Author: Kim Aycock

Pause . . . and Breathe It In

Posted by on March 29, 2022

There is a calm in the ebb and flow of nature, the patterns in its existence and the rhythm of its systems. There is an unbelievable beauty and complexity residing within the ecosystem that surrounds us and is often underestimated and overlooked. This isn’t necessarily because we don’t care, but rather because the busyness of life gets in the way and because maybe someone just didn’t think to teach us to pause and to appreciate it.

In April of 1974 the article “Touched by Nature” was published in National Geographic Magazine, and it shared with the world the beauty of both Towering Pines Camp for Boys and Camp Woodland for Girls. The “AWEsomeness” of what this article expressed with the world is that campers today still have the opportunity to encounter some of the most incredible natural experiences that these two camps have to offer. Located in the Northwoods of Wisconsin in the heart of the American Legion State Forest, campers live among the tall white pine trees near spring fed lakes and amidst very unique ecological habitats.

 

 

 

 

An excerpt from this article shared some of the wonder of what campers experience at Towering Pines and Woodland, “Having people learn to become part of nature–to merge with the environment–is the aim of acclimatization, the brain child of Steve Van Matre, associate director of Towering Pines. ‘It’s not showing, but sharing and feeling–a heightened awareness and respect for the wholeness of the environment that we are seeking,’ writes Steve. ‘What do we care if the camper fails to remember the name of a wild flower. Does he remember its fragrance, the texture of its leaves? Does he know where to find it? And does he know, not because someone told him he should know, but because for him it is a thing of enjoyment and beauty?’”

 

 

 

 

Campers can participate in “zoo class” where they do exchanges between camps so they can engage in learning at both Towering Pines (TP) and Woodland. They take hikes into the forest through swampy areas to the moss garden and Lost Lake. They also walk through the meadow to see the awesome expanse of the climax/old growth forest. The bog provides another chance to observe and feel nature as they see the ripple effect of Merrybrook, a stream flowing from the bog into Sand Lake. There are scavenger hunts into the woods to look for clues that creatures leave behind on the forest floor. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You’ll see wildflowers being planted at farm zoo at Woodland, and terrariums being created at TP. In skin diving class, campers at TP are exploring underwater cribs where fish, turtles and other wildlife live. In horseback riding and biking girls and boys investigate networks of trails where they are literally surrounded by the canopy of magnificence that the forest creates.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In addition, there are so many spontaneous spectacular opportunities to watch a bald eagle soar across the lake, to witness a pair of sandhill cranes fly over the assembly area, to listen to a loon calling to his mate or to hear an eaglet squawking longingly for his parents. 

There are unbelievable starlit nights where the constellations and Milky Way seem to imprint the sky with shimmering light. The moon’s reflection often dances across the water creating a pathway to the “Bridge of Gold” (TP song reference). There are incredible morning sunrises and evening sunsets that literally paint the sky with their colors on the canvas of the water. And there are all of the amazing sounds of the many creatures; their songs echoing through the forest from their hiding places in the lakes and the trees. 

 

 

 

 

 

Within all of this, there are the impactful moments of teaching in which campers and staff learn how to be one with nature and to understand its fragility. For example, as a camp community we are taught to only pick one wildflower for every seven found growing together. In this way, children and adults alike learn to preserve the beauty of nature for generations to come. There are a plethora of incidental yet impactful teachable moments that help encourage respect of all forms of nature as is explained by the author, Elizabeth A. Moize, “On the last day each camper is given a block of earth and asked to take it apart to try to determine where it came from and what it’s made of.  Finally they are asked to put it back together. And suddenly they understand:  Something that has taken so very long to put together should not be taken apart heedlessly.”

 

 

 

 

This is why summer camp is such a special gift. It’s an incredible opportunity to co-exist with nature in a unique way that creates a plethora of moments to pause and to breathe in what surrounds us. 

(Reference to National Geographic Archives https://archive.nationalgeographic.com/national-geographic/1974-apr/flipbook/536/)

 

First shared by Angie Ziller as a Towering Pines blog.

How Less Adds Up to More at Camp

 

I am writing this just a few days after the biggest gift-exchanging holiday in the world. I had no less than 3 people in 2 hours tell me that it was too much. One person shared that they didn’t even finish opening their gifts that day. They started. Got hungry. Ate breakfast. Opened some more presents. Needed a break. Walked on the beach. Kids were tired. Took naps. Went back at it. By the end of the day, they still had unwrapping to do. In fact, I don’t think they ever reached completion!

