This is my 8th year working at NBTSC, but my first year doing it as a mother (to 5-and-a-half-month-old Margo).
I was offered the opportunity to advise at the Joshua Tree session back in the spring, before my daughter was born. I knew I wouldn’t be doing the summer sessions, as she would be too fresh and the travel too far, but Joshua Tree seemed do-able since the site is less than 5 miles from our house. I eagerly accepted.
So, here we are on the first full day of staff orientation.
Staff have been trickling into town over the last couple days. Director Evan is sleeping in my husband Nathen’s office, logistics goddess Matt is in the travel trailer next to Maya’s house. Cook Rosa and her brother Amandla are in the dome, and so on. Between the four adjoining properties of Lester Flats (where Damian, Maya, Oliver, Nathen, Margo and I live year round) we have an impressive array of tents, trailers, tiny houses and guest rooms in which to sleep people.
Yesterday’s meetings (or “word parties,” as we propose to rename them) were mostly about we staff connecting and re-connecting, catching up on each other’s lives and what brings us here–again or for the first time.
Today we get down to the business of the session. We review the schedule, assign roles (song leader, games leader, field trip leaders), talk about what’s new and remind ourselves of what is important.
I am careful to volunteer for nothing extra except this blog post (you’re welcome) because I can already tell that doing camp and being Margo’s mama at the same time is going to kick my butt.
(For one thing, Margo is curious about the world now and I am already having trouble settling her down to nurse and nap at our usual times, with all the extra people around. What will it be like in a new place with 40 teenagers? For another, I notice that all camp’s evening events start after our bedtime. Thirdly, I will be carrying her a lot more than usual this week, and my back is already aching. Fourthly… well, you get the idea).
Now that I have a child I find I have subtly shifted from identifying with the campers (I was one myself, many moons ago) to identifying with their parents, who love these mostly-grown-up babies of theirs so.
I am also thinking about what has changed since I was a camper, 20 years ago. The campers seem the same, honestly. The memes are different (radical honesty and bike touring then, gender pronouns and consent now). But today the staff, rather than being a random group of fun adults gathered by Grace, are now mostly former campers themselves, or anyway people who have been involved with camp for ten or twenty years and had our lives changed by it. I wonder how the weight of our history changes the camper experience.
Rosa and the kitchen team feed us exceptional food, including a savory mushroom soup with wild rice she harvested herself in the wilds of Minnesota, quiche, and an apple-blueberry pie served around the camp fire in the evening, for Jr. Staffer Zoe’s birthday.
And then we scuttle off for an early bed in hopes of meeting tomorrow’s campers well-rested and lively.
So much of my heart lives in the fields of Farm and Wilderness, where I’ve grown year after year. Through blood moons and late night shenanigans I have loved the forest that keeps us. I have held high the connections I’ve made and cherished the truest friendships that have emerged. After a small session here in Vermont, where everyone has grown so close, I feel saying goodbye is extra hard. It’s bittersweet, leaving this community and place to return to the everyday. When I came to camp for the first time I arrived with a dozen folks from my coop. It made for a weird first year as we practically only spent time with each other, but still it was an experience worth revisiting. I wonder how similar my feelings were then to this year’s campers; embracing with tears welling up in their eyes. No one is afraid to cry at the end of camp. That’s one beautiful thing about leaving someone you love; you’re feelings are right there for the world to see. I don’t get that feeling at the end of camp anymore, which is okay. Maybe it would be different if my parents suddenly showed up, but I think I’ve just adjusted. Leaving is less overwhelming now, and I try to bring just a little something home every year:
This year I’m going to try to…
Play more music
Find a good place to meditate in my city
Go see my parents more often
Make open connections
Continue to cry in public
Take wicked good care of my body
And, spread the word about camp.
