Friday, July 24, 2015

John Giannotti on his week at camp: "You *can* go home again!"


You all know that odd, wonderful, strangely complex feeling you get when you drive up to Frost Valley. If you're coming from the north, it starts to bubble up, perhaps, when you cross the Esopus in Phoenicia. From the south, it begins when you make your water-level assessment of the Neversink.  The feeling gathers strength as you approach either Big Indian or, in my case, Claryville. And then.....and then, it hits you straight on. Slaps you awake, as if the waters of Biscuit Creek itself have washed over you.  For you are now on the Frost Valley Road.  And you seem to know every nuance of it, practically every turn and milepost. That road has been etched into your memory. Whether you've travelled it for 50 years or 10, it is part of your being, and the adrenalin rush you are experiencing is the proof. And here's the really strange part: the closer you get to Frost Valley the younger you feel. Somehow the years just slide away and, without realizing it, you're BACK. Those memories that have been pouring in and flowing out seem to have melted away the years that have separated you from your youth. So much so that by the time you turn onto the entrance road and see Doubletop again, you KNOW that a part of you, in fact, never left.

Are all the memories good ones? Of course not. We've all had our wonderful moments at Frost Valley, but every one of us has experienced difficult times. You can't work and live in a community without encountering the tribulations and hardships found in every other community on the planet. I know I've had mine. Some of them still hurt. So when Al asked me if I would consider a volunteer stint this summer I was a bit taken aback. Oh, let's be honest, I was scared to death! Hell, I'm going to turn 70 in December. Most of the work I did at Frost Valley took place when I was in my Twenties, and I hadn't worked at camp in thirty years! I didn't know if I still "had it". And I certainly didn't know if my LEGS still had it. (They seem to have doubled the number of steps between Lake Cole and Margetts and increased the slope of the paths to the upper villages!) More importantly, I wondered how someone from the distant past could add anything significant to the operation. Truth is, I thought I'd just be in the way. But here's the good news. It was a great week! My son Del, a former camper, CIT and JC, came with me to do his own volunteering. At Opening Campfire all of my apprehension disappeared. How can you not be happy after Opening Campfire. (Actually, two of them, one for Hird and one for Wawayanda.) 

On the first day, we made ourselves available for Specialty Programs. Del signed up for various activities and I made myself available to take campers out on sketching trips and to help them start a mural in the Pottery studio. I fell into it without losing a beat. It all seemed so natural. But the greatest revelation of the week was not that I could still do my thing, it was the way in which the staff welcomed me and made me fit into it all so easily. What a staff! I don't know about you, but I kinda remember us doing most of what we did by the seat of our pants. We were good because we cared so much about the kids but I, for one, didn't have much real training. The staff I witnessed last week was incredibly well organized yet still had that same spirit I remember from our crazy days. I ended the week "leaving it on the field" as Al described it, visiting CQs, listening to ghost stories, gazing up at the Milky Way. You know what I mean. Hey, I know you all have jobs and kids and maybe grandkids and little or no extra time, but if you ever have the opportunity to volunteer for a session PLEASE consider it. Do it for Frost Valley. Do it for yourself. You can go home again. I'm glad I did.