Monday, July 14, 2008

Summer Camp - Part 2

As I told you yesterday, I worked several weeks over a few summers in the mid 1970's at Camp Koinonia which is on Max Lake in southwestern Manitoba.

Most of the work I did was as an assistant cook. We'd started about 7:00 and served breakfast at 8:00. After the campers and staff did the dishes, we'd prepare lunch and do as much prep as possible for supper and snack. After lunch dishes, we could usually take 2 to 3 hours off to sleep, relax, swim, explore or whatever. Back in the kitchen by 4:00 or so to have supper ready by 5:30. Two staff were assigned to supervise snack at about 9:00 and the cleanup afterwards.

The kitchen was hard work, but it was also fun. There was always a wide variety of staff that ranged in age from teens like me to seniors who just wanted to enjoy being around young people. There was lots of stories, exchanging of tips, recipes and humour. Quite often there would also be singing as we worked. Summer of '76, one of my friends and I spent three weeks in the kitchen together and we sang every song we could think of including the songs from our high schools production of "Fiddler On The Roof" that spring. The campers and staff were always very respectful and appreciative of the kitchen staff.

Some staff worked most of the summer, so they would get a little sick of the traditional camp foods after a few weeks. We always tried to anticipate this and be prepared with something different for them once in awhile. We tried not to repeat the exact menus every week.

One night in the summer of '78, there was an overnight camp out that two of the campers couldn't go on. I don't recall the exact reasons, but I think they were both medical related. The crafts instructor and I felt really bad for them, so we arranged a private camp out for them in our cabin area in the main lodge. They had supper and campfire with everyone else still in camp, but they stayed with us overnight. We had ice cream sundaes and roasted marshmallows over candles! We sang songs and told stories late into the night. We kept in touch with those two young girls for several years.

Friday night was always a banquet night and we'd roast a turkey and all the trimmings. That would be followed by a camper and staff talent/skit night. Everyone worked really hard on these nights. They'd start planning and rehearsing on the first day - Sunday!

During the week, the 6 cabins would take turns going out on overnight camping trips to nearby islands. Two cabins/night to different sites. That meant much smaller groups for supper, snack and breakfast at the lodge - but we still packed all the food for the trips. On those nights, we would have our camp fires on Koinonia Hill. I loved that area! It was so peaceful and had a great view of the lake and the sunset.

One of my friends taught me how to play guitar during the summer of '75. I was also involved in the music program, which meant helping to lead the singing and teach the kids new songs at the nightly camp fires after snack. This was always one of my favourite parts of the day. If the weather was nice, we'd have the campfire outside. If it was really cold or rainy, we'd have it in the lodge.

There is something very calming about sitting by a camp fire or a fireplace - watching the wood shift as it burns down to glowing embers! Those of us who weren't counsellors, tended to hang around the fire pit after the campers went to bed. Depending on how tired/rowdy the campers were one of the two counsellors from each cabin would stay behind or slip back after lights out. Some of the best conversations happened at that time of night. Yes, we were all tired, but also relaxed. There is an intimacy about a fire that allows people to open up and share. We also used to softly sing old songs and tell stories late into the night.

My all time favourite camp fire happened the summer of '77. Some of the staff rigged up a tin metal platform on a pontoon. They attached wire handles to the sides and then hooked long ropes on the handles. On top of it they built up a large amount of wood for the campfire. Just before sunset, all the staff and campers gathered at the canoe dock. We all put on life jackets and I think there were about two staff and two campers/canoe. About 14 or 15 canoes in total if I recall. We paddled out onto the lake and then proceeded to rope all the canoes end to end in a large circle. The log laden pontoon was positioned in the middle and the long ropes reached back to the canoes so we could constantly adjust it's position in the middle of the lake. Before the last boat tied in to the circle, they paddled in to light the campfire.

We sang for over an hour that night as we all oowed and awed at the spectacular effects of the fire on water! The sounds of our harmonious voices were also reflected off the crystal calm water. It really was one of the most memorable nights of my life.

We never had a fireplace at home, but ever since I attended retreats and worked at camp, I've always loved the smell of a wood fire! I loved the way the aroma would linger and stay in your clothes and hair. Just a block or so north of my apartment building are a number of older homes with working fire places and I can often smell the wood burning as I drift off to sleep or if they are using a back yard fire pit in the summer. I close my eyes and it takes me back 30 years to the tranquility of the campfires. In fact, as I have been writing this trip down memory lane, I've been enjoying the fragrant aroma of one of those fire pits. Aw, such memories!


Tomorrow: more tales from summer camp!

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