Getting out of the house was a constant goal of mine as a child. I spent too much time imagining life outside. I would watch Little House on the Prairie, The Waltons, Anne of Green Gables (TV mini series), and The Chronicles of Narnia (the old Wonderworks TV special). They made me dream more and more about having life’s freedom in nature.
My love for camp life all started with The Parent Trap (1961 movie). You know, where Haley Mills plays the roles of two twin girls separated after their parents divorced and they meet one another at a summer camp? Most of the film happens outdoors. They have fun camp experiences that I can semi-relate to. I watched it over and over again. When they were with their parents, one went on a long walk with their beautiful mom. The other would swim in the most amazing lake-like pool at her dad’s ranch. When they came together making it known that they knew each other, they went on a camping trip, pulling pranks on their dad’s snotty girlfriend (who sadly is named Vicki, a nickname I have been stuck with since birth – which is probably part of why I introduce myself to people as Victoria instead).
When I was ten or eleven years old, my church had this group called Pioneer Girls which based on the name, I had to join! We had an opportunity to go on a “camporee” weekend trip to the Adirondack Mountains in upstate NY where the woods overflow with trees! Pioneer Girls was in association with this all-girl Christian camp. I was so excited about the trip. We went there as a group a year later too (during the springtime), but of course I decided to go to the actual full week-long camping experience that they had in the summertime.
I fell in love with the trees, the lake, the camp food (which included outdoor fire cooking once a week), and how we’d put our food scraps in a bin called “Piggy” because it went to feed some local pigs. I sang all the camp songs they taught. I loved the funny skits the camp counselors put on. The counselors all had bird names given to them in which they went by (in time of going so often, I eventually learned most of their actual names).
For many summers that I attended, I was able to learn riflery, archery, sailing, canoeing, kayaking, and the list goes on (I never took my camera with me to the water activities in fear it would get wet). I was always the highest ranked swimmer (only two of us ever got the highest level swimming out of over a hundred girls, me being one of them – the two of us had a week of swim lessons together with the camp counselor “Ducky,” while everyone else had lessons by about twenty girls at once per class). You could only choose 3 activities per week. My favorite activities were kayaking, sailing, and archery.
In time I knew it was getting expensive for my parents to send me to camp because I would want to stay there the whole summer. I really did not want to come home at all. Therefore, in my last two summers there, I worked as a groom aide with the horses, which was really a fun and enjoyable job. I didn’t get paid, but I had working papers and got free stay and meals for working there. I got to enjoy some of the normal camping portions when work was completed (minus a few of the activities you normally sign up to do).
I made so many friends and would keep in touch by writing to them throughout the year until seeing them again (after a while only some of them would continue to write, and then we’d meet up every summer having a chance to share a tent).
One of these friends I had made in my first camporee weekend. We actually were wearing the same thing (white shirts and blue overalls with short hair in pigtails) and both met while trying to comfort a girl who was so sad looking (turned out the sad girl got her first period and was not doing well). I met my camp twin!!!! She would always come for a week or two at camp to see me, other than one that she missed out on. She worked with me as a groom aid one year. We wrote letters to each other so often each week for many years, that she would visit my home a few times after we didn’t go to camp any longer. She also became a minimalist in her late teen years, living out of a suitcase. She attended my wedding (helped me get ready even) and now she lives in the redwoods of upper CA in a cabin she built with her husband and child. Every year we somehow had similar clothes we’d wear on the same day even without planning it.
I’d come home after camp every summer, watch The Parent Trap one more time, and dread life at home until the next summer arrived. Keep in mind that outside of camp I really didn’t have school friends. At camp, I was actually very popular. It was very strange. Some of these ladies pictured found me on facebook or instagram a few years ago. There are a couple I could never find due to forgetting some of their last names. I remember all their first names.
This was my all time favorite childhood memory. Camp life thrills me. Nothing like connecting and crying with girls, being a wacko without anyone mocking me (one of the girls became a camp counselor and she tells her campers stories about my wackiness because I was quite a character), living out of a suitcase, walking to a bathroom before the rest of the camp woke up so I could be all ready to go before the rest of them (I love being an early bird, some counselors would tell me to wake them so they didn’t need an alarm), listening to rain fall on tent flaps, and going for long walks alone with friends on the in-between day before more campers would come to start a new camp week (things were most peaceful then, except one year when a paranoid counselor wouldn’t let us roam assuming we were smokers or trouble-makers when we weren’t).
I am totally a girl of the woods as long as a body of water is nearby too. Ah. Camping. I love you.
I wanted to sleep in this teepee, but it smelled like moth balls.