Camp has ended, the campers have all left, and staff settles into our final meeting. This is the first year I’ve been on senior staff; it’s all new and charming. I feel incredibly lucky to be part of this. Listening to Even go over final notes, I can’t help but feel like when we leave this room everyone will still be here. I know I’ll be disappointed. But, all is well in the world; I wrote my phone number on many a camper. The appreciation circle we end with is full of kind words and loving looks. We close our meeting early. The lodge is clean, the walk-in fridge is empty, and my truck is full of milk crates. We’re heading to a cabin in the woods for a moment of decompression and more wonderful food before going back to the real world. This has been my 9th year, and it means more than I’d ever thought. I don’t know who I would be without NBTSC. Certainly very different.
We are an incredibly privileged group to be part of something many people may never get the chance to experience.
Ugh, waking up is a chore after a late night. I’ve been a little under the weather for part of this session, so I’ve been making a concerted effort to get to bed early. Yesterday I finally felt completely well again, and took the opportunity to celebrate by staying up dancing until the end of prom, something I haven’t done in a few years.
We’ve got a relaxed schedule today with our 10 AM rest day wakeup call. I’d normally take it easy, but it’s the last day of camp and I’ve got work to do.
I need to take care of two projects today. The first is to organize groups and write out instructions for each staffer who will take a small crew of campers and clean a portion of the camp later this afternoon. The second is planning out something that officially doesn’t exist: the staff skit.
Every year we play a prank on the campers during the last evening meeting. The meeting begins as normal with us hearing announcements from campers and talking about departure day logistics, but at some point during the meeting we smoothly transition from reality into theatre.
When I woke up we had essentially nothing planned for this annual tradition, so I needed to get to planning.
I ate a big breakfast of camp potatoes (the best potatoes!) and watched Evan (who’s Directing this session) lead morning meeting with his usual mix of meaningful quotes, serious announcements and hilarious group activities. This morning he invites campers to make as many human pyramids as possible in 30 seconds. The campers seem to want to go above and beyond with several pyramids with bases of 4 people immediately forming.
The rest of the day flies by. As usual, I meet with the junior staff during advisee time, sharing check-ins and making sure that everyone is on task and oriented, while also playing games together. Afterwards I grab a quick lunch then head to the staff office to work on the skit.
I work right up until camp clean up time, get everyone started on their clean up tasks and spend some time putting away NBTSC supplies for the year. Then back to the office to finish the skit.
After dinner it’s finally time for our evening meeting. Evan starts off as normal, then abruptly announces that we’d like to try a couple of alternate locations for meetings next year in case camp’s financial situation won’t allow us to rent the indoor spaces again.
Evan invites the group to try several more locations until finally all of the campers end up down at the beach. During each transition several staff members have disappeared and at this point there are no other staff at the meeting. Evan makes a show of noticing and tells the campers that he was given a clue to where all the staff are.
The hunt is on and the campers quickly find most of the staff in the infirmary but horribly disfigured! Each of us has an enormous frown and the wide eyes of a pug.
It turns out (the campers discover) that the camp dog, Winnie the pug, is actually some kind of evil spirit and has infected the staff with her Winnie-pox. Campers follow clues that eventually lead them to the dock where a wizard awaits. The wizard, played brilliantly by Liam (our Night Owl), instructs the campers to go back to the farmhouse where he will reveal an ancient artifact that, legend has it, can cure the staff.
The artifact turned out to be a pickle, a clue to an infectious song made up by Zella, one our campers, for whom this is the last session as a camper. When presented with the pickle the campers immediately break into the pickle song, curing the staffers and saving camp.
We take a bow and everyone applauds, skit completed and I can finally relax and enjoy the closing ceremony. It is magical and touching as always, and I get to bed early to catch up on sleep. Another great session!
Today was filled with interesting events and workshops. I participated in a partner dancing workshop hosted by staffer Nathan, where we learned how to walk, stand, and spin with another person. The healthy sexuality panel was also hosted today; it’s a panel of staffers answering questions submitted by campers about sex and relationships.
Other awesome workshops like Handstands For Everyone, Emotional Resiliency, Drawing Cats, and more were hosted throughout the day.
