Sparks Version for Final Night!

Who isn’t a Taylor Swift fan? She’s been part of the fabric of Illahee since she came on the scene with her hit Tim McGraw around age fifteen. That was seventeen years ago. I think Taylor embodies a strong woman. She is smart, savvy, and not without struggles. She has been able to grow with her audience, not trying to suspend time, but aging gracefully. It was no surprise that she re-released a bunch of her hits, calling it Taylor’s Version so that she could gain the royalties from her own art and performance. I’m just glad that I wasn’t a boyfriend she broke up with!

Sparks are our oldest campers. Many have been here for ten or more years, and they are charged with being the “spark” or spirit of camp. They all live together in our newest cabins on Pineview hill, Juniper and Laurel, palatial open air cabins built out of poplar logged and milled on camp, with beautiful red oak hardwood floors. They have our most experienced counselors as “moms,” and they are charged with hosting the entire camp for our final banquet. No surprise that their theme was “Taylor’s Version.” They decorated the dining hall in signature red crepe paper, with signs created over the session “surreptitiously” so that the surprise was not revealed until tonight. Butcher paper is the canvas…the most elaborate was a visual timeline of Swift’s career. There were song references. Serving carts were “Getaway Cars.” The Sparks chose the menu…no surprise…chicken fingers, kale salad, Cheerwine and ice cream for dessert complete with “red” homemade whipped cream! For those of us trying to keep our “boyish” figure, there was grilled cauliflower that was yummy. Warm yeast rolls added to the “beige” theme. Of course the sound track was Taylor in the background and every girl in the house singing along with her. I loved that they chose a powerful woman role model as their theme. It was festive and fun. Kudos to the Sparks…and the Spark moms for pulling off a great final banquet

We started off the morning with our final Rise n Shine after a little sprucing up around camp. After “bag supper” last night, there were picnic remnants to be picked up as well as the “misc” lost and found to try to get back to rightful owners before packing began in earnest. We have a silly tradition at Illahee where campers make sculptures out of napkins, and a counselor chorus takes a popular song and changes the lyrics to reflect camp culture. Did they know? This morning set a record with Taylor Swift’s All Too Well, the one she perfomed on Saturday Night Live for ten minutes! After a few announcements we enjoyed the dance and puppetry performances from the stage in the Rec Lodge.

The morning was a blur of choice activities, some packing, lunch…more packing. I think this may be the driest session I can remember, though we are not “drought dry.” It is decidedly the warmest 3-week session I can remember. I think I prefer the warmth over the damp cold…at least your camper’s laundry has a better chance of escaping the dumpster when you finally are brave enough to open it.

A note on Covid. This virus has definitely changed, and is not making our population sick. We have had no positive tests, and it would not surprise me if someone goes home and tests positive as most will be asymptomatic. Please protect those who may still be vulnerable with common sense by keeping campers at a distance for a week or so. We are so grateful to have lived in community as a big family, and that doesn’t come without risk, whether Covid, flu, or other communicable viruses. It is so worth being together in my opinion. It doesn’t mean we should not be diligent. Thanks for partnering with us to continue to stem the tide of this virus.

After banquet, we took a breath, gathered by cabin, and headed over to Dohivi Noche (final night), which is through the tunnel, across the bridge, a short walk through the pasture to find a trail through the wood…that opens up into a “cathedral” under the watchful eye of a giant pine tree…the one we “hail” each night arm over arm right before Taps. My brother-in-law Lee says we should “call the folks in Raleigh” and get it registered because it is “surely a record.” I’m not sure who those “folks” are, but I’m happy it is here, and one of my favorite things is watching the girls from Hillbrook aim their disposable cameras at the very tip top of that tree when they find their seat during final campfire.

The energy is different at final campfire. Whereas regular campfire is a no-holds barred raucous sing along, complete with skits and stories…final campfire is more reflective. Everyone is in her whites…which automatically makes it feel like church. There are presentations…first year felt banners, CIT charms, JC Bibles, 10-year gold signet rings, and some singing. But my favorite part is the Wish. Each hill and counselor group chooses a girl to make a wish on behalf of her peers. Tonight we heard from “great” girls…several of them brand new to Illahee. We get very few first year campers to Illahee. I think out of almost 280, there were 20 or so this session. You’d think that would make it intimidating for those twenty. I think one of the things Illahee does best is embrace new members to our camp family. I can say that with a bit of confidence as an alumnus of 3 other camps.

As the wishes continued from girls from older hills, we heard some heartfelt pleas to carry this spirit back home…that it doesn’t have to be an annual “fill up.” That’s our mission…to equip girls to make positive changes in their own schools, universities, families, communities, world… I want them to know that each one has the power within to effect this change. That it is NOT this place, but the people in it.

I’ll leave it with you: “tag, you’re it.” It’s your turn to fan the flame within each one of your girls. Even when she’s pushing you away, know that she’s really saying is, “come a little closer.” It is a privilege to be part of your lives. We don’t take your trust for granted, and look forward to the next time we meet in this Heavenly World.