Category: Alumni News

A Spooky Woodland Tale

With Halloween having been celebrated along with a blue moon this past weekend, ghost stories are certainly on our minds. Did you know that we have a spooky tale of our own at Woodland? If you take a leisurely stroll around the outskirts of the cabin area, you may stumble across something slightly amiss. One of the farthest boundaries of camp that is not off-limits to campers is behind the Hilltop cabin. Many curious campers have ventured back to that enchanted, peaceful place to enjoy the beauty of the North Woods just to end up with a sudden feeling of unease. It trickles down your spine like water from a slow dripping spigot as you creep around the bend and something strange catches your eye. 

Right there in the gloom is a lonely set of abandoned stairs. Three stone steps that lead to nowhere. “What could that be?” you ask yourself and, “why is it still here?” The HILLTOP STAIRS have become a favorite spooky destination for campers and counselors alike, all of whom try to make sense of their existence. There are many different theories floating around in the camp community as to what they could be from; some spooky, some silly, some downright ridiculous. 

Daphne (counselor extraordinaire) shared two of the most classic versions of the story with us, “I have heard it burned down from a candle and the ghosts still haunt the stairs. I have also heard that three girls left a hair straightener plugged in when they went out one night.” Both versions provide a nice cautionary tale against fire hazards.

JoAnne of course has a theory that she shares with us at a special campfire every summer. Her story explains the phenomena of our brown tinted Sand lake, leeches, and the Hilltop stairs all in one. History states that the stairs belonged to a big old coffee factory that burned down. All of the workers in the factory then turned into lake gnomes and took up residence as leeches in Sand Lake. So tradition goes that if you are fortunate enough to get a leech, you are really freeing a lake gnome.

No one will ever fully understand the true origin of those beautifully creepy stairs, but whichever story you prefer, it is definitely a spot to visit at Woodland…if you dare! Towering Pines has a spooky tale of its own – best stick close to your counselor when you hear the sharp clanging of metal on metal, echoing across Lake!

Calla Dellinger Craze

A Little Woodland Dew for Summer 2020

Posted by on May 23, 2020

To the Camp Woodland and Towering Pines Family,

First of all, we thank you for your patience as you (and your campers) have been anxiously waiting for information about camp this summer. We wish there was an easy way to share hard news. We are heartbroken that we are writing to inform you that we will not be opening Camp Woodland and Towering Pines for the 2020 season. Without a doubt, this has been the most difficult decision we have ever had to make. We know that your sons and daughters need camp now more than ever. Camp is the bright spot that keeps us going all year and is a happy place for so many.

We want you to know that we have been coming together as a leadership team for the past several months to explore every possible way of how to make camp happen during these unprecedented times. We have listened to and read regulatory guidance from the CDC and the American Camp Association. We have been on weekly calls with camp directors in our region to process information and share ideas. We have been in contact with medical professionals and state and local health departments. We have consulted with our camp representative in Mexico to keep abreast of the situation there and the ability for travel to the US. We came up with an innovative plan to use our greatest asset – having 2 camps on separate properties. After a call on Friday with the county health department, the recommendation was made that overnight camps should not open for the 2020 season. With that news, the decision to operate camp this summer, though difficult, became clear.

We always say that it never rains at camp, but rather we have Woodland or TP “dew”. We welcome a morning to sleep in a little longer and mosey down to the lodge for a delayed breakfast. Cabin clean-up is extended while we await the news of the exciting events that will allow for a change of routine in our daily schedule. We are thrilled to have the much-anticipated Lip Sync Contest, TP Casino Day or Woodland Spa. We delight in the opportunity to put on rainboots and a slicker coat and grab an umbrella as we head out the door to splash through some puddles along the way to the Rec Hall. The “dewy” weather does not dampen our spirits. We are refreshed by a change of pace and appreciate the sunshine a little more when it returns.

We know that this news may temporarily place a cloud in the sky of our typical bright and sunny summer. We also know that there are still lots of questions to answer, so we will be in touch shortly with information on tuition refunds and available rollover options.

We wish to thank all of you for your trust in us and for being so supportive and encouraging during this most difficult time. As disappointing as this must be for you and your sons and daughters, our wish is that we can weather the “dew” while looking forward with excitement to the sunshine the Summer of 2021 will bring.

