Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Camp Unalayee Part I



When the kids finally fell asleep on our 6-hour drive home after spending a week at Camp Unalayee, I sat very much alone on I-5 going 85 miles an hour with a ball of emotion in my throat. I didn’t want to go home. I missed camp. I wished that I were there, that I could spend all summer there, that I could live my life like I lived it up there. It’s a place that I’m hesitant to write about because I want it all to myself or I want everyone to love it like I did. Camp Unalayee is a secret that I’m not sure that I want to tell.  But, Sarah, the family days director, is trying to do more outreach. She handed me a bumper sticker as I left that read, “Camp Unalayee, Place of Friends.” West, my 3-year old, immediately took off the back of the sticker and stuck it on his arm, I didn’t want to waste it, and so I stole it back and put it on my car.

When we arrived at Scott Summit on the first day of camp, my ears were ringing from two-hours of West protesting the fact that all electronic devices were out of batteries. I looked for a sign or an arrow pointing to camp. There wasn’t one. There was only one parked car near the Trinity Wilderness sign. Right when I thought I was in the wrong place, two smiling, young councilors came bouncing down a dirt road in a dirty Honda. They pulled up next to me and asked if I was here for camp.

I drove two miles on the dirt road that they had come on and when I got to the top, I left our phones, iPads, and iTouches and all other Is in the car and hiked four miles into camp with a now relatively happy 3-year old and 6-year old. Councilors and volunteers helped carry our luggage across a rushing creek to our tribe site called Creekside 2. In our tribe there was a total of three families and two middle-aged women. One was the mother of a volunteer and the other was a past councilor. We had two paid councilors and two volunteers starting fires for meals, cooking and cleaning up afterward. Our days moved with the rhythm of gongs rung by eager children. At the 10am morning meeting the staff looked equal to the amount of campers, but Sarah told me that there were only 18 paid councilors and 58 campers. The rest were volunteers. Meaning people who loved living up there so much that they worked for free in exchange for a piece of wilderness to put their tent and campfire food. But I guess all non-profits have a huge volunteer base. No one seemed to be turned away at Camp Unalayee.

Driving home I wondered if my boys and me could volunteer for the rest of the summer. But I am not the profile. Family camp is only two weeks out of the summer. The rest of the program is an outreach wilderness program for youth. There’s a lot of backpacking. Volunteers aren’t just reading books in hammocks, they spend days on the trail making meals for crying teenagers with blisters.

My friend didn’t have to pay full price for the camp. Instead, she was asked how much she would like to pay. It’s refreshing to have things so relaxed. I paid full price and I’d pay it again even though it felt a little like paying money to work on a farm or ranch. I paid money to sleep in a tent, poop in a hole, cook over a campfire and do dishes in an outdoor kitchen. But although participating in the tribe’s meals is the vibe, I grated cheese one time and helped with the dishes one time all week. I would have liked to help out more, but my kids always pulled me away.

The community is what makes this camp special. Everyone was super nice! Childcare was officially provided for an hour and a half a day, but at the art shack, Nate and West spent hours painting sticks and doing art projects while I did my own without interruption. There was tie-dye, archery, silk screening, boating, lifeguards, fishing, sweat lodge, singing at the lake, woodcarving, friendship bracelets, beading, painting, a coffee bar, and guided hikes. All without me having to pull out my wallet again. Although I did pull it out to buy a Camp Unalayee t-shirt, but they took IOUs if you didn’t have cash on hand.

On the last day, when we drove home, with all electronic devices still out of batteries, my kids played with their painted sticks for hours, and then fell asleep leaving me alone to grieve a way of life that let me relax and be happy with my kids.

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