July 31, 2018 (Camper arrival day, Oregon Session 1 at Camp Latgawa)
written by advisor Joel Malkoff
I woke up early, made myself some green tea, and sat with my camp binder in order to learn more about my advisee, a group of campers with whom I will spend time every morning after breakfast. We will play games, check in with one another and plan adventures for the week. Advisee is a grounding space for the campers and myself as we begin our days, and is one of my favorite parts of NBTSC. I like being up early; the air is fresh and cool, and the space of the day before me feels expansive and open to all that is coming my way.
After some time memorizing the names of my campers, going over ideas of activities we could do together, and reading their bios in the camp directory, I notice Nathen, a fellow staffer, walking towards the trail to the swimming-hole with his bright, neon pink towel across his shoulders. He asks if I want to join him, and of course I say yes, I mean how could I not? Camp Latgawa has, I think, the most beautiful natural swimming-hole I have ever seen. The water is fresh, clear, and flows from an ice melt down through beautiful forests and over a waterfall (that can also be used as a slide) to form a deep pool of crisp, refreshing, delightful water to swim in! It’s incredible!
Not to mention this also means I get to spend time with Nathen, who is both a friend and mentor to me. Ever since meeting Nathen during my first time at NBTSC as a camper in 2009 I have always been amazed at the intellect, care, emotional intelligence and experience he brings with him to any situation. The conversations we have always manage to be funny, emotionally vulnerable, and intellectually stimulating all at once and I was sure that during this adventure they would be no different. We had a great time hiking to and from the notoriously beautiful swimming spot and had conversations ranging from what to do if you get bitten by a rattlesnake to topics about family, self-care, and how the notion of risk changes once you have a child. (Nathen is the proud parent of a two-year-old.) Even though Nathen has many more years of life experience than me, he always treats me like an equal. I feel he is always seeking to not just share his wisdom but also to learn from me, and through this I learn about myself as well, it’s an amazing thing.
Once back at camp all us staffers eat breakfast and prepare for a day of meetings, personal preparation, site organization, and the arrival of campers. It’s 9:00am and the campers are scheduled to begin arriving at 4:30 pm, the clock is ticking…
Meetings, meetings, meetings galore!!! Everything is discussed, we organize for camp-wide presentations on consent and micro-aggressions, we organize for game nights, practice songs to sing at meetings, advisors get together and discuss their roles at camp and how to best provide for campers, we hike the trails and clear poison oak, we organize medical forms and take final notes and check and recheck the names of all the campers, we organize and organize and organize until we get to the most finite of details, and suddenly it’s 4:30 pm and the campers are arriving. Hooray!!!
Smiling Not Back to School campers carry huge suitcases, duffle-bags, guitars and ukuleles, pillows and special blankets. They check in with the staff welcome committee and march themselves and their things (with some help from the staff) up to their cabins. Returning campers exchange delighted greetings with each other and the staff, and greet the new campers for the first time with kindness and warmth.
Once all the campers have settled in for a moment and tucked their things away in their respective cabins, we all circle in the field. The staff are introduced along with the roles they will be playing. Campers who are here for the first time are given a chance to be seen and say hello, we all sing together and play a game to break the ice, thank everyone for being here, and break into our advisee groups for a meeting over dinner.
Stir-fry from the kitchen and many first hellos are the name of the game as we advisors chat for the first time with our groups. We listen as stories are told about each person’s journey here, how they are doing, and what they aspire to do during this session of NBTSC. Many campers express their desire to be brave in their expressions of themselves, foster deep connections with others, and try new things. We advisors take mental notes and listen as closely as we can. Most of us know from personal experience that the environment at NBTSC can be an amazing springboard into profound experiences of friendship and self-discovery. We want to support campers in that journey, but we know this doesn’t happen automatically. It takes a community of engaged participants, so we lead by example.
At the end of this first advisee meeting, we invite each camper to write down an intention for camp to share anonymously. These intentions are diverse. Some are short and concrete like, “Go to the swimming-hole every day,” while others are much deeper and personal. All are welcome. Some of the intentions are read aloud tonight during our evening opening ceremony where we all sit together in a circle and share about what we hope to do and experience together, while other intentions will be shared during community meetings throughout the rest of camp.
So, we have prepared the space, we have welcomed the campers, eaten dinner, gotten to know our advisee groups, and gathered collectively to share intentions. Now what? The night has just begun! For many at least… Campers and staff mill about and talk, reconnecting after the year of other adventures while new campers are ushered into conversations, quickly making new friends. It’s a delight to see, so I stay up and participate for a while. I’m as excited as anyone else, but I’ve got to be going to bed soon because I know a good rest will help me be more energetic for camp tomorrow, and you know what? I think I can hear that swimming-hole calling my name again.