Joshua Tree ~ Day 8 (by Matt Sanderson)

We’re in session! This is a guest post by NBTSC night owl Matt Sanderson.

matt portrait-1060734

This is my first session in the role of night owl, and I’ve now become accustomed to falling asleep somewhere between 1 and 3 in the morning as the last of the campers go to sleep. Typically I’ll shut down the main lodge sometime between midnight and 2 AM, asking whoever is awake to help clean the space and set out chairs and tables for breakfast the next morning. Sometimes campers stay awake to chat on the balconies outside, but they are usually in bed within an hour of the lodge closing. The nights when the lodge closes latest are followed by rest days which means an extra hour of sleep before wake-up call and a more relaxed schedule conducive to taking naps or working on personal projects.

Today was the last full day of camp, and also a rest day. The kitchen staff made breakfast available until 11:15, and many campers took advantage of the ability to sleep beyond the 10AM wake-up call. The creosote bushes around campus are emitting a strange smell, an almost certain indicator that we’ll be experiencing a rare rain shower.

We took a group photo after morning meeting, and then campers have an extra-long advisee group session. I use this time to socialize with other non-advisor staff members, mainly the (spectacular) junior and kitchen staff.

Later in the day I’m on duty for our daily siesta hour. I dutifully shush people who dare disturb the peace and quiet within earshot of the rooms in which people sleep. It’s not particularly difficult today because it is genuinely raining, forcing most people to stay the main lodge. I wonder if campers will take advantage of this opportunity to nap. We have a tradition of allowing the lodge to be open all night on the final evening of camp, and many of the campers will be up extremely late, soaking in their last moments together.

I spend the remainder of the day working on the camp CD. Each session I record the audio from our concert and talent shows, and burn a CD that campers can purchase. I’m excited because this will be the final session where I produce a physical CD. We’ve decided to go digital and upload the content (with the permission of the performers) to the Internet. I set up a account for camp, and upload several of the audio files as a test. I’m pleased to find that it’s simple to allow anyone to download the tracks for free!

Before I know it, it’s dinnertime. Senior staff have a daily meeting over dinner, and campers kindly allow us to cut the line to maximize our time together. For the first time all week, we’ve invited the junior staff to join us, and we spend a couple of minutes appreciating each one of them for all of the hard work they’ve put in this week.

Although it’s not atypical to have extremely capable young adults on our junior staff teams, this week Celina, Serena, Emily, Zane and Kione have spoiled us by going above and beyond. We all have a lot to say in appreciation of each individual.

After finishing our dinner we rejoin the campers and Grace leads the evening meeting. Everyone is shocked when she reveals that because we’ve finally achieved the perfect session of Not Back to School Camp, this will also be the final session.  There is a pregnant pause, punctuated by giggling from some of the older campers. Grace seems perplexed, and chides them for laughing at such a serious topic, but it doesn’t help. They know that Grace is pranking them, seamlessly transitioning between the final evening meeting and the secret staff skit. The skit reaches its finale when it is revealed that the only way to save camp is for a group of people to jump in the pool.

Myself and some of the other staff jump in, and many of the campers dutifully take the plunge. Grace, defeated in her plans to end camp, reluctantly jumps in as well. After a quick dip in the hot tub to warm up, everyone goes back to their rooms to change clothes for the closing ceremony.

Jan 26 night swimming-1070390

The closing ceremony is sweet. Everyone gets the opportunity to hug everyone else at camp. We spend some time saying goodbye to campers who know that they won’t be able to return and appreciate both the staff and campers for all of the work that went into putting this session together.

Then the night begins.

It starts out fairly mellow. People are having quiet conversations and there is a group sitting at a table signing each other’s directories. The directory signing will continue all night, but the mellowness soon turns to rambunctiousness. Wyatt is practicing juggling, a new skill he picked up at camp. Other campers are spinning each other around in circles while holding hands. There is a jam session going on.

Later still, someone puts on some tunes and there is dancing, raucous laughter and card playing, ball tossing and more. All of this takes place inside the main lodge, as a strange fog forms outside the building.

Gradually, the energy becomes softer. Piles of cuddling people appear on the floor. It is now 5:30 in the morning and I’m worried because the place looks like it was hit by a hurricane. I turn on some brighter lights and ask for folks who are willing to help clean up and set up the space for breakfast. Immediately campers get up to help. Liza volunteers to vacuum, and at least 15 other campers start to set up tables and chairs, put away mugs and plates, and clean up messes. There is a medium sized group that stays on the floor cuddling but no one seems resentful. Eventually I ask if anyone is willing to do the dishes and to my amazement both Magdalene and Avery volunteer. After getting them set up, I leave the kitchen to find the clean crew still going strong. The fog outside brightens and comes into focus as the sun rises.

By 6:30 there are large groups of sleeping campers all over the lodge. Some campers are awake talking; others sit quietly at the directory table, still writing messages for their peers to read after camp. In an hour and a half there will be wake-up call. Followed by morning meeting and the end to another magically sweet session of Not Back to School Camp.

Photos of Matt, campers at Joshua Tree National Park, and night plunge by Reanna Alder.