Campfires, bug bites, long nights, and scary 3 am trips to the bathhouse.
These are just a few of the things that help make camp…well, “campy”! But arguably, what makes camp even more special, can be the lessons you take home with you. If you know what to look for.
My name is Avery Atkinson, and I am a former Clearwater Forest camper of 11 years. Throughout my years at camp, I have learned a thing or two. The things that I have learned from Clearwater have helped shape my life, and have ultimately made me into the person that I am today.
Before I get into that, I’m going to set the stage a little, to help everyone reading this understand where I am coming from a little better. I started going to Clearwater Forest in the summer of 2008. I was seven years old, and attending Grand’s camp for the first time. Flash forward to the summer of 2012, when I attended my first year of regular summer camp, alongside my two brothers.
Looking back on it now, that decision impacted the rest of my childhood. I remember distinctly being placed in the cabin of Verio, with my counselors Hannah Banner, and Katie Wasco. I went into that week, knowing almost nobody. And as a kid, of course, that is scary. You are leaving your parents, the comfort of your home, and living in “God’s woods and waters” for a week.
While it can be scary at first, Clearwater has become a safe space and a home to many. It becomes apparent very quickly, why exactly that is. Which brings me to one of the first things that Clearwater has taught me…
The connections you make at camp, are the connections that will last you a lifetime.
The friends and connections I made my first year at camp, have turned out to be some of my closest friends to this day. When things don’t seem like they are going right, or you are feeling a little down, your camp friends are some of the best people you can turn to. Even now, as I am preparing to leave my home to live on my own for the first time at college, my camp friends have been the ones that I reach out to when I feel like I need a “pep-talk”, or a reminder of how loved I am.
You can go years without seeing some of these people. But when you have finally reunited again, it feels like nothing has changed. This lesson was most prevalent to me during my Senior year at camp. I had missed a year of camp during my Junior year and decided to travel the Canadian wilderness instead. While it was a sad decision, I knew I still had another year to make it right.
I was placed in the cabin of Blue Jay during my final year, with some of my closest friends that I hadn’t seen in years. But the moment I returned, it was like nothing had changed. I was welcomed back with open arms, smiles, and DEFINITELY no tears. These people have continued to have an enormous impact on my life, and have helped me out when times were difficult. Sometimes, all you need is a friend to say “I will be your ducky-wucky”.
Singing can help with even the saddest of moments, sometimes.
Crying happens. And at camp, it seems to happen more often than not. Whether that was from a skinned knee playing GaGa Ball, an accidental injury during the Mighty Mighty Scoop-Noodle Challenge, or just because you are missing home. Crying is inevitable sometimes. And believe me, it is okay to cry.
At camp, I’ve found sometimes, the best cure for a bad day is singing. Hear me out. A few years ago while I was at camp, I had received some “not so great” news from home. And still to this day, it remains one of my least favorite days at camp. My cabin had seen how I was doing and knew that they had to take action sooner rather than later.
A little while later, our cabin time turned into a dancing/singing party. It was a “Party in the U.S.A,” we were “Breaking free,” and we were convinced that the “Ceiling can’t hold us”. Singing leads to laughter, and laughter can make even the saddest days better.
Now, I’m not saying that you should start singing during a funeral. But what I am saying is, it’s okay not to be okay sometimes. Singing, and especially singing with people that care about you, can make the biggest difference. Even if you’re totally out of tune!
Make time for the little things.
This last point is arguably the most important one.
Knowing that I won’t be returning to Clearwater as a camper, is a really sad thing. And looking back on my time as a camper, it makes you realize how much you miss it, and how time really does fly by. So, as a “Veteran” camper, I have some advice. And this advice isn’t just for all you campers, but for the parents too, the volunteers, and even the staff…
Whether you have been to Clearwater hundreds of times before, or if this is your first time, treat every moment like it is your last.
Treat every sunrise like your first. Take a walk through the paths, just because you can. Take a dip in the lake, even if it’s cold. Sing as loud and proud as you can during worship. Run as if you have never run before, during the all-camp games. Stargaze on the steps of the swim area at night, and appreciate the company of those around you.
These are the moments that pass by all too quickly. We don’t look around, and we don’t appreciate them until they are gone. Believe me, you will think back on all the things you missed out on, and you will regret not taking that leap when you had the chance.
Look back on all your camp memories with a smile, and know that you did everything you wanted to. And most importantly, live with no regrets!