward to seeing you all on Friday…but not too forward 🙂

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

  1. My heart just sings when I read about all the wonderful things our daughter is experiencing at Illahee. Thank you for pouring your heart and soul into each and every day in the heavenly world. Have a great last day!
    Wes Ragland

  2. Another year…and another tear jerker. Your prose really speaks volumes about Illahee and about you as a person. Thanks from the bottom of all of our hearts for everything that you do in helping each of our girls become GREAT GIRLS! These moments they are experiencing are sure to stay with them forever. May God continue to bless you and your beautiful camp!

  3. Its difficult to describe how much these camp traditions like Sing Around the Lake and Canoe Formation mean to all Illahee girls. I fully expect to find an even more weepy camper on pickup day than I did last year. She gets progressively more upset to leave each year…..and I get it. I thank you and the whole team for making Illahee come to life for these girls.

    As you know, these memories are hallowed and last in our hearts for a lifetime!

  4. As an Illahee Girl, I am tearing up thinking about putting my candle on the lake on final night. And how much I wish I could go back. All of my memories of Illahee are so special but final night is the one I remember the best. Being part of canoe formation as a Spark was one of those frozen in time moments you never forget.
    Since I’m 30 now and being a camper isn’t an option, I can only pray for female children that will become Illahee Girls and understand what a gift it is.

  5. I love the quote from the camper you interviewed. It is so true! As a former camper and counselor, camp gave me confidence to be that person in the real world. When you are surrounded by the rich love and the support of the Illahee staff and campers summer after summer it becomes a part of who you are. I love seeing my daughter experiencing this same thing! Illahee is helping me to raise a girl who is compassionate and cares about her environment and those in it! Thank you for another wonderful summer!

  6. For those who didn’t have the camp experience growing up you have done a wonderful job explaining how camp touches your heart and soul. Knowing my daughter is finally experiencing these traditions and is having a wonderful summer in the mountains makes me so happy. I love your warning about the trunks! I remember well spending seven weeks in the NC mountains with some very rainy summers. I have my mom’s special camp laundry recipe ready and waiting. Bring it on!

Comments are closed.