Woodland and Towering Pines Love,

JoAnne, Susan, Jeff & Jenny

Charting a Course for Life

by Alice Lurain (camper, staff, sailing director, alum)

Last July, I returned to Camp Woodland for the first time in 22 years. This small slice of heaven was the locus of my universe for 10 summers in the 1980s and 90s, and what struck me most the moment I turned onto Camp Road was how little it had changed. Despite the accelerated pace of modern life and the constant churn of new technology that alters the way we interact with our world and each other on a daily basis, Camp Woodland has remained wonderfully steadfast in its values and commitment to developing each girl’s sense of herself and nurturing independence, confidence, and good old-fashioned fun. Everywhere, this was in evidence – from the intricately choreographed song contest performances, to the quirky outfits and boundless enthusiasm for best-dressed cabin, to the Inspiration Hour led by Silver Birch Cabin.

For me, one of the most impactful experiences of the alumni weekend was sailing on Sand Lake. I still remember the sense of weightlessness, freedom, and elation I felt the first time I went out on a Woodland X-Boat at the age of 9; I couldn’t stop smiling and I never wanted that feeling to end. When I was a camper, I would have spent all 6 periods down at the waterfront, if they had let me. As it was, I could usually be found on a sailboat at least 3 hours a day. When I became Director of Sailing as a counselor, I could hardly believe that someone was paying me to do something I enjoyed so much. This notion that work and responsibility could exist in tandem with fun and self-determination is an invaluable lesson that I carried forward in life.

When I walked down to the Woodland waterfront to see the sun glinting off the waves and the boats bobbing on their moorings, I felt my chest expand and a lightness enter my being. The buddy board still hung reassuringly on the side of the beach house, and when I entered, the smell of sunblock mingling with wet towels, soggy life jackets, and
lake detritus and the scrape and crunch of sand on the red all-weather carpeting instantly transported me back through the decades. How many times had I changed in that very room, hurriedly pulling on a bathing suit so as not to miss one precious moment of sailing or swimming or water skiing? How many confidences had I shared with friends while changing for the next adventure? How much sand had I personally tracked in from the beach or swept back out with the broom? It was impossible to know.

During alumni weekend, I sailed a Minifish until it hummed with the perfect sail trim; I breezed by Camp Menominee, which always looked to me more like a resort than a summer camp; I wound my way through conversations about life and love with old friends as we tacked back and forth until even camp life seemed far away; I was admonished by
JoAnne, who drove out in the ski boat to tell me I shouldn’t sail in the cove. How many times did that happen over the years? It is impossible to know.

What I do know is that sailing continues to be an essential part of my life as an adult, not only as a recreational activity, but as way of investing myself in my community. For the past 11 years, I have been involved with a non-profit organization, called Hudson River Community Sailing. Its mission is to use sailing to teach science, math, and engineering concepts, build leadership skills, and support the academic and personal growth of underserved New York City high school students. Despite growing up on an island, many of our kids have never set foot on a boat and have certainly never thought of the Hudson River as a resource for recreation and learning. I have seen participation in this program literally change the direction of kids’ lives and the possibilities they see for their futures. When we head out from the docks, I feel as though we pass through a portal to an alternate universe. Manhattan, with all its noise and fervor looks quiet and serenely beautiful from the river; time slows, and all that matters are the other people on my boat and how we will work together to make it glide seamlessly through air and water.

In my “day job,” I am a high school chemistry teacher. In addition to teaching about the behavior of matter, I encourage my students to figure out what they care about, what brings them happiness and makes them want to engage deeply and share part of who they are with others. Then I urge them to find ways to turn that into meaningful work, whether in the form of a future career or volunteer service. I feel incredibly lucky that Camp Woodland offered me the opportunity from a very young age to identify my passions for sailing and for working with young people, passions upon which I have constructed the foundations of a joyous and meaningful life.

“Coming Home” – Then & Now (from Camper to Lawyer)

by Alex Karahalios, former camper & counselor

I remember the feeling I had when it was time to head up to Camp Woodland for the first time. My parents kissed me goodbye and I begrudgingly stepped onto a large coach bus to confront a sea of unfamiliar faces. As an eleven year old who had never been away from home for more than a typical school day or sleepover, knowing that I would not be coming home for four weeks was paralyzing.

