Thursday, July 31, 2014

a day inside this miracle

This blog has for several years been driven, entry by entry, by photos and videos. Sometimes what I write, in words, is not much more than a caption. And yes, pictures tell great stories and sometimes all you need, if you are a longtime FV'er but are not here now, is a photo or video to remind you of the scene you once loved and now miss terribly and crave.

And, yes, sometimes the photos do send me into narrative about this or that day, or this or that amazing achievement by a child, or this or that remarkable natural fact about this Valley. I'm not trying to undersell the entries here that pictorially depict Frost Valley doing its miraculous thing for children and their variously hard-pressed families. (Oh, how many families are hard-pressed in one way or another!)

Well, I forgot to bring my camera to last night's activities and to breakfast this morning, and so found myself thinking about how the past 12 hours or so might be narrated without images.

The narration adds up to a tour of the inside of a social miracle.

This morning, just as Camp Wawayanda started the walk to breakfast (7:50 AM or so), it began to pour. A real storm - and, what with the cool temperatures we've been experiencing (the low last night was in the upper 40s and it was barely 60 when I re-entered the main part of camp at 7 AM), it was the perfect recipe for a quiet and maybe even somber breakfast. But mellow and together are the words that came to mind, and soggy and probably mostly happy-tired people, campers and counselors, shared the eggs, sausage and home fries, got their yogurt and cereal, the counselors their tea and coffee, and sat with each other talking in low tones about the day ahead - whether the rain would subside, whether the Scavenger Hunt scheduled for second period for Outpost would actually come off, whether Geronimo for all of MAC could be moved under the big tent. I sat at the directors' table and they were going about their remarkable business of trying to understand what every single camper had experienced the day before, mostly, of course, knowing the problems small and great (mostly small, though). They perceive all this, at least initially, through the cabin-by-cabin daily reports. The forms are filled out by every counselor (well, one report per cabin) every single day.

The daily reports really moved me this morning. I used the term "heart-breaking" to Sam Martinelli, who was glancing at them with me. Not heart-breaking as in terribly sad. Heart-breaking as in gratified: overwhelmingly, I felt respect for the remarkably detail and quotidian quality of the feelings report having been felt, the degree to which each activity was fun or not fun by each camper, etc. Each child "rates" the day before: on a scale of 1 to 5. Most were 4 or 5 (it had been a beautiful and good day), but several were a 2 or even 1. There was always an explanatory note for these low ratings: the child misses grandpa, who's been ill; another child had been stung by an unintended slight from another child; another was disappointed that her favorite game had to end early; another lost a towel. What moved me more was how each counselor - remember, they themselves are young people, most of them campers themselves not many years earlier - wrote out their plan to offer the right dose of TLC, described exactly how things could get better, precisely what steps could be taken to help. "I want my campers to learn to listen better to each other," wrote one counselor. One boy, in Outpost, is the son and nephew of Frost Valley campers/staff who did memorable things here for a whole generation in the 70s and 80s, and he's been feeeling a little low, a feeling not helped by a bruised knee and a thumb that got bent back a few days ago and was still a little sore. I made a point of chatting with him toward the end of breakfast, and, with his counselors, will spoke enthusiastically about the day head: second period was going to be that Scavenger Hunt. He brightened, and when I told him that his dad and his aunts had had slow and low days here, even here in this heaven, he realized - and described this in words to me! - that even the most campy of camp people have a down day, and the thing to do is push through it and see what new adventure awaits. Camp is especially good for a child who tends to feel like that. It's not only for those who rate the previous day a "5" (the vast majority) or: "15" or "INFINITY" or "GOOGLEPLEX" or "so great I don't know a number" (all quotes from this morning's reports). And: "The kids in the cabin are really getting along well now. It's so great!" And: "I don't know where all this unity came from but yesterday was the turning point." And: "Camp is really good for M. at this moment in her life, and she talked about all that at Devo."

Last night I told three stories to three groups, starting at 9:30. A long good night. The stars were out and it was really cold. I spoke with each group at dinner and urged them to build big campfires out in the open so we could see the stars as I told the story. The stories almost always go well. But sometimes my tongue gets a little tied, or I fail to remember some detail of these ridiculously elaborate stories. And to make things more challenging for the old guy, last night I was to tell three different stories in succession, each of them complex in their own right and, taken together, a true tangle of complexity. Surely I would mix one up with the other in the middle of the telling. But the settings were perfect, the kids so ready to be told a tale, the stars so bright, the sound of the rivers and streams around us providing such an ambient swoosh/rushy sound - I was on my game, and all three tellings were perfect and the campers responded with gratifying snapping and oooohs/aaaahhhs, and thank-yous at the end. First Forest, on the hill that used to be Outpost, a great fire-ring (the best for seeing stars, actually): "The Doubletop Plane Crash Mystery." Then, starting at 10:15, Lenape, in the first-ring just outside of Hird Lodge: "Sawmill, 1958." Then, starting at 11, most of the CITs, gathered around the fire-ring on the Castle lawn just to the west of the old Castle tennis court: "The Lights over the Lake."

At midnight I visited a CQ fire. Another fire. Low quiet talk among friends about.....the children. That just never stops, even during the one or two hours off. Remarkable. Good young people. As I wandered up the hill, ready for sleep, I encountered one of the camp directors. We had a 10-minute talk about the difficult nuances of his day. He sought some larger context and in the end we stopped talking and found ourselves just looking up. That night sky, bracketing the Valley and its sleepy people, provided the largest context anyone could ever need. The big picture, not metaphorically.

Earlier that evening, as I had walked away from the story at Forest, a 10-year-old Forester came running after me to ask one more question about Doubletop Mountain. After I explained a little further, he said: "So when we're here we live on Doubletop?" Yes, in a way - we live on a slope of a ridge of the mountain. "So it's our mountain." Yes, you could say that. "I want to climb to the top of Doubletop." Some day you will, I'm sure. Come back every summer. "I want to." Why do you want to get up there? "Because it's really hard."

Because it's really hard. The girl who needs camp right now and says so at devo. Camp is hard but it's good and it's a "5." The boy who's bruised and feeling down, and accepts the invocation of his Frost Valley family as a reminder that he will inevitably push through. Camp is hard for L. but it's very good. And to today, I'll bet, L. will give a "5." Or maybe even....INFINITY.

Everyone needs this. Including yours truly.