Tonight was the 2016 NBTSC Vermont Prom. I was lucky enough to be on the prom committee and help plan out the evening. The theme was mystical creatures (thanks to Evren, Zella and Iris) and the entire lodge was decorated with flowers. The cooking crew created delicious snacks and Christian DJed the evening (using a playlist that was contributed by former camper, Kiera!). Many of us danced into the night until Christian pranked us all with a song that had a beat that never dropped.
This past week, I’ve played music in front of more people than I ever have before, danced in a gorilla suit for three and a half hours straight, and made connections with incredible people who live hundreds of miles away from me. All of this is thanks to Not Back To School Camp.
To everyone who made this experience possible, thank you.
With a 10:00am wake up this morning it was a nice lazy start to day six, a “rest day.” I had a work-trade dish shift, during which I probably washed 90% of all the mugs that exist at camp. Having a work-trade and spending time in the dish pit is one of the highlights of camp for me. There is something very therapeutic about washing dishes and being of service to camp in that way.
A simple breakfast was laid out for the early risers, and after the wake up call they served the most amazing scones I’ve ever had; warm, cheesy and delicious, with little apple bits. The kitchen staff never cease to amaze me with the crazy wonderful food they make every day.
Today was also pajama day, so morning meeting was extremely cuddly and cozy. Lots of rainbow socks, and animal onesies. Although to be fair, meetings are generally always cozy and cuddly.
Advisee time was wonderful as always. My group played two truths and a lie, and ate chocolate. Lili, Lua, Zeke and I were all mildly distracted, and not quite listening the whole time because of the gosh-darned Pickle song… oops.
There were some workshops after that, but I didn’t go to any of them. I very rarely go to workshops; today I choose instead to lay on the floor of the lodge and giggle about cephalopods and all the weird things they are capable of.
Then it was lunch, followed by siesta, our daily rest/quiet time. There’s always something cool going on, some interesting conversation happening, or some chill game being played.
After siesta was the “afternoon of fun”, spearheaded by our wonderful staffer, Christian. I didn’t actually take part in the game they played, but I’m fairly sure watching it was just as much fun as playing it. Most of camp joined in for Star Wars Quidditch, which was one of the most ridiculous games I’ve ever seen. Because I didn’t play the game, I can’t actually tell you what was going on. All I could tell you is that it’s played with broomsticks, milk crates and lots of different kinds of balls you throw at other players.
The afternoon of fun ended with the lovely tradition of tossing Evan, Camp Director, in the lake. Thank goodness it wasn’t one of the colder days, because that water can be brutal.
Dinner was stupendous as always. I was supposed to have another shift in the dish pit, but I ended up switching with another work trader because she was feeling a little sick. So, I ended up serving dinner, and she did the dish pit. I’ve never served dinner before, but I really liked it; it was really cool to get to be on that side of things for the first time.
After dinner we had our evening community meeting, which I can only remember because cuddles happened, and I love camp cuddles so much.
That evening was the camp talent show, which was so amazing. Larkin did a beautiful contortion act to a song from Hamilton; Julia did a hula-hoop performance that blew everyone’s minds; Zeke played a piano piece; and I preformed a sign language piece to music. All these among lots of wonderful songs, singing, and dancing. Everyone in the talent show was so amazing. I love these people so much; they’re all incredibly wonderful and talented.
After the talent show there were late night snacks of delicious peanut butter and jelly, and trying-to-be-quiet-but-failing games of Coup. Sydney came in from outside after awhile and proceeded to do the most creepy bear walk on all fours.
After hanging out with Lua and Larkin for a long while, I headed to sleep.
Not Back to School Camp is a place I like to call home.
September 28th 2016. I wake up to the sound of one of the campers, Joey, singing “ho hey.” People singing is definitely one of my favorite ways to wake up and start the day. I have breakfast which was scrambled eggs and camp potatoes, as most breakfasts at camp are. Camp potatoes are one of my favorite foods, if not my favorite food, ever.