Two weeks into the summer, my parents came to visit. I ran out of Tamarack, jumped to hug my parents, and then promptly sat them down to talk. With my friends – not so subtly – hiding behind a tree in the assembly area, I asked my parents if I could stay for six weeks instead of just four. “Oh, honey, I wouldn’t do that to you! I know how much you didn’t want to come, and I don’t want to make you stay one second more than you already are,” my father said with a smirk to convey his victory. “Dad, please!” I insisted, “I can’t leave. I’ll miss Coed Show and Woodland Fair and everyone says the last two weeks are the best and when you think about it two weeks really isn’t that long of a time anyway…” My parents looked at each other, smiled, and told me I could stay. Immediately, I turned around to give my friends a thumbs up, to which they all jumped out of their hiding places to celebrate. Flash forward one year to a twelve-year-old girl who cannot push her mother out of the door fast enough to get in the car and head north. That feeling of excitement and impatience to soak up as much Northwoods sun as I could get my hands on would flood me every single June for the next six years: every time I was finally coming home.

Since graduating from college at Northwestern University, I have been fortunate to come home twice: once as a counselor the summer following graduation and once for Woodland’s 50th Anniversary Celebration. The first summer I came home to reconnect with the roots of my childhood and reset before three years of law school at the University of Virginia. The second visit was another coming home celebration, but this time only for three short days. Those three days as a visitor, however, gave me the perspective I did not realize I needed before beginning an intense interview process to work at a law firm.

I arrived at the Rhinelander airport after an early morning wakeup call in Washington, DC and was greeted by four of my best camp friends. Back together after many years, it was all but too natural for us to revert back to our camp routine: we arrived at our base, put our things down on our respective beds, washed our hands, and turned right back around to the next activity. The rest of the weekend allowed us to delve completely into our old camper selves as we ran from one activity to another after the bell, changed quickly into our appropriate activity-wear, and arrived at each meal ravenous and already ready for seconds. Those three days went by just as quickly as I remember every six weeks.

What I didn’t realize until after the 50th Anniversary was that weekend was all of the interview preparation I needed. Having just reconnected with the place where I developed all of the skills I would need as a law firm summer associate, they were fresh in my mind and ready to go: my fluency in Spanish, my ability to work in a group, my independence in completing tasks, my ability to multitask and manage multiple responsibilities at once, my timeliness, and my intellectual curiosity. Unsurprisingly, my nine summers at camp came up quite a few times during my interviews. I detailed how supplementing my Spanish education over the summer through practicing with my best friends from Mexico pushed me to fluency and inspired me to pursue the language as one of my majors in college.

I confidently assured them that spending six weeks in a cabin with seven other girls and one bathroom prepared me well to work alongside any kind of personality even in the most pressured and dire of circumstances. I recalled how cabin cleanup taught me the importance of playing my part in the team. I explained how the ability to choose the activities of my day and the goals I wanted to reach within each of them meant that I could independently manage the responsibilities I assumed. I understood the importance deadlines and promptness from running out of instructional swim to riding so that I could start my lesson on time. And I demonstrated how the encouragement I received at camp to always try new things – food included – inspired my curiosity to also try new classes, legal internships, cities to live in, and career paths.

Coming home as a camper, CIT, or counselor every year was the release of pent up excitement and impatience that grew throughout the school year and culminated in a new summer adventure. Coming home as an alumni was the timely reminder that those nine summers continue to shape me and propel me forward to new professional adventures I never could have foreseen when I confronted that sea of unfamiliar faces eleven years ago.

Leaving Home to Go Home: A Message from Closing Vespers

by alum Alice Decker Burke (camper, counselor and parent of 1st year camper)

For the past 25 years the following essay written for Alice’s AP English class in 1994 is read at the final Vespers on the last day of camp. Parents often tell us that Sunday is such a hard day. Hard to understand. Hard to know what to say. Hard to know where to be or not be at any given moment so as not to impose. On one hand, the excitement of seeing your daughter/s after a long hiatus is hard to contain. On the other hand, the struggle is obvious as campers are torn between the sadness of leaving a tight-knit family and the connection to a place that is also home and seeing parents and family. The good news is that all of these conflicting feelings are normal!