Another person offered that they moved the day they actually celebrated the holiday so that it was less hustle and bustle of various family members trying to make the rounds. A third person told me that his Mom brought way too much stuff. It was over the top. His kids didn’t even know what to do with it all. It was overwhelming. I think this is all well intentioned, and like many things when there is too much, appreciation goes out the window. It gets lost or even forgotten in all the excess.

When I look back at my own childhood, I remember one particular Christmas when I scored the trifecta. I got the Barbie camper, tent, and airplane. I thought I had won the lottery! The interesting thing, though, is that my younger sister also received the same three popular Mattel items. It never really occurred to me until recently that buying duplicate sets was most likely a huge sacrifice for my parents. I wonder why they didn’t just get them for us to share? Maybe because they knew I was a bit selfish as the older sister. Having 2 sets of identical Barbie accessories would eliminate World War III from breaking out in our basement playroom. 

As an adult, I can appreciate the idea of less is more. In fact, I use that principle when building slides for a PowerPoint presentation. Less words, more images. It can be found in other situations as well. Fewer unhealthy foods, more energy. Less time scrolling gives more opportunities to read, nap, or walk the dogs. A decrease in frivolous spending is more money in the bank.

I also see how it plays out at camp each and every summer. For the 80 campers and 35 staff who make their way to County D Road come June, less truly adds up to more:

  • We have less distractions and more time to spend enjoying the present moment. 
  • There is an absence of technology which allows for real face-time conversations and interactions. 
  • We are indoors for a minimal amount of time (eating and sleeping) and that opens up the opportunity to be immersed in nature. 
  • We can only bring so much “stuff” in our trunks and duffles; therefore, we make do with what we have (and don’t waste time deciding what to wear!). 
  • We live in rustic, yet homey accommodations, where the people we are with (and an occasional spider or two) are way more important than the decor on the walls or things we own.
  • The drama closet with its vintage donations and an art room stocked with basic supplies gives us license to be creative and innovative with costumes and props for themed events. 
  • Less instantaneous (mail, for one!) means learning to delay gratification. 
  • Being conscientious of unkind words and actions reminds us to be more inclusive. 
  • The absence of fast food is replaced with more sit-down meals and sharing about your day with your cabin family.
  • Being away from caregivers and friends encourages self-sufficiency and independence.  

The list goes on and on. At camp we trade over the top for simple. Even though I am not in the Northwoods at the moment, today was a good reminder of that. Simple is good. It grounds you. We return home from camp being grateful for the little things. 

I wonder what lesson I would have learned sooner had my parents made the decision for me and my sister to share Barbie’s camper, tent, and airplane? Maybe we would have avoided having tape down the middle of our shared room at one point. Maybe I would have been more appreciative for what I did have. Maybe I would have understood at an earlier age that less is more.

Summer Memories

by Maya S.

Winding roads lined with trees,
A pure source of happiness that surrounds me as I drive to my true home.
The home I can only be at for six weeks a year,
For my summer.

Six weeks is not enough time,
I bring back memories of laughter, tears, serotonin to my home in the real world,
But it is not the same.
Reminders of my perfect summer constantly fill the empty space around me.
Sunsets filled with vibrant colors paint a picture in my mind that I have seen before walking to my cabin from the lake each night.

A deck of cards brings back moments of trying to speak Spanish as my friends from Mexico teach me their favorite card games.
Winter fills my senses with the sentimental smell of pine needles that remind me of the nature I miss being surrounded by.
The sound of water rippling floods my mind with times spent sailing through the wind.

But at some point the sails ended up in irons, I am no longer able to sail.
North woods air has a somber chill all of a sudden,
Thunder crashes and I must leave the sailboat,
I don’t want to but I have to.

I know I must leave my home now.

I pack my photos to remember this happiness,
Hug my friends for a long time,
Tears mask almost everyone around me at this moment.
The seven, eight, nine year olds smiling at their parents,
Confused why everyone else is crying.
When they are older they will understand.

The mental pictures of my friends’ faces as we say goodbye for another year burned in my memory.
Faces I will tell story after story about to family, friends, and anyone who will listen.
Pictures I refuse to forget,
Thinking about them whenever my mind wanders.

So I go back to the real world,
With six weeks of memories to think about when I am nostalgic, hurting, content, or tired.
The long drive back on winding roads lined with trees,

No longer a source of happiness,
Now overwhelming grief as I travel farther and farther away from my home.

On a cold October night,
I am tired but can’t fall asleep.
The decision to look through the photo album in my mind has already been made.
I am no longer in need of sleep,
Seeing the smiling faces, laughing fits, and moments of joy I remember all too well.
Holding on to these memories for the rest of my life,
Memories I will never let go.

 

Is Campsick a Thing?