Next up is advisee time. Advisee is a 45 minute block of time in which 10-12 campers meet everyday with a staffer and check-in with how they are doing. This is one of my favorite parts of NBTSC; getting close to a handful of other campers and one staffer by talking and playing silly games. Today in advisee we played ninja, while Nathan, our super awesome adviser, took a fast motion video of all of us playing. The video turned out super cool.
The evening event that night was Seeing/Seen Circle, which is a recently new event to NBTSC. I was part of the Seeing/Seen Circle committee, which means I volunteered to help put the event on. Being on committees is a lot of responsibility but I loved being a part of it. This event is about being able to trust the group of people around you, sharing things most people don’t know about you and being able to show vulnerability and get support. This is my 2nd time participating in Seeing/Seen Circle after attending the one at Oregon Session 2 this year. Both of my Seeing/Seen Circles were very different, and I think no two Seeing/Seen Circles will ever be alike. Overall, it has become of one of my favorite evenings of camp.
After Seeing/Seen Circle I stayed up very late talking to friends, which surprisingly I hadn’t stayed super late hanging out yet this session. My friends and I talked about what our ultimate goals in life are. I love hearing about what people want to do with their lives because it inspires me a lot, and there are so many inspiring people at NBTSC.
I ended the night by sleeping next to my friends in the Rec Lodge. I love falling asleep cuddling with people under the stars.
I woke up at about 8:20 this morning. That gave me about eight and a half hours of sleep, which is less than I’d like, but definitely not too bad. I headed downstairs to find a small group of people bundled up and sitting in the farmhouse. We talked and vedged for the hour until breakfast. During breakfast, all the tables were still set up in a ring from game night the night before, so that there were four benches in the middle that could only be reached by going over or under a table. I sat on the outside and watched Christian — who chose an inside seat — eat, finish eating, and start to want to get out. They finally got out when I went to get more food.
After breakfast I won the race to be first in the check-in line for the third time (which really is only because I spend five minutes hanging around in the corner before the bell rings), which also meant I could choose my favorite spot for morning meeting. I have this planned out perfectly.
We tried singing a round at the start of morning meeting, which sort of fell half flat. It wasn’t horrible, but it also wasn’t perfect. It was fun, though, which I think is most important. We had some announcements about the art show and film festival, read the schedule for the day, and enjoyed the all-important weather forecast, brought to us by our wonderful camp weatherman, Ferrill. Then, Evan informed us that swimming would indeed be happening today, which was met with lots of cheering. He said that it would be going on from 12-2pm, along with several other choices, including Hoopstik (a game invented by a staffer) and Spinal Fluid Donations (the last one is a joke that a few people put on the schedule using post-it notes). There was much deliberating over which one to do.
After the meeting was advisee time, which is possibly my favorite part of camp. My group met in the field, where we sat on milk crates (all hail the milk crate) and talked about how we were and then shared a story about something that made us laugh uncontrollably. I actually managed to come up with something that was not from camp, which feels very impressive to me. After that we played a few games, and by the time we finished the bell was ringing for the end of advisee. There were twenty minutes before the next big thing happening, so I kind of hung around and talked with people. At noon I went to Matt’s presentation on how to not get your heart broken at camp, which was both funny and informative. After that I debated whether to play Hoopstik or go swimming. I opted for swimming.
Understand now, it was about fifty degrees outside. Possibly fifty five. I shivered my way down to the dock and joined the other crazy people (of whom there were a lot) at the water. There was a lifeguard there, who was the reason we were allowed to swim in the first place, and also a bunch of campers and staff alike. The water felt icy when I first got in, but after a while it actually didn’t feel too bad. I got in and out of the water a couple times, since it was cold and deep. I did help convince a few skeptical swimmers to try it. Most immediately exited, a few stayed.
