Right in the Middle of it

Greetings from Hilltop. It’s a rainy Sunday here on Orcas Island, not that we’re letting that lower our spirits. Unlike my last blog post, which felt a little quick to have a good report, we’re now right in the middle of things here in First Session, and it feels like a great time to write.

We’re passionate about four-week camp here at Four Winds, and now feels like as good a time as any to talk about why. What makes four weeks great is the rhythms of it. There’s enough time for ups and downs. It’s not simply more camp than a one week session, it’s a completely different animal. We’ve found the time when one times four doesn’t just equal four.

I’m getting a little metaphysical, so let me do my best to explain better. One-week camp can be amazing. We do one, of course, with our Junior Session, so I know a little bit about what it’s like. In a one-week camp, the goal is to keep the energy up, have fun, and give the kids a successful experience away from home. I don’t want to undercut it, it’s a valuable thing for kids to do.

If you were to try the same strategy at a four-week camp, everyone would burn out very quickly, both kids and staff. The vast majority of us just aren’t built to maintain that high energy level for that long. So what’s developed over the years is these ups and down. I often say that in four weeks, there is time to make a friend, have a fight, and make up again. There’s time for the high energy, the reflective, for service, for real, meaningful, relationship building.

It might seem a little early to declare that we’re in the middle. Mathematically, that’s true. It’s day 11 of a 28-day session, so the official middle will be later this week. But, by the time I write here again, we’ll be closer to the end than the beginning, and the time after that, we’ll be in the final days.

Regardless of the day count, we are right in the middle. The beginning is over. The end is still not in sight. Now is the time where we can be fully present, and just enjoy the separateness of this experience. We can make friends, try the thing that’s a little bit scary for us, and laugh without an ounce of self-consciousness. It’s a beautiful thing.

Anyhow, enough of my philosophizing. Probably, some of you just want to know what’s been going on since I last wrote. It’s been a wonderful week. Since I last wrote here, we had Sports Night on Monday, Evening Fire on Tuesday, Age Group Night on Wednesday, Moonraker (silly songs and skits on Moonraker Point) on Thursday, and Lord of the Rings (four-way, multi-flag, Tolkein-themed capture the flag on the sports field) on Friday.

Yesterday, we had Ruth Brown Day. Those of your familiar with camp would recognize the tradition as Gypsy Day. But, as many of you know, we’ve made the decision to move away from using that word in the camp culture, as the Roma people largely view it as a slur. As part of our project of renaming many camp traditions that use the word, our summer staff this year, with the advice of our community-wide Task Force on the subject, chose to call it Ruth Brown Day, in honor of our founder.

Legend has it, the day got its start in the early days of camp, when the water system failed, and Miss Ruth sent the campers and counselors off to have an all-day adventure while it could be fixed. Today, we wake the campers up early, starting with the oldest campers on Four Winds side, by wandering through the cabins and tents, holding hands and singing songs. We form a long chain, eventually ending up on the sports field on Westward Ho side, where we play giant games of duck duck goose, in and out the windows, and other old fashioned games. We then go to flags and breakfast in a dressed up lodge with streamers and balloons, and a special breakfast of eggs, sugared cereal (the only time in the session), and muffins with clues in them, baked by the CTs. At the end of breakfast, each camper receives a clue that leads them to a band (a mixed up group of campers and staff) that goes on an all-day, themed scavenger hunt.

So, alumni will recognize it as an old tradition, pretty much the same as ever, but with a new, more inclusive name. There’s only one change to the tradition itself, which is how we end it. We used to end it with Gypsy Court, in which two campers from each side, in each age group, plus an extra two from the Senior age group, were recognized by the staff for their effort, spirit, and helpfulness. It’s always been a slightly fraught tradition, singling out just a few campers to the exclusion of all others, and we’ve attempted to manage it as best we could. Last year, perhaps emboldened by being told that decades-old traditions like the word Gypsy could be reconsidered, our summer staff asked that we stop doing Gypsy Court. While I saw their point, we can’t just end traditions, we need to replace them with something that’s at least equally meaningful, and closer to our values. Our Assistant Director Charlotte Horsey took on the task this year, and we all learned about the patteran (formerly known at Camp as the Gypsy Star), a symbol the Roma used to point the way to other trusted travelers, and broke up in to cabin groups and wrote notes to those who had pointed the way for us. It was lovely.

Today, again, is Sunday. We had a sleep in, a wonderful breakfast and Sunday Assembly (led by the Flying Cloud cabin on the topic of empathy), and as I write this, the campers are completing their work projects. We’ll have lunch, rest hour (including our weekly COVID testing), a great Sunday afternoon activity, and Evening Fire tonight. Camp is exactly as it should be.

Thank you, as always, for sharing your children with us. We’ll see you here next week. Until then, be sure to follow our daily updates on Twitter.