Anyone who has known me since childhood shouldn't be surprised by what will follow in this post: a full out gushing about my summer experiences at Camp Juliette Low.
I was first introduced to Camp Juliette Low through a cousin who I accompanied to a Camp Reunion at the age of nine. It only took a very short weekend to spark a love and fondness for a place that remains with me to this day. I don't remember the details on how I sold my mother on the idea of sending me back the next summer as a camper, but whatever methods I employed, I am so glad it worked. Camp was expensive, but the experience was priceless.
When I began at CJL as an official camper, it was the summer of 1990. We were sorted into one of four units by our age group. A unit consisted of approximately 28 girls and 4 counselors. The unit as your at camp homestead, featured a cluster of tents, four girls to a tent, generally arranged around the centrally located counselors' tent. Our tents were perched upon large wooden platforms with army-like canvas that provided more than adequate shelter from the rains. The tents remain, but in my early years as a camper, the American Camping Association had yet to frown upon latrines and cold showers as bathroom facilities for young girls. That's right, no flushing toilets. I promise, it was not as traumatic as it seems. In fact, I would regard it to be much less disgusting than today's port-a-johns at your local concert or festival.
As I write this, I am beginning to realize that I could spend this entire post just describing the set up and facilities. In an effort to make this as succinct as possible, I will move on. The all girl's camp is nestled on top of Lookout Mountain. Trails and paths wind throughout the property to the lake, the swimming hole with the sliding rock and swinging bridge, the soft rocks, which I think my words would fail to capture the magic of, woods, and open fields.
Days at camp pass far too quickly in a whirlwind of daily chores and kapers, activities (such as archery, sailing, horseback riding, arts and crafts to name a few), incredible home cooked meals, unit time, swimming, and campfires at night. All of this happens to the camp's own personal soundtrack boasting a choir of angel voices which happen to be those of all the girls there. The culture of song and singing that is so inherent to camp life is almost a phenomena of camp living on its own. We had songs for EVERYTHING and we sang all the time. We had unit songs we sang on our way to meals or activities. We sang all of our blessings for our meals. We sang while we were doing our chores. We even had a singing competition at the end of the session. I sincerely believe that the gift of song and music in some magical way fostered the sense of sisterhood and friendship that had an ability to grow at an exponential rate.
Friends at camp are made so fast. As a young girl, I guess I didn't think much of it. Now that I am grown, I am kind of amazed that intense bonds form between friends in a matter days. Some of these bonds still exist today. One of the things I loved about camp was the friends I made and only got to see year after year each summer. We would keep in touch throughout the school year with letters. Remember pen pals? I regret to say that I've lost touch with a good number of girls that made my camp life the amazing experience that it was. Fortunately, I can at least keep up with them now through Facebook. :)
Outdoor life was pretty familiar for me before I started camp. My parents would take us camping, so the rustic atmosphere of camp life wasn't completely foreign to me. CJL really fostered my love for the outdoors and I think her primary way of doing this was through lessons in outdoor skills. Even at the tender age of 10, I learned to safely use an ax to chop wood, collect firewood, build a fire, cook a meal on said fire, extinguish it properly, and make it appear as if I was never there. I also learned knot tying, lashing (creating things and structures with only rope and sticks), and how to pee in the woods. These activities were exercises in team work and confidence-building that have remained with me throughout my life. There is something quite empowering about a 10 year old girl learning essential life survival skills.
CJL created a sisterhood of young girls and women in which a strong character and spirit of community were esteemed and celebrated. Being a young, growing girl can be wrought with the pain of social peer cruelty, self-doubt and self-conciousness. For some reason, CJL seemed to be an escape from all of that for me. I never found those dynamics among my peers at camp. In fact, I always felt like I was the best version of myself during my days at CJL.
My husband and my friends have heard my drone on and on about individual stories and excerpts of my camp life that support all of my sentiments. In fact, I think I could write an autobiography on the impact of a camp experience for a growing girl, but no amount of words could do justice to the essence that is just CJL. I think you have to experience it for yourself. I fear my words now fail to truly capture what it means to grow up through CJL. So I will close with this: CJL remains one of the most meaningful and influential experiences I have had in my life.
I hope that if I am blessed with a daughter, that she will share the same love and affinity for Camp Juliette Low. I know I need to prepare myself now that she may not adore it to the same degree as me, and rest assured I will be heartbroken if she doesn't.
At the very least though, when I have kids I will send them to camp. Even if it's not my beloved Camp Juliette Low and even if it is only once.