By Aaron Selkow, Owner/Director
The end of a session at camp is hard to describe to the uninitiated. Without spending a summer in a place like this for at least a few weeks, you will struggle to fully understand the mix of emotions, joy, exhaustion, and excitement that comes in these final days. Right up to the last second that a camper is here – as they hop onto the bus or into the arms of their parent here for an in-person pick-up – they are still in the bubble. The space and community that we create envelop the campers while they are here, and for weeks on end, nothing in the outside world can really penetrate the bubble. We are in this unique, intensive, and immersive environment that cannot really be replicated. You’ll have to take our word for it…or you might have to come up with a reason to apply for a job here next summer.
The campers are at the center of our universe. Everything else over the last four weeks kind of revolves around them. Their needs are more important, their schedules are what we work around, their feedback is golden to us, and we focus on them always. But it is our staff that makes it all happen. They give their time and attention, and each day you can see how much influence they have on the experience for all. There are some exceptional adults here to support the children, and at our Campfire on this final night of our First Session, all of this was on display.
Tonight’s Campfire included some usual things and also some special rituals, but even the typical pieces were different. Before even getting to the Campfire Site, we all gathered in the Basketball Stadium to watch this week’s highlight video. It was extra long and extra special, and the campers were entranced watching themselves and their friends at Tribal and other activities over the last days here. Once we moved to enjoy the Campfire, I had the honor of starting us off with a brief speech and then followed up with the leading of a song, “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” by John Denver. This was the song that was sung to me in 1976 on the last night of my first-ever summer at camp, and it was beautiful to hear the camp join in tonight. Sam Roberts, our Director of Staff & Camper Experience, went next by facilitating the Chestnut tradition of burning a list of Bunk Memories that each cabin had made as a symbolic way of commemorating all the great moments we enjoyed. After this, it was time for Community Service Awards, and they did not disappoint. There was great applause for each person honored, whether they were campers, staff, or camp leaders.
Ann was next, and her job was one of the most fun. We like to present “Legacy” (or longevity) gifts to campers and staff that are marking their 3rd, 5th, 8th, 10th, or even 25th summer at Chestnut Lake. We read hundreds of names and took pictures of the campers with their new camp apparel. For those campers that did not yet have the chance to rack up enough summers for a gift, theirs are just another summer or two (or a few) away. With each name read, we climbed the ladder toward the next level. Most amazing were the awards for 10 years. Thanks to Jacob Labkovski, Benjamin Schnure, John Derrick, Laurie Craig, and Mike Smith who reached that number this summer and represent so much of what makes Chestnut Lake the best.
We joined in song for, “Linger,” and then sang the camp’s alma mater with all our hearts (and whatever was left of our voices). And then just as quickly as it felt like the summer started, the Campfire came to an end, and right behind it will be our First Session.
Tomorrow won’t be easy. But it will be so important. Tonight’s Campfire represented so much of what is special here…I only wish it didn’t happen. I would like more time.