Just as I was getting out, shivering some, someone, I think Evan, suggested that we go to “the rope swing”. After an explanation, I discovered that it’s a rope swing out over the water, reachable by canoe or walking. We chose to take canoes. It took a while to get everyone out, since we needed a lot of canoes. I was a passenger, and it was quite fun to just ride, though one of the other people in the boat was fond of pretending to try to tip us over. None of us were wearing anything but bathing suits, but we were fine while we were in the sun. It was a bit chillier once we got to shaded water.
We docked across from the swing, and a few of our group decided to remain on the shore that we were on, rather than swim across the relatively narrow but deep and cold strip of water that divided us from the swing. Evan swam across while holding his phone out of the water with one hand! We were all kind of on edge the entire time, but the phone survived the travel. And he did get some neat pictures because of it, some of which are featured in this post (I bet you can tell which ones they are. Hint: nobody else had a camera at the rope swing).
It took me a while to decide, but I finally took the swim. It was very cold and I started regretting it about halfway across. At that point I was closer to the swing than not, so I finished. The swing was pretty fun. The only time I went off of it I slipped and kind of dragged into the water, but the feeling of camaraderie among the group was fantastic. We were all freezing and shivering, but we could complain TOGETHER!
After I went off the swing, I wanted to go back to the sunny side, so I borrowed a paddle board that someone had brought from the other side and went back that way. The last thing I wanted to do when I got back was get it up the two feet from the water, but I did it, with help. A minute or two later, the rest of the group came back over, and Evan announced that we had four minutes to get to lunch. We were easily five minutes by canoe from the home dock, not to mention time spent getting in and out of canoes. Some people had chosen to walk back rather than boating, so we all had to paddle to get all of the canoes back. At that point I was freezing and exhausted, so paddling was only fun for a little while. The currents kept trying to blow us back towards the swing, which was exhausting. Thankfully we made it safely, and I am writing this now.
By the time we got back to the farmhouse, the lunch line had diminished to nothing, so it didn’t take long for us brave adventurers to get food. I ate mine on the front steps in the sun, where I and a few others from the canoeing trip discussed how impressively hot the fifty five degree weather felt.
After lunch was siesta, during which I wrote the first part of this blog post and talked with some people. Around then we got the very happy news that Iris, a camper who has been sick, was allowed back upstairs with the rest of us! We weren’t allowed to hug them until the next morning, but they were coming back! The number of air hugs when they finally came upstairs was astronomical.
After that was gender groups. I went to the women’s group, where we talked about some very interesting things. I really enjoyed it.
By the time that was over, it was time for dinner, and when THAT was over, it was time for the art show! We were all kicked out onto the porch unless we wanted to help set up the show. I did not help, so I talked with people until we were allowed back in. The art was beautiful. There were pencil drawings, watercolor, photos, woodcarving, and pottery, among other things. I looked at everything. There was also beautiful music courtesy of a few very talented campers (and one junior staff!)
When it seemed like everyone had looked at all the art, we put that away and turned off all the lights for the film festival. There were five films, including funny, serious, and just simply enjoyable ones. Everybody wanted to sit on the couches, so I sprawled over the floor (there were a few other floor sitters, but there was plenty of space for all of us).
After the film festival was over, there were two more things happening. A lot of camp went outside to start a fire, some others went to bed, and some watched the presidential debate in the living room. I was a member of the last category. It was fun, interesting, and depressing all at once. I enjoyed the group of people I was watching with, so I definitely think that helped my enjoyment of the debate.
After the debate was over, we talked about it a little bit and the campers who had watched the whole thing (like me) decided to go out and see if the fire was still going. It was really dark outside, and only got darker as we went away from the farmhouse. At one point Gavin stepped in a minor ravine and exclaimed “Oh, I found a ditch!” After that I conveniently remembered my flashlight, and we reached the fire without further mishap.
I ended up going to bed around 11:45, which is way later than I would like, but I enjoyed what I did before it (rest assured I slept almost as long as I could the next morning, so I’m not that sleep deprived). It was a great day, just like all of my days at camp so far.