Feb. 10th, 2009

discoverylover: (Default)
As some of you may know, my Mum and Uncle both did Camp America when they were my age, and my Mum just found her article on her camp experience in her files, and as her house is on the market (sob, my longest childhood home :( ) she's given it to me...so I'm gonna write it here so I can chuck the paper out!

"Help, Kiwi [Mums camp name], help! A squirrel's fallen down the latrine."
Half a dozen little girls peered through the flap of my teepee, beckoning me to hurry and rescue the poor creature.

My brain ticked over. How the heck did you get to a frightened animal, stuck at the bottom of a smelly two metre pit? Putrid!

Nothing in my 22 years of existence had prepared me for this. I was in Colorado, up in the Rocky Mountains, a New Zealander working at a summer Girl Scout camp. I was there to teach, among other things, survival techniques in the wilderness. And the squirrel wasn't part of the afternoon programme I'd planned for my girls.

But a Scout is always prepared and as I was sure squirrels didn't know much about survival in toilets, a rescue party was formed. We found a fallen branch, just long enough to reach the bottom of the pit, lowered it and left. Now the squirrel was on his own. We hoped he was not hurt and would be able to climb out.

The group returned to the fire circle, logs arranged around a fire pit where we cooked many of our meals. Douglas fir and aspen trees surrounded our unit, separating us from the rest of the camp which spread over five square kilometres. A narrow beaten trail wound through the trees to our living quarters - three Indian teepees. Further down was the latrine where our unfortunate friend had taken a tumble!

For several hours we stayed away from the "scene of the accident" hoping the squirrel would have the animal cunning to use the escape route we'd prepared for it. When we did check, there was jubilation - the squirrel had gone.

Their unsavoury rescue was typical of the unpredictable camp life at Sky High Ranch, where I worked for three months. The camp catered for 140 girls aged seven to sixteen. They came for one or two-week sessions, to make new friends, learn outdoor skills, gain confidence and have fun.

The camp was in rugged country and provided first-class opportunities for canoeing, horse-riding, overnight bush hikes and a host of other activities.

I was there as part of a foreign exchange scheme, called Camp America, which recruited young people from all over the world to work as camp counsellors in the States. The work was unpaid, although my airfare from London to the ranch was provided by the organization and all participants received some pocket money.

The camp also employed paid counsellors, cooks and administration staff. A ranger and his family live year-round on the camp, maintaining equipment and caring for the horses. Counsellors started work early in June, with a week's orientation course. And then the kids arrived.

My first group was aged seven to nine and for most it was their first time away from home. At the end of the week I was exhausted. The girls giggled, screamed, flashed torches till the early hours, got homesick and wet their beds. One girl knocked her friend breathless when she dropped a torch from the bed above. Another leaned over and was sick on the sleeping girl on the bunk below.

The next camp intake and I was relieved to find I'd be supervising "Frontier Horsewomen", a group of 16 horse-crazy teenagers. I figured we'd be on similar wave lengths.

Not on your life! These girls were interested only in horses and it was all I could do to persuade them to take part in the camp fire, flag-raising and sing-alongs that is the essence of Girl Scout camp life.

They informed me, almost immediately, that they'd come to Sky High to get away from authority. They were not going to take orders from anyone, including a Kiwi.

One little madam was especially defiant. She attempted to set fire to the latrines and threatened to burn down the counsellor's tent while we tried to sleep.

Another neatly stitched her palm with cotton, her way of getting attention.

When "Frontier Horsewomen" finally galloped home I turned a little wearily to see who would be my next charges. They were nine to twelve year olds and were not only enthusiastic, they listened adoringly and cheerfully did as they were told. I was overjoyed!

With this obedient and happy troupe in tow we celebrated July 4 Independence Day eating red, white and blue oatmeal. We spent evenings around campfires and square dancing in the communal hall. We went canoeing, on overnight horse rides, watched bears and deer in the forest.We celebrated Christmas in July - singing of snow and sleighs in mid-summer was a novel experience for the campers, but nothing new for me.

And so the summer passed. Each day was an experience, sometimes unpleasant. For instance the group I took on a two-day hike. It was hot and there was no end to the list of complaints: "My feet hurt." "I have a headache." "Don't walk so fast." Finally we arrived at a beautiful aspen grove, sheltered by boulders and a stream trickled nearby.

We spent an idyllic night there, despite two tents collapsing and the arrival of a mosquito army. Next morning the girls packed their gear as I did a routine check of the site. Behind trees and around the stream I came across something looking like the remains of a carnival. Streamers of toilet paper hung everywhere. The girls hadn't seen the necessity to dig a toilet as we'd shown them. The rest of the morning was spent cleaning up the mess.

One group though, showed initiative. After a particularly bad storm I emerged from my cabin to find every ant hill in sight now boasted a make shift plastic tent. "Why should we be the only ones to stay dry?" the girls asked.

Many of our campers came to Sky High against their will. Their parents regarded us as a baby-sitting service while they rushed off to Europe on vacation. Others had solo-parents, who welcomed the break from child-minding. Understandably, these girls were often disruptive and refused to mix with the others.

The squirrel rescue was one of the many unexpected diversions at camp which helped the campers forget their differences and brought them together in true camp spirit.

And it was usually those girls who went home tearful, promising to return next year.

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