Welcome to Illahee! (The Mountains Echo Welcome to Thee)

I’m sitting down to write in the sitting room that is part of Laurie’s and my master bedroom at the far end of our home called Pinecrest, central to and on the edge of Pineview, our oldest girl’s hill. We have always been in the “thick of it,” and are always at every meal, evening program, and usually the last ones to turn the lights off at night. I am listening to one of my favorite sounds…the symphony of the bedtime routine. It starts pretty quickly after we sing the Pineview song, which ends in Taps: “Day is Done, Gone the Sun…God is Nigh.” It is the sound of screen doors slamming, singing, an occasional shriek, laughter. Every once in a while I’ll hear a counselor attempt a “quietening.” It’s funny after this many years in the “saddle,” I can gauge the health of the hill by the sounds that come from it, and it is bursting with excitement and happy sounds tonight.

In the two-week session, our oldest girls are entering 8th grade, and it is immediately apparent when we all sit down to eat in the dining hall, which we did tonight to a yummy dinner of fresh fried chicken, warm yeast rolls with butter and honey, wild rice and broccoli, and hand scooped mint chocolate chip ice cream. This is traditionally our Sunday lunch, but on opening day, Laurie puts it on the menu for dinner since we picnic at lunch with sandwiches and chips. The dining hall looks like it isn’t filled compared to our last session, which was four weeks long. When everyone is standing behind her chair to sing the blessing, average heights are about a foot shorter. We actually have a few more girls, so it’s just the age difference.

Illahee has always relied on former campers to make up the large part of our staff ranks, and we have had an amazing crew this summer. We have had a few leadership opportunities open up for returning counselors this year and each has risen to the challenge with flying colors. There is a great balance as it is always nice to have fresh perspectives and new energy from other places as well. As a staff alumnus of 3 other camps, I can say with some conviction that Illahee is one of the most welcoming camps I know. New campers and counselors are quickly embraced, and it doesn’t take long for it to be hard to distinguish between “lifers” and new girls. I do love that we have girls who we have known and loved for lots of years working alongside giving back to a new generation of Illahee girl. Among many other “pluses,” mutual trust is a given, something that can be hard to come by in most typical “workplaces.” Illahee is anything but typical.

We had a terrific opening day. It was a beautiful morning, and it was so fun to greet each car as it rolled up the hill. We are fortunate to see girls through a yearly “slice” of their lives, and it’s always fun to reconnect and see how the year’s gone, and hom much each has grown and changed. Speaking of trust, we do not take for granted that which you have given us. I will tell you…a remnant of the pandemic that may be the new “normal” is drop off. Germs aside, I can’t tell you how much more quickly campers are transitioning to camp with a quick goodbye. That said, we are also hopeful that next year, we will invite families to linger and get a tour of camp from your camper on closing day. We are proud of our campus, and know that some of you have not really been on the grand tour. We will do out best to take photos and show you cabins and some of the behind the scenes stuff.

Speaking of photos, I spent part of the late afternoon with the older girls taking photos on the Slip N Slide. A humongous piece of plastic on just the right hill is a blast. You can tell by the faces in the photos. We also had pickle ball going, games in the Rec Lodge, an arts and crafts project, lots of swimming, and “Nature Steve” was here with his new Nature Pod, a converted solar powered teaching center that houses all his critters. A couple of cabins were on the high ropes course too.

Girls are winding down after a fun-filled opening day. Counselors usually end the day with what we call “friendship circle.” Every one is different but most are a time for meaningful conversations, a time to tell “highs and lows,” and a story. Some counselors read through a novel over the course of a session. I could tell by the end of opening campfire, our evening program, that there are some sleepy girls out there. They will fall asleep to the bullfrog symphony that was the inspiration for the camp song Chug a Wump. The little girls will awaken early to a sleepy counselor on their first morning…maybe their second,. But by Wednesday, each will be sawing logs until the wake-up bell, dreaming of a fun new day at camp.

We’ll get started with Pine Day activities in the morning…you’ll get an email with your campers schedule in the next few days. We look forward to updating you nightly with a play by play of all the fun we are having at camp. Stay tuned and sleep well.