Camp Magic- and the Magicians Who Make it Happen
As we begin to gear up for Camp’s 70th season, we like to take some time and reflect on the impact that Camp has on our community. While camp often leaves an indelible appreciation for nature among our campers, our young campers in turn often leave an indelible mark upon our counselors and staff. Olivia Baker, a camp counselor at KBY for the past two summers, summed it up beautifully when she shared her reflections of working at camp:
Every Monday, I meet a group of 10 children, somewhere between the ages 5-13, and I spend five days hiking up and down hills, cooking over the campfire, swimming, singing, and navigating crazy situations with these campers.
On Day One: a three-foot, five-year-old “Pond Sitter” hesitantly edges out of the back seat of his mom’s car. He shies away from a high five, so I ask him for a fist bump, but No Way! At opening, the counselors sing camp songs loudly while campers stick to the periphery-- some with their hands in their pockets, some older ones looking around like what the heck is going on everyone is singing about a hippopotamus.
Day Two: campers rejoice to greet their new friends and personalities begin to shine. Fool’s Gold appears in the creek! Inch worms get named, inspected, and cuddled. And Surprise! You get a hug as if you’ve been friends forever.
By Wednesday, everything is a GO. The group creates a Zombie society, in which each camper has a specific role: zombie, witch, or healer. A camper stands solo in the woods, confidently dancing a goofy jig. A little girl’s hands glimmer in the mud from a worm-digging marathon.
Thursday it’s a Tribe. Gathered around in a huddle, the kids plot how to catch the “platygator.” Pointing towards the pond, they scheme. A self-governing pack of 5-year-olds stand strong against the lake monster. While waiting for their turn on the zipline, the camper who refused my hi-five on Monday stood at the center of this pack, leading the Lord-of-the-Flies-esque council about how to approach this fabled swamp creature.
By Friday, it’s like we’ve known each other for eternity. Bashfulness now nearly extinct, voices ring wildly through the forest. Along the way, a shift swept over the group; and it’s called camp magic. Running through the trails -- directions no longer needed -- these kids know where they are.
They own these woods -- together.
Each week I absolutely cherished observing this flow of the days from a small distance, watching the way the group draws together and evolves in its own unique way. One day I was walking up the hill from the commissary to the dumpster, carrying the “bag of fun” (aka the trash bag). I was huffing and puffing and the sun was beating down. I was thirsty and exhausted, and my kids were running around swinging their bags waiting to change into their bathing suits. It hit me how camp “changes lives.” I’d heard my friends who were campers,Counselors-in-Training (CITs), then counselors, say over and over how “life changing” camp is. I’ve heard present campers, and adults, who were once campers, say the same thing. I never truly got HOW a camp could be life changing, after all, it’s just a camp. But then walking in the sun, I realized simply how camp had changed my life.
I feel more capable--physically and mentally.
I have a sense of purpose.
I’ve reaped the benefits of the healing properties of nature and gotten lots of hours of play from which I’ve experienced joy and release.
When it comes to a task, I see a direct correlation between the demands of camp and a shift in my work ethic. I remember the first time I had to carry a fully packed cooler to the “deep woods” campsite, feeling whiny and overwhelmed. As I got used to doing physical and mental tasks at camp, through exhaustion and frustration, I wonder how it has permeated into my patterns outside of camp. Leading songs on stage every week, and learning how to assert authority regularly, drilled confidence into me for which I am very grateful. I cannot say what the past two years would have been like for me if I had not found my way to KBY, but I am immediately sad when I imagine that possibility, because it would feel like a huge hole, where instead I now feel purpose, joy, and strength.
Working at camp is by far one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done. I come home so exhausted every single day, I can barely say hi to my mom when I walk in the door before crashing on the couch. Every moment at camp, we are on our feet, not only making sure everyone is having fun, but also making sure no one is falling off the top of the playground where they aren’t supposed to be climbing. Or, sweeping dozens of seed ticks off of a camper’s arms who decided to roll over an infested log. Starting fires in the rain, learning how to manage campers’ emotional breakdowns and outbursts, and making sure you haven’t lost any kids since you last counted 45 seconds ago. Camp is hard work. You come home three shades dirtier, and the kind of tired that takes immense selfcare to sustain. But it is so totally and completely worth it.
Camp is not childcare, it is not an adult manufactured space to host children. It’s not where kids learn the harmful conditioning that leads them to silence their peculiar thoughts in exchange for learning to be “normal.” It's where they get to be wild. Authentic. Animals at play. It's not where kids go to learn respect for elders, it's where they learn respect for themselves, and for the birds and trees and insects.
It IS where the world that you created inside bushes when you were five--that magical kingdom-- exists wide open and free.
Written by: Livi Baker
Counselor at Camp Kum-Ba-Yah ‘17,’18