Dear JoAnne, 

Ever since my daughter returned home from camp, she refuses to wear anything that isn’t Woodland blue or tie-dyed and Crocs with an assortment of Jibbitz . All she talks about is the fun she had, stories about her cabin mates, and how many days there are until camp next summer.  She claims that she isn’t sure what to do next without the bell ringing throughout the day to mark time. She won’t stop singing camp songs or looking at the online photos on the Woodland website and Instagram.  She even makes her bed every morning and asks if she can “hop” during dinner.  She insists that I ask you for Dan’s lasagna recipe and is now putting ketchup on potato chips.  Help!  Can you please explain to me what is going on with my daughter?

 A Concerned Parent

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Dear Woodland Parent,

Thanks for your letter; I can assure you that what your daughter is experiencing right now sounds like a typical case of  “campsickness.” Not to worry…YOU ARE NOT ALONE!  I receive calls and emails from parents every year at this time wondering what is happening to their camper(s). Trust me, campsickness is not necessarily a bad thing; it just means that your daughter had an AMAZING summer and is sad to leave her camp friends. It is normal to miss the nonstop activity and fun that camp offers at every turn. Coming home to an empty room can be a bit of a shock after the excitement of constant interaction with a community of girls.

I have every confidence that she will adjust to being at home again; it just takes a little time. You can let her know that we will be corresponding with her (and you!) over the course of the winter via mail, email, and various social media. There are all kinds of ways she can stay connected to our camp family, and before you know it, we will be headed to Woodland (where it’s cool to be you in ’22) for another fantastic summer!

Woodland Love,

JoAnne

Modern Camper: Some Things Never Change

Posted by on August 5, 2021

Here we are! Today is the first performance of the annual CoEd Show. One of the most anticipated days of the entire summer. The CIT’s will move up the ladder of awesomeness in the eyes of the campers. Tomorrow every song and line will be replayed a hundred times over. This is THE story of the summer. Every cabin is mentioned in the script and every camper and staff member will be included in the slide show finale. Inside jokes are revealed. The unique personality of each cabin group is celebrated. We relive the memories of 2021 from beginning to end.  We laugh. We smile. We cry. We cherish. Only 2 more full days of camp to go.

This is the first summer we have had a title and a subtitle as the CoEd Show theme. It seems appropriate considering this has been a season just like the theme suggests. Modern Camper: Some Things Never Change. Operating in the midst of a pandemic, we have been forced to let modern times infiltrate into our camp community. We followed guidance to preserve the health of our two camps. We kept to cabin pods at the beginning. We altered the program schedule. We ate outside. We tested campers and staff. And more.

This will be the first CoEd Show that will be held at Camp Woodland (and outside). The CIT’s have taken the changes in stride because the alternative would be no show at all. As these long term veteran campers always do, they pour even more heart and soul into putting together an amazing performance. They embrace the challenge. They dig deep. They are resilient. They have grit. The show must go on!

The rest of the Woodland community is also doing their part to keep the element of surprise in tact. For cabin night, counselors kept their groups away from the Rec Hall where the CIT’s were rehearsing, and when it came time for evening snack, they came to the lodge and brought dance music to help drown out the sounds of the singing that was occurring on the other side of the volleyball court. Tuesday night had everyone down at the beach and to alert the CIT’s of their return “upstairs”, they paused at the top and sang a very loud rendition of “The Ship Titantic”. This really speaks to the community we have here. We look out for each other’s needs. All for one and one for all.

We have other logistics to puzzle out before we are ready for the two shows, but we are working together to figure out the best solutions for all involved. The kitchen crews at both camps will be part of the answer as we may need to eat early so that we can start the show ahead of the normal time. Daylight is now shorter than at the beginning of the summer, so we need to bump up curtain time to utilize the natural lighting we have available. We even had to order the shirts ahead of our usual schedule to ensure they were delivered on time.

We talked about the “elephant in the room” before the start of the summer. Many campers and staff wondered whether or not camp would be the “same” as in previous summers. And to be quite honest, the camp leadership had the very same question. Yes, there were some things we had to do differently this summer. And, for the vast majority of the season, there were things that were exactly the same as they had been in years past. The “core” of camp did not change as a result of the world within which we now live.

There are a lot of confident and happy kids at Woodland. They can do things they couldn’t do before. They know what genuine FaceTime is again. They know how to connect with others and build relationships without the need for a screen. They have been active from spending the majority of their days in the outdoors. They remember what it is like to navigate conflict and come out on the other side. They appreciate their own and each other’s strengths and celebrate those things that make us unique.

The days are long and the summer is short. How we got to the end so quickly, none of us quite know for sure. Some things never change…