For some, the beautifully chosen words Alice uses may give a little insight to the mixed emotions and awkwardness of Parents’ Weekend. For others, it will bring back memories and nostalgia of being at Woodland whether away for 10 days or 10 years. Either case, we hope you are enjoying whatever this side of summer brings before another busy school year is in full swing. We look forward to seeing you at Camp Woodland in 2020!

The car hums quietly beneath me as we turn onto County D. My father comments cheerfully about the houses on either side of the road, my mother marvels at the beauty of the tiny lakes as we pass them by, at least one every five minutes. But I sit, perfectly still, feeling my heart beat stronger with every roll of the tires. As we follow the twisting road, we round a curve and look straight into an open field, canopied by Eagle River clouds. My soul stretches to the tips of my fingers as I reach my hand out the open window and towards the sky. My parents hear my indrawn breath and smile at one another, a little sadly, knowing this love is one they can never share.

We turn the corner, and I lean out the window quickly, drinking in the air with a thirst that has grown steadily for nearly a year. I welcome every trace of sunlight filtering through every tree stretching over every curve of every trail that branches off the road onto the shadowy forest. I know exactly when the stable will peek through the branches, and which horses will greet me with quiet whickers and shimmering manes. I see the tips of the sailboats over the edge of the hill, waving at me with their graceful masts bobbing in the waves. Pure happiness bubbles up from the depths of my blood, and I laugh with familiar wonder as I feet it course through me.

I jump free of the car, and wander up the hill, feeling my soul run ahead of me, peeking into corners and rolling with delight in the sun-warmed grass. Friends run out of cabins into my arms, and I am scrunched in a twenty-person hug. They grab my bags and set off for my cabin, but I cannot follow yet. My soul is still up in the trees, and I stand with my face turned up to the sun, twirling around with unconditional joy, my arms spread wide, my soul singing the familiar song of wind in the birch trees.

Eight weeks later, I throw my duffle into the trunk, amazing my father with my strength. Mom laughs and tells me that I am stronger than my dad now. Mom. Dad. Those words stumble off my tongue like a long-forgotten language. I need to remember it now.

It is funny, really, how the beginning and the end are the only concretes here. The minute I arrive, it is as if I never left. The minute I leave, it is as if I just came. The middle is a maze of joy and laughter and memory, like a disorganized stack of colorful photographs. I throw them into the trunk of my mind along with my duffles – I will pull them out some cold November night when I cannot fall asleep, and look through them quietly until the peace of their memory drowns out my fears.

My mother strolls out of the cabin, letting the screen door shut carefully behind her. She has a look of incomprehension and mild distaste, as if she wonders how I live in these conditions for two months. My home, but not hers. I start to tell my mother that the director needs to speak with her before we leave, about the payment, but she interrupts me, laughing. She says that she cannot understand a word I say, that we speak a dialect up here, and I will need to start annunciating when I get home, if I want anyone to understand me. My language, not hers.

Dad shuts the trunk and announces that we must be leaving so we can get back “home” by ten o’clock. They must go to work tomorrow, he reminds me. He tells me to say my goodbyes. Not as if he understands. I cannot say “goodbye” to happiness, then climb in the car and roll off around the corner and leave love behind. It is not that simple.

I am bombarded by my friends, who cling to my arms and cry on my shirt and ask in choked sobs why I’m not crying, too. Am I not sad? How can I stand leaving home to go home? Very few understand that there are bands of loss around my chest that are squeezing so tightly with agony that I can hardly breathe, but I fight the tears. I do not know why. I keen with them all, clinging as tightly to them as they do to me, but the tears never come. Pain, but no release. My own kind of grief, I suppose.

My parents stand patiently behind me. They do not understand, but they do know enough not to try, and I am grateful. At last, Dad gently takes my arm and leads me to the car, and the others let go. My family tears me from my family, and the car door shuts me in.

I sit perfectly still as the car starts underneath me. The motor is so foreign, so mechanical. We turn into the driveway, straight and narrow, that leads to the corner and the highway and the real world. A real world without sailboats, without campfires, without unconditional love and universal family. For just a moment, I hate it so intensely I dig my nails into my hand to stop myself from tearing out of the car and plunging back into the woods. But, like passing through an open door, feeling the sudden burst of wind then stillness, the momentary hatred fades, and is replaced with the long familiar emptiness. The corner turns behind me, and I close my eyes, with only my memories to keep me company on the long drive home from home.